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Shekhar Shukla's picture
Managing Member AP Energy Solutions, LLC

I have worked in transaction structuring, risk management and development of quantitative analysis tools in the energy industry since June 1998. Prior to that I was a scientist at Fermi National...

  • Member since 2021
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  • Mar 10, 2021
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The temperatures in Texas started dropping precipitously during the second week of February 2021 and continued dropping until they plummeted to historically low levels on the night of Feb 15 and morning of Feb 16. The ERCOT system load rose to 70 GW on the evening of Feb 14, an unprecedented level for the winter. The temperatures were still falling and load was trending up, but ERCOT could not bring additional generation online. To avert a disaster involving a collapse of the grid, ERCOT started shedding load (rolling blackouts). The weather kept getting colder hitting the lowest temperatures a day after the load shedding started. The effect on Texas was devastating. The reason of the shortfall in accessible generation was malfunctioning of generators and fuel supply systems due to cold weather.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 10, 2021

Glad to see these type of analyses coming out. Do you think this situation was unique to Texas or could it have happened elsewhere? Of course ERCOT is unique in many ways, but was that the culprit or might other grid systems need to be taking serious lessons away from this? 

Shekhar Shukla's picture
Shekhar Shukla on Mar 11, 2021

ERCOT is unique in many ways, including the large renewable component in the generation portfolio, but not being prepared for extreme weather which has actually been observed in the past few decades, will get any grid. The simple reason for the outage looks like the equipment that we were banking on, failed, and it did not fail because the wind was unpredictable. It failed because there was something else that was variable and unpredictable for any given hour – the temperature, and we were not prepared for the extent of its variability. It does not matter what kind of generation we eliminate – solar, wind or other intermittent sources, if the equipment we are relying on fails, we have a problem.

As for the lessons from this experience, when dealing with extreme events which extract a huge toll when they occur, one should be prepared for even bad events that are extremely rare if they seem possible. To use the analogy of Russian roulette, the cost of hitting the loaded chamber is high.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 11, 2021

To use the analogy of Russian roulette, the cost of hitting the loaded chamber is high.

Excellent point-- and scary to think that what happened in Texas wasn't even the worst case scenario!

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Bob Meinetz on Mar 10, 2021

Shekhar, I immediately see a problem with your analysis:

"Variability of wind generation due to wind speed is expected and should not affect reliability. On the other hand, a variation due to unexpected equipment malfunction would compromise reliability."

That variability of wind generation is expected doesn't necessarily mean it's reliable. 

There isn't a single grid in the world that runs on wind alone, and for good reason: wind is incapable of supplying the reliable supply of AC electricity needed by to power a grid. It's 100% reliant on natural gas generation to fill in the dips when the wind slows, and replace it when there's no wind at all (it happens more often than you might think). This dependence makes it even less reliable than gas-fired generation, what many consider the main culprit behind the near-collapse of the ERCOT grid in the early morning hours of Feb. 15.

Typically, when system analysts review any industrial system for reliability they begin with removing the least reliable elements first - the "weak links in the chain" - and ERCOT is no different. If Texans want a reliable grid, they need to reduce dependence on wind, solar, and other intermittent sources, or eliminate them entirely.

Shekhar Shukla's picture
Shekhar Shukla on Mar 11, 2021

You are objecting to something I never said. I never said that the fact that variability in wind generation is expected makes it reliable. I said that the fact that it is variable does not make it unreliable.

I hope this clears the confusion.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 11, 2021

Well, you're wrong there too. Variable energy is, by definition, unreliable. It's generation that grid engineers can't count on it when they need it.

"re•li•a•ble adj consistently good in quality or performance; able to be trusted."

I hope this clears the confusion.

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