Sub-zero weather is hitting states far from the Arctic that are not prepared for it, like Oklahoma and New Mexico. Some adapt better than others. People in Atlanta learn to shovel snow, but Texas has had to close power plants because it was unprepared for bursting water mains.
Texas is having rolling blackouts because the state had no prevention plan covering frozen water in the pipes serving fossil-fueled power plants. And it is not easy to get emergency electrons supplied from other states. Texas has almost completely seceded from the national grid.
The frigid weather across the state caused up to 50 fossil-fired power plants to go out of service unexpectedly Wednesday morning, knocking out some 7 GW of generating capacity among 50 fossil-fired power plants — more than 12 percent of the day’s projected power demand. (Wind turbines were unaffected, and kept producing the planned 3.5 to 4 GW of power contracted for, about 7% of the state needs).
Usually winter is a good time for maintenance and 12 GW was offline – at what is normally a low peak time with no danger of air conditioners running – for repairs. But with the cold weather, more electric heaters were running, and gas was also impacted by the higher than average need for heating.
After a day of rain, followed by freezing temperatures, both coal and gas-fired plants had to be shut down as their water pipes froze. Gas-fired pipelines face an additional danger in freezing temperatures that are not planned for. During extreme cold, a small amount of water mixed in could freeze. Most of the outages are from power plants in the northern part of the state where temperatures have been below 32 degrees for several days straight and in some parts of Texas, the wind chill is 32 below zero.
Rolling blackouts, beginning at 5.30 Wednesday, like the ones that Enron inflicted on California in 2001 in order to replace its Democratic Governor with a Republican, are making Texans mad, and reviving Enron conspiracy theories. (Enron didn’t have the intended effect, because Schwarzenegger did not turn out to be the Bush-like malleable fool that his backers expected).
But the cause is possibly something we are all to blame for, not some clever conspiracy. Climates are changing. Freakish weather, long a predicted effect of the overall increase in temperature globally, is starting to wreak havoc worldwide.
As climate change has heated the Arctic, now there are freakishly colder winters, with heavier snowstorms in Europe and the US. Some scientists are attributing the change to the weakening of the polar vortex as Arctic temperatures have heated up. Freezing temperatures that used to stay circling the North Pole in the jet stream now “jump the fence” that used to keep them penned up.
NOAA climate scientist James Overland suggests that the warmer Arctic ocean is heating the air above it enough to making it less dense, equalizing the air pressure, cutting down the barrier so that it is now easier for extreme winter temperatures to head South.
Susan Kraemer writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today, PV-Insider , SmartGridUpdate and GreenProphet and has been published at Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design she brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention: solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times. Follow Susan @dotcommodity on twitter.