The Great Texas Energy Debacle of 2021
For a couple of days in mid-February, the majority of Texas was without heating and electricity in the midst of biting cold and snowstorms.
Not ideal, I think you’ll agree.
The reasons why this happened are - as you may well imagine - quite numerous and I don’t propose to litigate all of them here. But what I do want to do to start is to address is the right-wing media backlash that painted renewables and The Green New Deal as the boogie-man in this situation.
The Democratic Governor of California, Gavin Newsome, was chastised thoroughly by Republican senators in Texas - specifically Ted Cruz. They were promoting the Texas model of low regulation and the free market. Texas was hailed as the leader in deregulated, consumer-led, energy markets.
Then - in the middle of February - unseasonal cold weather (brought on by the polar vortex bringing Artic temperatures down from the North) covered Texas in snow and sub-zero thermometer readings. It got to 15F in Houston (-9C), 11F in Austin (-12C), and 5F (-15C) in Dallas
The energy grid couldn’t cope with this and power failed all across the state.
Many Republican senators - who lambasted the summer power outages in California as being Democratic decisions - are now changing their tune or - perversely - saying that this is a result of Texas following Democratic mandates that failed in California. This is even though no Democratic mandate has been pushed forward to Texas (or anywhere) regarding the power grid.
It’s specifically a Texan issue due to the way they manage their grid. Dr Volts has an excellent article about this
(as part of a series on transmission) where he states that Texas decided to be a lone power source to remove itself from federal oversite. This decision has come back to haunt them.
Also, despite what many commentators are saying, the issue here is not renewables. Sure, Texas is starting to get more and more renewables in its energy mix. Wind power is dominating coal Texas added more renewables to their mix last year than fossil fuels. But still, the majority of the power that has been reduced or eliminated due to the cold is Fossil Fuel. Gas has frozen in pipelines and equipment to control it has also stopped working. Of the 34,000 megawatts of generation forced off on one specific Monday, the grid operator said about 20,000 MW was thermal, with about 14,500 MW of wind.
There have been issues with some wind turbines freezing up. This was due to moisture in the air freezing on the turbines and stopping them from working. However, these same turbines work very successfully in places such as Scandanavia and even the Antarctic. There were also plenty of wind turbines that were operating successfully in Texas. So the turbines are not the issue.
This would appear to be one of those things that are a result of climate change starting to hit the first world in a way that causes issues.
Will anyone in Texas recognise this? Or will it be a once-in-a-generation problem that they’ll worry about next time it happens?
The simple fact is they were not ready for this to happen. It was a Black Swan event that was worsened by the fact that Texas has persued a deregulated environment for energy.
This caused two problems:
- It meant winterisation standards had not been implemented (Because this would be too much regulatory oversight)
- It meant customers on variable rate tariffs linked to the wholesale price of fuel would be bitten particularly hard if and when this happened.
Both of those things occurred.
Lack of regulatory oversight meant that companies could install wind turbines (and other electricity-generating products) without the need to add heating elements to ensure they didn’t freeze up in winter. As a result moisture from snow, coupled with cold temperatures, froze the wind turbines. But, as stated above, the majority of the power that has been frozen due to the weather is not renewables. Natural gas froze in pipelines. Equipment to manage the transmission and control of gas and oil has literally frozen disabling the ability to use that energy source.
In other states what happens when this occurs is that they link in with power suppliers from other grids and they buy electricity from places where it is readily available. States like Florida are usually able to provide electricity to other parts of the grid - especially when the weather’s nice.
But due to the way Texas deals with its grid, this wasn’t possible.
The Texas grid is run by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), a nonprofit controlled by the state legislature. Nearly the entire state is part of a single grid that lacks extensive integration with surrounding states’ grids, which is unusual. The reason this was implemented was so that Texas could control its own supply, its own standards and its own generation while not being subject toonerous government oversight which they saw as stifling capitalism and competition. When the weather was nice and everything was working well this was fine.
As soon as the temperatures dropped - a direct impact of climate change - the inability of Texas to link to other grids compounded the problem.
One other unforeseen consequence of the big freeze in Texas is something many of us here in the UK would do well to consider.
One particular energy company in Texas - Griddy - runs a time-of-day tariff for its electricity. The consumer price varies and is linked to the wholesale price of electricity.
When the supply of electricity dropped due to the cold weather the wholesale price skyrocket. The rate peaked at $9,000 per megawatt-hour. The equates to a wholesale price of $100/kWh. As a comparison, the most I pay on a similar tariff is 35p/ kWh (about 50c). One individual was hit with an $11,000 bill for keeping the lights on in his house for a day and there are numerous examples of people with four-figure bills due to the variable tariffs.
