Environ Highlights a Grid Hardening Path to Withstanding the Tough Weather
In February 2021, Texas saw its energy grid crippled by a severe winter storm, which caused natural gas fields to close and pipelines to freeze just as demand increased, leaving 4.5 million businesses and households without power and a way to keep warm in subfreezing temperatures.
This put intense pressure on The Electrical Reliability Council of Texas, a group tasked with balancing the supply and demand of the electrical grid serving 90% of Texans. Since then, they’ve taken steps to create more reliable energy solutions in Houston and throughout the state. Below we outline some of their efforts along with additional grid hardening steps the country’s second-biggest state could take to avoid a similar disaster in the future.
At the heart of the problem during the winter storm was that natural gas plants and wind turbines in Texas were not weatherized to meet the extreme temperatures. As a result, after Winter Storm Uri, the Texas legislature upped maximum penalties for not meeting weatherization rules to $1 million per day per violation.
The new regulations required all electric generation and transmission owners to improve their winterization efforts. According to a report by ERCOT, all its electric generation fleet has passed on-site winterization inspections since. These inspections included 300 electric generation units that represented 85 percent of the outages during Winter Storm Uri.
Common weatherization efforts include:
- Maintaining and inspecting freeze protection elements
- Evaluating freeze maintenance items
- Enhancing and maintaining thermal insulation
- Regularly testing valves and pipes
- Evaluating wind breaks and enclosures
- Providing personnel training regarding extreme weather events.
The transition away from carbon-based energy systems throughout the United States has created challenges regarding resiliency and reliance, since a lot of renewable energy is intermittent. Though most production in the US is still carbon-based, regulators find themselves struggling to meet CO2 mandates while meeting operational requirements.
It’s vital to have a plan to ensure non-carbon-based generation can meet the requirements of various demand situations—including extreme weather like Texas saw in February 2021. Unless there’s a transition to more dispatchable forms of ‘clean’ power like hydrogen and nuclear generation, the other alternative is significantly boosting energy storage capacities.
Due to the low-capacity factor—the overall utilization of a power generation facility—and the intermittent nature of many renewable energy solutions, storage is necessary to replace carbon-based generation. While low energy storage was not a primary factor in the grid collapse during Winter Storm Uri, the energy-only market in Texas posed additional challenges when meeting extreme demands as temperatures plummeted. The 35% of intermittent resources used in its generation mix could not be dispatched efficiently when needed due to a lack of extensive storage capabilities. Expanding these capacities will help protect homes and businesses from outages in extreme weather events and play a vital role in regulating costs for consumers, owners, and shareholders. Reach out to our energy experts and learn more about the grid hardening steps officials can take to create a more reliable renewable energy solution for everyone. Schedule a meeting with our team by calling or filling out our online contact form.