"The State of Texas is ready to fully and robustly respond to the severe cold weather event expected to impact Texas this holiday week, and our state's electrical grid is absolutely prepared to meet demand over the course of this storm." Texas Governor, Greg Abbot
The above statement was a reiteration by the Governor emphasizing that the state’s power grid responsible for the electricity supply will not shut down due to the approaching winter storm during the days before Christmas.
However, it is also important to see his statement in context to 2021 February when freezing temperatures across Texas brought the power grid down and it resulted in the deaths of approx. 200 people across the state. That was a huge disaster. Not only the lives of people were lost, but the state also suffered massive impact economically reporting an approx. $130 Billion loss due to the blackouts. The scale of the catastrophe was so huge that 4.5 million people were without power due to the grid failure. Read the news here.
It is important to understand why the 2021 power grid failure occurred as it could be a lesson for power grid operators across the world.
WHY TEXAS POWER GRID FAILED IN 2021?
“All sources underperformed expectations.” said Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University in Houston. “But far, far more than everything else combined were the shortfalls from natural gas.”
The state’s power grid was simply not prepared for the extreme cold weather in February of 2021. Natural gas production froze which was accompanied by the freezing of the pipes that transport natural gas. Power plants stopped working and it was not possible to restart the plants in the cold weather.
Unfortunately, Texas at that time did not have a requirement to winterize its power plants. To winterize simply means to plan accordingly so as to make your power plants resilient for the winter.
Subsequently, as power generation was dropping from the grid the demand for power shot up across the state. Hence controlled power outages were ordered to prevent long-term damage causing power to be unavailable. Read about the news here.
CORRECTIVE ACTION TAKEN AFTER FEBRUARY 2021
“The more time you spend contemplating what you should have done…you lose valuable time planning what you can and will do.” – Lil Wayne, American rapper
Following the disaster, the Texas legislature took corrective steps by effectively passing a law that made it a requirement to winterize the state’s electricity infrastructure and power plants to be prepared for winter. Governor Greg Abbot of Texas signed the bill into law in June 2021. Non-compliance with the law could result in companies being hit with fines of up to $1 Million per day for each offense. Read about the news here.
Highlights of the bill:
1. Power generators who are operating in the Texan market would be required to follow the standards for emergency weather preparedness determined by the Public Utilities Commission of Texas which is the state regulator for public utilities.
2. The bill also covers Natural gas facilities essential to keep power plants online. The Texas Railroad Commission which is the state agency regulating the oil and gas industry will determine which Natural gas facilities are to be covered.
3. On-site inspections will be conducted in order to ensure that there is compliance.
4. Texans will be notified of any emergency, as this bill sets up a statewide emergency alert system.
COULD THIS DISASTER BE PREVENTED?
“Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is a disaster.” - Elon Musk, CEO, Tesla
In February 2011, Texas faced a similar situation where cold weather conditions caused natural gas wells to freeze and thereby cut off a major source of electricity as well as heating for many Texans. The power cut was not as deadly in 2021 as temperatures did not stay that low for long.
A report issued in 2011, talked about another cold snap that caused power outages across the state in 1989 that officials had given a number of recommendations to winterize the power infrastructure after that event. But since the recommendations were not mandatory, implementation was not complied with. Read about the news here.
The above two events clearly demonstrate how a disaster can strike in unexpected ways as not many would have expected the disaster to create a situation as extreme as it was in 2021. It also shows how the costs of non-compliance could be deadly.
Is your power grid ready and equipped with the necessary tools to handle a disaster situation?
As another winter storm approached Texas earlier week, concerns were raised about whether a repeat of 2021 could happen. However, the grid was intact and no widespread power outages were reported indicating that winterization measures may have succeeded.
The power infrastructure was tested earlier this year in February 2022 when a cold snap hit the state. However, the power infrastructure withstood it, and though there were outages the power grid was able to hold on. Read about the news here.
The resiliency of the Texas power grid in the week before Christmas is definitely reassuring however it remains to be seen as weather conditions and climate change becomes more extreme, are the winterization plans sufficient to tackle crises?
Finally, it is important to note that February 2021 winter storm saw ice-cold temperatures for 11 consecutive days, a situation not seen yet. Only time will tell whether the grid will be able to hold up in such extreme weather.
Imagine a situation like February 2021 repeating...we need to be prepared in all situations.
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