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No Easy Solutions to Grid Challenges Like Those Texas Faced

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Holger Peller's picture
Executive Vice President, Power Delivery Division POWER Engineers

Holger Peller has served as Executive Vice President of the Power Delivery Division of POWER Engineers since 2018. He is responsible for ensuring that POWER’s 1,800-person nationwide power...

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  • May 26, 2021 5:32 am GMT
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2021-05 - Grid Modernization, click here for more

By Holger Peller, Executive Vice President, Power Delivery, and Gerry Murray, Executive Vice President, Generation

After the catastrophic consequences of a mid-February storm that left millions of Texans without power for days, the question on everyone’s mind is, “How can we prevent this from happening again?”

As engineers, we are natural-born problem solvers. But given the choice, we’d rather prevent problems from occurring in the first place. So as we read the reports of the loss of lives and property that resulted from yet another unprecedented event that revealed the weaknesses in an electric grid, our thoughts are centered on ways we can help our clients deliver reliable power to their customers.

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Given the multiple factors that contributed to this event – insufficiently weatherized power generation and fuel sources, Texas’ uniquely independent grid and deregulated power market, and a weakening jet stream that allowed cold Arctic air to move southward to create a polar vortex – there is no simple solution.

Hardening

Strengthening infrastructure is an obvious first step to resiliency. Extreme weather events that threaten power reliability are occurring more frequently as demand for electric power increases around the globe. A holistic analysis across all power generation plant types and electric distribution systems should precede capital expenditures to prioritize where hardening should occur and to what degree.

Relying on history to predict the future is no longer sufficient in our rapidly changing climate. The 100-year storm of yesterday may be the 10-year storm of today. To accurately measure cost and risk, published, statistical climatic data must be considered along with market capacity.

Energy Storage

Investment in technology is also essential to system integrity.

Although renewable and traditional generation sources can be successfully engineered for greater reliability, we must continue to pursue advancements in long-term energy storage. From new battery designs, small modular nuclear solutions to pumped hydro and compressed air , gaseous and liquid fuels including hydrogen, renewable natural gas,  and biofuels - innovation in how we create and store power for contingency events is critical to resiliency.

The challenge is to provide clean, reliable and affordable power plant solutions for the future that can achieve all three, often conflicting, goals with the current commercially available solution set.

Smarter Policy

We also need local, state, and federal leaders to develop balanced policy that considers not just the energy needs of the US, but the world. Reasonable regulations, backed by incentives and penalties, that integrate the myriad alternatives for energy production and delivery are essential.

Prevention of stranded assets is just one of many considerations to discuss when developing effective policy. Energy efficiency should also be on the table with incentives for energy conservation efforts.

All stakeholders – power developers, rate payers, utilities, and regulators -- must be involved in these discussions with the goal of supporting the policy they create.

Failure Prevention

A catastrophe like people in Texas and other parts of the country suffered has a deeply human impact on people’s very lives, and wellbeing. This puts power reliability at the top of everyone’s newsfeed. But the long-term goals of environmental sustainability and affordability need to be factored into any proposed solutions as well.

Unfortunately, maintaining awareness of the value of resiliency in our national consciousness may not prove difficult as high impact events occur more often. Keeping the discussion moving forward on power failure prevention may be not just a primary step, but also the simplest one.

Let’s hope the momentum created by recent events will move us all forward in our efforts to keep power and water available for everyone in our communities.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 26, 2021

A catastrophe like people in Texas and other parts of the country suffered has a deeply human impact on people’s very lives, and wellbeing. This puts power reliability at the top of everyone’s newsfeed. But the long-term goals of environmental sustainability and affordability need to be factored into any proposed solutions as well.

Do you think it'll have 'staying power' this time? A common item to point out in the wake of Texas was that this wasn't the first time this had happened, and the warning shot if you will came from a similar event in 2011. But after that, clearly the proper adjustments weren't made. Will this time be different? 

Joshua Aldridge's picture
Joshua Aldridge on May 26, 2021

Great article! What we faced has been brewing for a long time, and the failures are rooted in multiple problem areas that also include political cronyism and flat out corruption. In 2020, former chair Deann Walker disbanded the enforcement arm of the PUCT that should have been on the hardening issues. TRE knew entities weren’t hardened in 2011 and were reminded in 2018, and yet did nothing. Load resources included natural gas transmission facilities because nobody at the TDSP or above checked them. Let’s see what happens next.

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