Grim Day on the Texas Power Grid

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  • #1
anorlunda
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  • This is an enormous failure, comparable to the "Great Northeast Blackout of 1965".
  • Rolling blackouts are being imposed at a time when millions of residential customers need home heating.
  • The oil refineries shut down. Expect gasoline/diesel shortages and price spikes nation wide in a few days.
  • You can actually see blackouts as negative steps in the green curve below.
  • Wholesale prices throughout the state are roughly 2000% higher than normal.
  • There is no way to import bulk power to most of the state from outside.

I don't have enough data to diagnose with confidence. The possibilities are:
  1. It is a failure of policy -- not enough reserves required.
  2. It is a failure of planning -- the needed reserves underforecasted.
  3. An extremely unlikely combination of random events.
But like the 65 blackout, or the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, I'm sure this event will be thoroughly investigated and reported in the next year. For now, just add it to the heap of calamities heaped on us in 2020 and 2021. 17 year locusts in the SE USA are due to emerge soon.

source: ercot.com
1613424868037.png
 
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  • #2
Klystron
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This link seems a bit frivolous for the EE forum but the Houston Chronicle article describes the human toll of the cold temperatures coupled with widespread power outages. Interviews mention poorly insulated homes and difficulty keeping small children and elder citizens warm without sufficient electricity.
 
  • #3
nsaspook
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It's bad all over.

https://www.news9.com/story/602ab8a...-pulls-back-to-energy-emergency-alert-level-2
OKLAHOMA -
The Southwest Power Pool officials said enough power has been generated to shift Oklahoma back to an Energy Emergency Alert level 2.
The SPP first declared an Energy Emergency Alert level 3, which is the highest alert level, on Sunday, meaning that its “operating reserves are below the required minimum,” officials said in a press release.
According to The Southwest Power Pool’s website, it “manages the electric grid across 17 central and western U.S. states and provides energy services on a contract basis to customers.” This includes Oklahoma.
According to a press release, the Southwest Power Pool has “directed its member utilities to be prepared to implement controlled interruptions of service if necessary.”
https://www.kshb.com/news/local-news/utility-companies-initiate-controlled-outages
As a result, the grid operator is directing its member utilities to implement controlled interruptions of service to prevent more widespread and uncontrolled outages.

“In our history as a grid operator, this is an unprecedented event and marks the first time SPP has ever had to call for controlled interruptions of service,” Southwest Power Pool Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Lanny Nickell said in a statement. “It’s a last resort the we understand puts a burden on our member utilities and the customers they serve, but it’s a step we’re consciously taking to prevent circumstances from getting worse, which could result in uncontrolled outages of even greater magnitude.”

The Southwest Power Pool includes all of Kansas and Oklahoma along with portions of western Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming. The pool also has contracts with power providers in Arizona, Colorado and Utah.
 
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  • #4
anorlunda
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It's bad all over.
WOW! I'm stunned.

I'm tempted to speculate, but I'll wait for more official reports instead.
 
  • #5
nsaspook
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WOW! I'm stunned.

I'm tempted to speculate, but I'll wait for more official reports instead.
https://www.kptv.com/news/nearly-30...cle_e411d1d8-6f8a-11eb-b9f9-a78d1ea140ad.html
(KPTV) – Widespread power outages persisted for a third day Monday after a weekend of winter weather slammed northwest Oregon.

Hundreds of thousands of Oregonians didn’t have power Saturday, Sunday and now Monday.

On Saturday, Gov. Kate Brown issued a state of emergency for nine counties during the winter storm.
 
  • #6
DaveE
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I don't have enough data to diagnose with confidence. The possibilities are:
  1. It is a failure of policy -- not enough reserves required.
  2. It is a failure of planning -- the needed reserves underforecasted.
  3. An extremely unlikely combination of random events.
4. A normal feature of efficient systems.

Resiliency costs money that people don't want to spend because they only see the benefits in extreme circumstances. In truly "free market capitalism" this would be exaggerated by short term optimization. This is one reason utility monopolies must be regulated. Even so, with perfect planning, it raises the question of what is the optimal design. Does it really make sense to pay for a system that never fails, that always has excess capacity?

In California, power shortages are a nearly yearly problem, with regulators working with large power consumers to help manage peak load demands with pricing incentives. I wonder to what extent they have done that sort of thing in the Southwest Pool? I don't recall a significant history of power shortages there.
 
  • #7
Klystron
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Here is a photo montage of effects of the current weather provided by WaPo.
 
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  • #8
anorlunda
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Does it really make sense to pay for a system that never fails, that always has excess capacity?
There are national standards set by NERC (North American Reliability Corporation) that everyone follows. The last time I checked, the standard was 10 years mean time between outages that affect 2 or more million people. That's a long way from a system that never fails.

There are many lower level requirements, one of which is "adequate" reserves (you would say excess capacity). In NY, the reserve requirement is roughly 20% of peak demand. A rolling blackout means that reserves were not adequate by definition.

In my home state (NY), we had blackouts in NYC in the years 1965, 1977, and 2003. That is 3 times in 38 years, pretty close to the NERC standard.

I've complained before about California not meeting its reserve obligations.

On the news tonight, they mentioned frozen wind turbines out of service. Texas has a huge amount of wind power (21,190 MW) compared to 73,308 MW record peak demand . But it's still too early to finger the causes with confidence.

