What Caused the Texan Electricity Blackouts of 2021?

The incentive for gas generation to protect Texans was taken away by the deliberate energy only market strategy. The purpose of which was to aid the profitability of intermittent wind and solar resources and increase their penetration into the grid.

What Caused the Texan Electricity Blackouts of 2021?

111 people died and 4 million Texans were left without power for several days in February 2021.fn Almost double what Hurricane Harvey, which swept through Texas in 2017 and killing 68. Many narratives were given on the blackouts. After 3 months, and speaking to several Power Engineers, much of what was reported by legacy news can now be debunked. For families moving to Texas from California, the Lone Star has been replacing decommissioned coal and gas plants with wind into its total energy mix at a rate similar to California has pushed with enforcing residential customers to solar.

Initially, global warming was reported to be behind the "record-breaking cold weather polar vortex" across Texas. But it was the winter polar vortex breaking up that caused “cold waves” across Continental USA. The vortex would have lasted longer and actually protected Texas from the Arctic cold air. Nor did they break any cold temperature records.

Then came "lack of winterisation" on the generating equipment. Generators in colder climates than Texas have invested in de-icing measures to ensure solar panels and wind turbines operate. At one point during the storm, solar produced no electricity while wind produced about 1% of its potential output. Since electricity must be produced the moment it is needed, natural gas power plants made up the shortfall.

Sworn testimony in both houses of the Texas legislature on Feb. 25-26th from ERCOT and Oncor, one of the two large electric providers, cut power to the oil and gas fields, compressors and pipeline infrastructure responsible for running the power plants. These compressors, previously powered by natural gas were forced to switch to electric by the Obama Administration.

Let us first look at the day and week of the blackouts.

Energy Trader Charts February 2021

The rolling blackouts were caused by a simultaneous spike in demand and drop in supply which shocked the electrical system. Record electricity usage occurred when the winter snow storm hit. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) responded to peak demand of 69,150 MW. Significantly above its projected 57,699 MW.

An early indicator of generation decay was signalled at 1:10am. Customers were given 45 minutes to react when ERCOT's 60 Hz frequency, as the heartbeat of the grid, suddenly dipped to 59.38 Hz at 1:55am. The American grid system operates at a frequency of 60 hertz. Meaning the current alternates, back and forth 60 times per second. Keeping the grid frequency stable between 59.5 and 60.5 hertz is critical. Had it gone lower there would have been cascading blackouts across the entire State.

The trip out of capacity and large frequency drop to 59.3Hz occurred at 1:52 am. Paul Homewoodfn pin-pointed the time the grid reacted to increased demand.

Generation by fuel type in ERCOT 1-15 February 2021: IEA Data & Statistics
Generation by fuel type in ERCOT 1-15 February 2021: IEA Data & Statistics

Only Natural Gas (NG) saved the Texan grid from total collapse on 14-15th February. Zoom in to view the yellow area is solar generation and the orange is wind power.

Texas Temperature Records

Data charts from CLIMOD show February 2021 temperatures were not “a once in a blue moon" occurrence.

Austin, Texas weather chart for February 11th-16th 2021fn
Austin, Texas weather chart for February 11th-16th 2021fn

Texas has experienced 8 occasions where maximum temperatures have been colder since 1948.

Austin Lowest Maximum Temperature

Austin, which suffered the brunt of the cold weather, recorded daytime temperatures of 25F. The pink horizontal line shows the years the maximum temperature were lower: 1948-9, 1950-1, 1961-2, 1983-5 and 1988-91.

Lowest maximum temperatures in Austin, Texas from 1939-Feb 2021 Source: CLIMOD
Lowest maximum temperatures in Austin, Texas from 1939 to Feb. 2021: CLIMOD
Austin Lowest Minimum Temperature

Austin's lowest minimum temperatures, typically recorded during the evenings, saw 1989-90 colder and 1949-50 significantly colder still. The following year so the lowest minimum temperatures of 1950-51 just as cold as experienced in 2021.

Lowest minimum temperatures in Austin, Texas. Source: CLIMOD
Lowest minimum temperatures in Austin, Texas: CLIMOD

Why has Texan Energy Reliability Reduced?

Fossil fuel and nuclear are operated with a high degree of reliability and dependability. Wind and solar are intermittent resources, working only under good conditions (sunny and windy days) and has no capacity value unless paired with costly battery systems for storage.

