Saturday, February 27, 2021

Melanie Phillips: A perfect storm of weather, wrongheadedness and wishful thinking

The recent snow storm in Texas and other states, which resulted in catastrophic power outages during a period of intensely cold weather, gave rise to a further blizzard of blame and finger-pointing over the cause.

Climate change zealots, stung by the charge (as I reported here) that the icing up of Texas’s wind turbines had played a significant role in causing the breakdown in the power supply, responded that this wasn’t true, that the outages were all the fault of a breakdown in natural gas supplies (boo, hiss) and that the attack on sanctified wind power was just Republican climate-change-denial propaganda.

But of course.

Since then, various well-informed articles have explained the complications of the power supply routes in Texas. These pieces have broadly supported the original proposition — that in that perfect storm the coup de grace, so to speak, was indeed delivered by the fragilities of wind power.

This Wall Street Journal editorial said:
Some readers have questioned our reporting Wednesday (“The Political Making of a Texas Power Outage”) that wind’s share of electricity generation in Texas plunged to 8 per cent from 42 per cent. How can that be, they wonder, when the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (Ercot) has reported that it counts on wind to meet only 10 per cent of its winter capacity.
The WSJ answered its own question this way:
Texas has about 30,000 MW of wind capacity, but winds aren’t constant or predictable. Winds this past month have generated between about 600 and 22,500 MW. Regulators don’t count on wind to provide much more than 10 per cent or so of the grid’s total capacity since they can’t command turbines to increase power like they can coal and gas plants. 
Wind turbines at times this month have generated more than half of the Texas power generation, though this is only about a quarter of the system’s power capacity. Last week wind generation plunged as demand surged. Fossil-fuel generation increased and covered the supply gap. Thus between the mornings of Feb. 7 and Feb. 11, wind as a share of the state’s electricity fell to 8 per cent from 42 per cent, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). 
Gas-fired plants produced 43,800 MW of power Sunday night and coal plants chipped in 10,800 MW—about two to three times what they usually generate at their peak on any given winter day—after wind power had largely vanished. In other words, gas and coal plants held up in the frosty conditions far better than wind turbines did. 
It wasn’t until temperatures plunged into the single digits early Monday morning that some conventional power plants including nuclear started to have problems, which was the same time that demand surged for heating. Gas plants also ran low on fuel as pipelines froze and more was diverted for heating. 
“It appears that a lot of the generation that has gone offline today has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system,” Electric Reliability Council of Texas senior director Dan Woodfin said Tuesday. The wind industry and its friends are citing this statement as exoneration. But note he used the word “today.” Most wind power had already dropped offline last week. 
Gas generation fell by about one-third between late Sunday night and Tuesday, but even then was running two to three times higher than usual before the Arctic blast. Gas power nearly made up for the shortfall in wind, though it wasn’t enough to cover surging demand.  
Between 12 a.m. on Feb. 8 and Feb. 16, wind power plunged 93 per cent while coal increased 47 per cent and gas 450 per cent, according to the EIA. Yet the renewable industry and its media mouthpieces are tarring gas, coal and nuclear because they didn’t operate at 100 per cent of their expected potential during the Arctic blast even though wind turbines failed nearly 100 per cent.  
The policy point here is that an electricity grid that depends increasingly on subsidised but unreliable wind and solar needs baseload power to weather surges in demand. Natural gas is crucial but it also isn’t as reliable as nuclear and coal power.
Got that?

Then there’s this more granular analysis from Mitchell Rolling at the Centre for the American Experiment website:
Here were the major factors contributing to the energy crisis: 
Because Texas doesn’t “winterise” its electricity infrastructure, around 45 gigawatts (GW) of generating capacity became inoperable the morning of February 15, 2021, due to extreme weather. Included in this capacity was:  
30 GW of fuel-based energy sources (mainly natural gas) that became unable to produce electricity due to frozen natural gas pipelines and safety mechanisms that shut down nuclear and coal facilities to protect against extreme cold temperature. This is nearly 30 percent of all nuclear, coal, and natural gas capacity on the Texas grid.  
15 GW of wind energy that could not generate electricity due to wind turbines freezing. This is roughly 50 percent of all wind and solar capacity on the Texas grid.
Rolling then looked at the data on electricity capacity and generation from the different power sources. He wrote:
As you can see, the top three performing energy sources during the energy crisis in Texas were all fuel-based energy sources: nuclear, coal, and natural gas. On average, these three energy sources alone provided over 91 percent of all electricity generated throughout the energy emergency, as the graph below shows. Without these energy sources on the grid providing the bulk of electricity, the situation in Texas would have gone from bad to worse. 
… Remarkably, natural gas still generated electricity at 38 percent of its total capacity throughout the energy emergency – providing on average over 65 percent of all electricity generation through Monday and Tuesday – despite roughly 30 GW being inoperable due to frozen pipelines holding up fuel. This means that the natural gas facilities that could still receive fuel were operating at capacity factors of more than 62 percent. 
The three worst-performing generating assets, on the other hand, belonged exclusively to renewable energy sources: solar, hydro, and wind. Had Texas been even more reliant on these energy sources, as renewable energy advocates around the country desire, the energy crisis in Texas would have been even worse.
Measuring reliability, he wrote:
Nuclear scored the highest grade of an A, followed by natural gas and coal with C’s. Solar was the only renewable energy source to score higher than an F with a grade of a D, while hydro and wind scored F’s.
Then he looked at average capacity. Why? He wrote:
Because some energy sources, such as solar, work very efficiently during certain times of the day, which provides a degree of reliability when the sun is shining. Even wind can, at times, produce electricity fairly efficiently (if and only if the wind is blowing, which isn’t as much of a for sure thing as the sun rising and falling). As you can see from the graph below, however, this was not the case during the energy crisis in Texas. 
As you can see, wind energy in Texas only managed to produce a maximum of 19 percent of total potential output during the entire energy emergency in Texas. Wind energy is the second most abundant energy source in Texas in terms of capacity with over 28 GW – or nearly 21 percent of all capacity in Texas. The fact that at least 81 percent of this capacity sat dormant during a time when Texans needed electricity the most is simply inexcusable.  
Comparatively, all other energy sources produced a high of over 40 percent of their total potential – even natural gas, despite 30 GW of natural gas capacity unable to receive fuel. Based on the highest one-hour capacity factors for each energy source throughout the energy crisis, the grading scale is as follows. Nuclear and solar scored A’s, natural gas, coal, and hydro took C’s, and wind energy once again took a grade of an F.  
…In case you missed it, wind energy scored an F in all three categories – the only energy source to perform so poorly during the power outages in Texas.  
As such, you can rightfully label wind energy as the most unreliable energy source during the Texas energy crisis. While it may not have been the primary cause of the power outages, it certainly wouldn’t have done Texas any good to have more wind capacity on the system than fuel-based energy sources. In fact, that would have only made things worse. 

But hey, this is all just Republican propaganda, isn’t it.

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist, broadcaster and author - you can follow her work on her website HERE

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