I mentioned that in the UK I am on a similar tariff - Agile Octopus. This tracks the wholesale rate of energy and reprices on a 30-minute basis. The difference, I hope, is that the Agile Octopus tariff is capped at 35p/ kWh maximum. My question - and one I sent to Greg Jackson the head of Octopus Energy - is ‘Variable tariff customers in Texas were hit with huge bills recently when the grid collapsed and wholesale prices peaked. $9,000 per megawatt-hour as an example. Are there circumstances where this would ever happen to Agile Octopus customers here in the UK?
’ He replied that the fact we have capped tariffs (35p/kWh) with Agile Octopus means that this will never happen in the UK. But he did mention
“…Of course, in long run, someone pays for these spikes… hedging doesn’t come for free so it all adds to bills over time.
” (It is worth mentioning that Octopus Energy is implementing a one-time Bill Forgiveness Plan
for all of their current customers caught in this situation in Texas.)
So what will Texas do?
The easy answer is - nothing. They’ll say this was a once-in-a-lifetime event that should never have happened. They’ll say ‘Our grid is robust and regulation free’. They’ll bury their heads in the sand as if nothing happened. Their customers will try to find ways of paying off the huge bills some of them received as a result of the variable tariffs. Life will continue as before.
Maybe this won’t happen again. Maybe the polar vortex will stay much further North in future and not affect Texas as much as it did this year.
Or maybe, just maybe, something similar to this will happen every year as climate change starts to become the norm rather than the exception.
Let’s hope Texas wakes up and smells the (iced?) coffee.
Hyundai to replace EV battery systems in a $900m recall
Hyundai Motor Co. said this week it will recall about 82,000 electric vehicles globally
to replace battery systems due to fire risks, a problem which combined with an earlier recall is likely to cost the automaker an estimated US$900 million. The battery cells appear to have a flaw in their cathode tabs, making them prone to short circuits
This was a good move by Hyundai. The number of batteries affected is probably quite small in reality. But moving to replace ALL of them is a good PR exercise. Plus it gives customers with older batteries a brand new one to use AND it puts a load of end-of-life batteries on the market for recyclers. This will start to stress test the recycling industry to see whether claims of 90%+ recycling capability hold water.
How the Volkswagen ID.4 Communicates With Light
Standard on all ID.4 models, the ID. Light is a thin line of 54 multi-coloured LEDs
at the bottom of the windshield behind the cockpit. Designed to be visible in a driver’s peripheral vision or at certain angles from outside the vehicle, the ID. Light communicates several types of messages through colour and patterns. Interaction with the ID. Light begins the moment the driver sits down in the ID.4 with a “welcome” animation in white and blue, letting the driver know the ID.4 is ready to go.
In the big scheme of things, this is something of a gimmick at the moment. Having lights on the front of a car is being touted as something which is new and better. But my Kia Soul has lights that indicate charging status and a few other things and it has had those for years.
The key difference here is the integration of the lights with other things such as the Sat Nav and the emergency notifications.
I can see this becoming quite major in future years
New Study: Electric Cars Can Make a Difference Fighting Climate Change
It will come as a surprise to nobody that removing a polluting fossil fuel vehicle from our roads and replacing it with a vehicle that runs on electricity will contribute to reducing the impact of climate change.
Of course, all the usual caveats apply to this: Having no vehicles is a better solution than having an EV, EVs have a larger carbon footprint in production than ICE vehicles, the source of the electricity should, ideally, be renewable to make the most of this, etc. etc. etc.
But regardless of the caveats, the facts are stark. Government incentives can increase uptake. Electric vehicles, which have received no government incentives, are rare birds in Australia. Meanwhile, in Norway, where the state provides generous tax exemptions and other incentives for EVs, they now make up over half of the overall auto market.
Brooklyn Getting USA’s 1st EV Fast Charging “Superhub”
News comes this week that a company called ‘Revel’ is putting 30 EV fast chargers into a “Superhub”
in Brooklyn, New York. It is a record-breaking facility. “The site will be the largest universal fast charging depot in North America, with 30 chargers open to the public on a 24/7 basis and accessible to owners of any electric vehicle brand,
According to Revel CEO Frank Reig, this isn’t a one-off build. “Revel is building the infrastructure of the future and we’re building it now — our planet can’t wait. We couldn’t be more excited to bring fast charging to our home borough of Brooklyn and get to work on the first of many Superhubs to come in 2021.”
This has a good deal of similarity to the way Gridserve are looking to do things in the UK. A smaller number of larger ‘hubs’ located near key trunk routes that will be accessible by everybody