In 2019, Texas wind produced about 34% of its electricity capacity, hour-to-hour, sometimes more than 70%, and sometimes close to 0%.

Solar panels during daylight hours
Solar panels during daylight hours

An energy only market fuels diversification towards intermittent resources. Rewarding only energy that is fed into the grid – not backup power. Wind is compensated for feeding the grid during periods of excess generation when fossil fuel resources are penalised.

Texas added more than 20,000 MWh of these intermittent resources since 2015 whilst retiring significant coal generation. From 1980 to 1997 Texas and the surrounding areas of its neighbour States had 22 wind turbine arrays.

From 1998 to early 2021, it ballooned from 22 to 16,293.

Texas Wind Farm locations: US Wind Turbine Data Base
Texan Wind Farm Arrays: US Wind Turbine Data Base

In 2020, there was a concerted effort in legacy and mainstream pushing wind turbine investments, celebrating wind energy being able to serve 6 million new homes in the previous 12 months alone with the turbine expansion.

What a difference a year makes.

Texas has become the nation’s leader in wind power due to a federal incentive called the Production Tax Credit (PTC). The PTC gives incentives to wind companies who generate power into the grid even when an abundance of wind, typically in the middle of the night. These companies, some owned by foreign governments, can pay the grid to take their power and still make money as the PTC pays them federal tax money for every megawatt produced.

Even though backup generators are cheaper to use and to fuel than adding wind farms with the accompanying taxes. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) do not to place reliance on renewables. In 2020 the CCP built 3 times as many coal plants as any other country.

Observations from the Texan Energy Blackout

Texas does not have a capacity market. By design, they rely solely upon the energy only market. ERCOT does not receive any profit from having standby capacity ready for emergencies. The energy only market works well only in normal conditions. Judith Curry Ph.D, Geophysical Sciencesfn University of Chicago, made two observations from the Texan February 2021 blackouts.fn

i) "Consider if the owners of gas generation had built sufficient generation to get through the emergency with some excess power. Instead of collecting $9,000 per MWH from existing functioning units, they would be receive less than $100 per MWH for the output of those plants and their new plants. Why would generators be inclined to do such a thing?"

ii) "Why would anyone build infrastructure that would sit idle in normal years and serve to slash revenue by orders of magnitudes in extreme conditions?"

The incentive for gas generation to protect Texans was taken away by the deliberate energy only market strategy. The purpose of which was to aid the profitability of intermittent wind and solar resources and increase their penetration into the grid.

Corporate Tax Credits for Green Renewables

The Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act was one of the first bills to be signed by the Biden Administration in December 2020. Which extended the deadline for the following systems to qualify for corporate tax credits. Green technology companies and investment vehicles in the following energy production sector will continue to benefit:

Geothermal Electric, Solar Thermal Electric, Solar Photovoltaics, Wind, Biomass, Hydroelectric, Municipal Solid Waste, Landfill Gas, Tidal, Wave and Ocean Thermal.

Wind projects started in either 2020-21 qualifies for Renewable Electricity "Production Tax Credit"fnfn at 60% of the full rate on the electrical output for 10 years.

Planned Additions to American Energy Capacity in 2021

31.9 GW,  81% of all new capacity being brought online into America's grid systems will be Battery, Solar and Wind. Only 6.6 GW of new Natural Gas will be added to US generating capacity in 2021. No new Coal or Nuclear capacity is planned for the next 30 years.

There will be a net decrease in coal and nuclear power plants in the US energy mix in 2021.

US Energy Addition Locations due in 2021: US EIA
US Energy Addition Locations due in 2021: US EIA

Personal Energy Preparedness for Texans

On April, ERCOT the Texan Energy provider announced that it would need to declare an "emergency" to secure more resources. The month of April is generally used to carry out maintenance work after winter.

This will be worrisome for Climate Change Policy Makers as the Great Maunder Minimum and Solar Cycle 25 has provided ample data the Earth will experience on average colder weather - not global warming.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation has estimated between 2006–29, the cost to State taxpayers for subsidies for wind renewables will be $36 billion. A staggering amount of money for no resilience or reliability. I recommend citizens in Texas, California (and the UK) write to their local politician and power utility company to specifically answer:

How will you provide power on hot or cold low-wind nights?

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