Clean Power

Published on January 10th, 2014 | by Guest Contributor


Wind Power Kept The Lights On In Texas Storm

January 10th, 2014 by  


Originally published on ThinkProgress.
By Katie Valentine.

On Tuesday, frigid temperatures pushed Texas to a new winter record for power usage. But thanks in part to wind power, Texans were able to avoid major power outages, despite the stress on the grid.

On Monday, cold weather and shut downs of some power plants forced the Texas grid operator to begin implementing its emergency plan to meet demand. Demand remained high on Tuesday, but increased output from West Texas wind farms enabled the state to avoid an emergency scenario. It wasn’t the first time wind has helped Texas avoid power outages in extreme weather, either — in 2011, high wind outputs during peak demand helped Texas’s grid weather 100-plus temperatures.

Wind energy is helping other states weather the Polar Vortex as well — as AWEA notes, when the temperatures first began dropping in the Upper Midwest, wind generated enough energy to power 6 million average homes. The Mid-Atlantic region, too, saw high wind energy output, which helped bolster the grid after some power plants failed unexpectedly due to the weather.

But this week’s Polar Vortex is putting the vulnerability of the U.S. energy grid in focus. On Tuesday, electricity demand in parts of the Southeast U.S. was the second-highest it’s been in winter since the 1920s, according to the Tennessee Valley Authority. Parts of Tennessee lost power during the night, and parts of South Carolina instituted rolling blackouts to manage the electricity demand. Earlier this week, 40,000 people in Indiana lost power, and people across the country were urged to conserve power so that the grid could deal with the spike in demand.

Severe weather is the number one cause of power outages in the U.S., meaning that as extreme events become more common, the U.S. power grid will be put more and more at risk. Between 2003 and 2012, extreme weather caused more than 675 power outages and cost the U.S. $18 billion to $33 billion per year, according to the President’s Council of Economic Advisers and the Department of Energy. According to the report, which was released in August, transmission line construction in the U.S. has slowed from 10,000 miles built per year in the late 1960s to just 1,000 miles per year in the mid-2000s — a slowdown that means about 70 percent of U.S. transmission lines and power transformers are over 25 years old. Massoud Amin, electrical engineering professor at the University of Minnesota, estimates that updating the country to Smart Grid technology would cost $21 billion per year for the next two decades, but would ultimately result in savings of savings of between $79 and $94 billion per year.

“As a nation, we must take action to improve our electric grid if we want to meet the power needs of a pervasively digital society,” Amin wrote in Forbes in 2012. “Americans should not accept or learn to cope with increasing blackouts.”

Image Credit: NOAA

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  • Doug

    So what’s holding up smart grid, TOU metering, demand response, critical local infrastructure upgrades? In my area, the city demanded the SCE upgrade the network, and they are getting on it. Don’t let the utilities slack off – get involved, call your city council and mayor. Squeaky wheel gets the grease.

  • Uzza

    I find it funny that there’s not a single mention of nuclear power here, which had an astounding 95% uptime during all of this.
    Sure wind helped a bit, but the big savior is nuclear that kept running just as if it was a day like any other.
    And a funny fact. The output from the nuclear plants actually increased during all of this, because of the increased thermodynamic efficiencies from the lower temperatures at the cold end of the cycle.

    • Steve Grinwis

      Why is it surprising or noteworthy that a plant with a designed capacity factor of 90% was available. I also want my nuclear pants to survive things like tsunamis and tornados, so they sure as hell better run in the cold..

      • Bob_Wallace

        Nuclear pants?

        You the second coming of M C Hammer?

        • Steve Grinwis

          Yes, my nuclear pants better run in the cold! Sorry, I’m typing on my phone as I lie in bed recuperating from a cold!

      • Uzza

        It’s not surprising that it was available. What I said was that this article only talks about wind, as if it was it alone that saved the grid by running, while it was the fact that nuclear did not have any problems at all that is one of the primary reasons the grid barely survived when all the fossil fuel generators started failing in the cold.

        • Steve Grinwis

          I could be wrong on this, But, without wind, the grid would have gone down, no?

          And without Nuclear the grid would have gone down. Sounds like both were required?

          And this is a cleantech blog, so we probably care most about how wind saved the day?

    • JimBouton

      Here is another funny fact. The reason we were put in this situation was due to some problems out at Comanche Peak Reactor #1, in addition to the two coal plants failing due to the cold weather (this has happened before in ERCOT.)

      CPR #1 reduced their capacity to under 70% while they sorted out some issues due to the cold weather (from what my Oncor friends have told me.) CPR #1 is rated at 1250 MWe and was running under 800 MWe for a good part of the day.

      At the one time we had a peak on the coldest day of the year, we lost about 1200 MWe from nuclear and coal, and WIND came to the rescue.

      (Texas has mothballed about 10,000 MWe for the winter, which will fire up again once summer comes around.) ERCOT was not counting on such a high peak, plus losing three power plants.

      A couple other facts about CPR. The employees out there are all pretty old. Some estimates suggest that HALF might retire within the next five years. That is very scary, since we have very little young talent in the state for nuclear reactors.

      Another fact: In the winter, wind produces over 14% of the MWh electricity for ERCOT. Nuclear is around 12% during the same time.

  • saynomordor

    Considering the fact that demand response provided dispatchable capacity of 1.6 GW (nearly equal to wind output of ERCOT on Monday), does it not deserve at least a mention?

  • jburt56

    Sure. If you have wind chill you also have output from the wind farms.

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