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Arctic Attack: The Aftermath

Al Gore, Mike Pence and Elon Musk go into a bar……..

Insert your own joke here. Like politics most power market watchers prefer a villain. The natural gas sector couldn’t wait to shout “YOU’RE WELCOME FOR KEEPING YOU WARM!!!!” while I expect to shortly see tweets of solar panels providing power in snow covered remote areas. Excuse the kumbaya but diversity in power generation works just like the board room, it generates multiple options and solutions. More on this later.

I type these observations in my slowly warming home office after a 30 hour outage, fingers crossed I make it through before Houston’s roaming blackouts strike again. Therefore will refrain from another rant on shortcomings of deregulation in ERCOT, iced over wind turbines, frozen natural gas equipment and illogical curtailment policy.

Did I miss the memo from NASA pointing to concrete evidence that an artic vortex was undeniably caused by global warming? While I won’t refute fossil fuels contribute to rising average temperatures I recall these events happening in the past at about the same rate (remember 1989?). A brutal cold snap every 30 years doesn’t feel like climate Armageddon.

Similar to California’s woes managing significant renewable generation penetration the ERCOT market design left out an important component and cost: incentivizing natural gas power generation investment (aka capacity market with steep non-performance penalties). Establishing a competitive market for efficient quick start and weather resistant generation compensated is a start. After this week being ready will be on the agenda when the Texas legislature and the Governor address what went wrong. Expect ERCOT to see the bottom of a bus.

What’s wrong with siting natural gas peakers alongside solar/storage? They would support each other and lessen the cost impact until battery storage can carry the water.

How many tweets calling for shutting down natural gas pipelines did you see this week? Typing on a PC with 20% battery left in your 38 degree garage apartment can alter your priorities.

Again my guiding light T Boone Pickens nailed it saying we need to go Big Tent, develop new renewables while lessening environmental impact of hydrocarbons. As a society we still demand a few basics: ready transportation, lights and internet at the flip of a switch and typing without gloves on. It seems to me grid diversity is the path forward, I’ll have a LM 6000, a 5 MW battery array and 10 acres of solar panel. Crap, the lights just flickered, until next time…….

David Rogers's picture

Thank David for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 17, 2021

I agree with you that there is an overemphasis on Twitter hot takes and cable news potshots on the source of generation that isn't in that person's favor, but the real work will come via the post mortem that evaluates what should have been done to effectively, affordably, and efficiently prevent this from happening. It was a system-wide failure that impacted so many different regions and sectors on the grid-- it's going to take some time to really dig through the rubble.

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Feb 19, 2021

"It seems to me grid diversity is the path forward"

I am hearing more and more from professionals working in the industry that are saying we need diversity and "harmony".  The one size fits all approach may need to be evaluated. 

Thanks for your post and stay warm! 

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Feb 19, 2021

First, I hope the bizarre weather passes quickly and you can warm up, especially in Houston, home to my many friends and colleagues there. I truly feel for the people who were hurt by this debacle, especially those who lost loved ones and those who have terrible messes to clean up.

I cannot claim any wisdom about how this calamity could have been avoided, much less what needs to be done now.  I do lean heavily toward a diversity of energy sources evolving rather quickly toward a variety of renewables and storage. But that reality is not quite ready to be embraced yet.

I too look forward to the post mortem, though more the technical solutions than the political posturing and hypocrisy.

David Rogers's picture
David Rogers on Feb 22, 2021

Thanks for responding Mark, though Texas deregulation often gets slammed during episodes like this it should be noted that Next Era set the state on the path to large scale renewables when it converted 300 GE Frame 7 gas turbines into wind turbines and planted them near Sweetwater, Texas over 10 years ago. Without the barriers of utility approvals ERCOT spawned the biggest shift to renewables. We'll take the good with the bad....

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