ABC news also hinted that the rolling blackouts may grow to include everything directly north of Texas up to Canada. It boggles my mind.
 
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  • #10
nsaspook
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nasaspook said, " Outages typically last from 10 to 45 minutes for residential neighborhoods and small businesses, but the exact response would vary by transmission company, according to protocols for emergency alerts from ERCOT. " I talked to a friend (a physicist) in Round Rock, TX (just north of Austin) who told me the power had just come back on at his home after an 8 hour outage.
 
  • #12
dlgoff
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Rolling blackouts are being imposed at a time when millions of residential customers need home heating.
:oldcry: :oldgrumpy: Really needed here. Last night -10°F tonight expected to be -15°F.
 
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nasaspook said, " Outages typically last from 10 to 45 minutes for residential neighborhoods and small businesses, but the exact response would vary by transmission company, according to protocols for emergency alerts from ERCOT. " I talked to a friend (a physicist) in Round Rock, TX (just north of Austin) who told me the power had just come back on at his home after an 8 hour outage.
Yeah, progress moves so fast in Texas that 10-45 mins can seem like 8hrs.
 
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  • #14
anorlunda
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My son is a plumber. He says that all the online plumbing forums are swamped today with posts about frozen pipes in Texas.

When temperatures are below freezing, that is the worst possible time to lose power. I feel sorry for the victims in those areas.
 
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  • #15
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Texas has multiple issues. Houses are built with minimal insulation against the cold with lots of window area and air conditioning for the summer heat. The grid model is natural gas heating for the winter and natural gas for electricity for the summer to augment the grid.

Texas also isolates its grid from the rest of the nation to avoid federal regulation and hence operators didn’t conform to federal guidelines for extreme cold weather events.
 
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  • #16
nsaspook
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EuN7zFoXYAAsSWL.jpeg
 
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  • #17
BWV
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Simple story about no political will to spend money to winterize generators for rare storms
 
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Simple story about no political will to spend money to winterize generators for rare storms
This sound pretty cynical. For any group of people, there are only finite resources available. Those resources will always be allocated to deal with the more probable events, with less to the rare events. Would you really have it done some other way?
 
  • #19
anorlunda
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I won't accept any simple explanations until I read more details from the investigation. It is analogous to a plane crash. There can be a chain of events and multiple contributing causes.
 
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  • #20
nsaspook
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“Welcome to every winter in the northeast US” is the simple explanation for blackouts in sub-tropical Texas during a rare winter event for them.

The chain of events and multiple contributing causes will be much the same for every management and engineering task designed to only happen once in maybe 10-20 years instead of every year. Dry runs, simulations, load testing with long idle/offline/low usage standby and backup systems will always be a prime failure point when compared to actually using those systems operationally on a regular basis to reduce full tempo operational failures.

No excuses, it's just the reality IMO with complex systems with finite resources.

https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/oeprod/DocumentsandMedia/PreliminaryDisturbanceReport.pdf
https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/oeprod/DocumentsandMedia/8-14-03-outage-announcement4.pdf
 
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  • #21
anorlunda
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No excuses, it's just the reality IMO with complex systems with finite resources.
That would make it a common mode failure, and the reliability planning should have accounted for that when calculating reserve requirements.

The costs to eliminate common mode failures may be unbounded, but the cost of continued operation despite them can be finite.
 
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  • #22
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I won't accept any simple explanations until I read more details from the investigation. It is analogous to a plane crash. There can be a chain of events and multiple contributing causes.
Sadly, I think that this will most likely come down to a lot of finger pointing and not much more.
 
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  • #23
nsaspook
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That would make it a common mode failure, and the reliability planning should have accounted for that when calculating reserve requirements.

The costs to eliminate common mode failures may be unbounded, but the cost of continued operation despite them can be finite.
All true in theory but every flood, fire, cold snap, heat wave, etc ... proves our ability to predict future cascading failure modes to be limited. In my engineering experience unused reserves become useless reserves very quickly. (offline UPS systems during power loss is a typical example)

The state is rightly focused on and likely prepared for extended yearly extreme heat events (heat elimination in homes, businesses and power generation) at the expense of rarer extreme cold events that require the polar opposite of heat retention.
 
  • #24
anorlunda
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All true in theory but every flood, fire, cold snap, heat wave, etc ... proves our ability to predict future cascading failure modes to be limited. In my engineering experience unused reserves become useless reserves very quickly. (offline UPS systems during power loss is a typical example)
That's a false comparison.

The grid operator pays for reserve by the MWh with real money. To qualify to receive the checks, the providers must comply with the grid operator's requirements and audits.

Often the reserves are in the form of unsold generating capacity. Suppose you have a 500 MW plant. You bid to supply energy to the grid. Your bids are in several blocks, quantity 1 MWh at price1, and quantity 2 at price 2. Some bids may be accepted and some rejected. The rejected capacity can then be offered for sale as reserve capacity. If accepted, they are paid the price for reserves.

The following day (or the following hour) both of your block 1 and block 2 bids for energy may be accepted and the provider actually has to provide the energy.

In NY, we pay different prices for reserves that can be ready to go in 30 minutes, 15 minutes, or 0 seconds (the last one is called spinning reserves). There are also auctions for other services a power plant can provide such as voltage support, frequency regulation, black-start capability, and installed capacity.

So comparing those reserves with a backup diesel that sits unused and neglected until needed is a false comparison.
 
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