Texas largely relies on natural gas for power. It wasn’t ready for the extreme cold

March 8, 2021

Failures across Texas’ natural gas operations and supply chains due to extreme temperatures are the most significant cause of the power crisis that left millions of Texans without heat and electricity during the February winter storm that swept the U.S. according to a February 17, 2021 Dallas Morning News report.

From frozen natural gas wells to frozen wind turbines, all sources of power generation faced difficulties during the winter storm. But Texans largely rely on natural gas for power and heat generation, especially during peak usage, experts said.

Officials for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages most of the Texas’ grid, said the primary cause of the outages Tuesday appeared to be the state’s natural gas providers. Many are not designed to withstand such low temperatures on equipment during production.

By some estimates, nearly half of the state’s natural gas production screeched to a halt due to the extremely low temperatures, while freezing components at natural gas-fired power plants forced some operators to shut down.

More than half of ERCOT’s winter generating capacity, largely powered by natural gas, was offline due to the storm, an estimated 45 gigawatts, according to Dan Woodfin, a senior director at ERCOT.

The outages during this storm far exceeded what ERCOT had predicted in November for an extreme winter event. The forecast for peak demand was 67 gigawatts; peak usage during the storm was more than 69 gigawatts Sunday.

In early February, Texas operators were producing about 24 billion cubic feet per day, according to an estimate by S&P Global Platts. But on Monday (2/15), Texas production plummeted to a fraction of that: Operators in the state produced somewhere between 12 billion and 17 billion cubic feet per day.

The systems that get gas from the earth aren’t properly built for cold weather. Operators in West Texas’ Permian Basin, one of the most productive oil fields in the world, particularly struggled to bring natural gas to the surface, analysts said, as cold weather and snow closed wells or caused power outages that prevent pumping the fossil fuels from the ground.

Texas does not have as much storage capacity as other states, experts said, because the resource-laden state can easily pull it from the ground when it’s needed — usually.

Upgrading equipment to withstand extremely low temperatures and other changes, such as providing incentives for customers to conserve power or upgrade to smart appliances, could help avoid disasters like this one, said Le Xie, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Texas A&M University and assistant director of energy digitization at A&M’s Energy Institute.

“We used to not worry too much about such extreme cold weather in places like Texas, but we probably need to get ready for more in the future,” Xie said. With climate change, he said, “We’re going to have more extreme weather conditions throughout the country.”

What this means to you
More than half of ERCOT’s winter generating capacity, largely powered by natural gas, was offline due to the storm, according to ERCOT. The outages during this storm far exceeded what ERCOT had predicted for an extreme winter event. Upgrading equipment to withstand extremely low temperatures could help avoid disasters like this one.

MIRATECH can help
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