Energy & Environment

More Texas Outages Could Be On The Way As ERCOT Struggles To Manage Power Supply

While the grid manager said it regained some supply Tuesday, that was partially offset by the loss of other power generators.

Power lines are shown Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Houston. More than 4 million people in Texas still had no power a full day after historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge of demand for electricity to warm up homes unaccustomed to such extreme lows, buckling the state’s power grid and causing widespread blackouts.

As many as 3 million electricity customers across Texas are still out of power and more outages may be on the way Tuesday evening, according to the state's grid manager.

In an update with reporters Tuesday afternoon, representatives from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said that while some supply was regained today, they actually lost supply from other generators due to the cold weather.

"We haven't been able to add as much back during the course of the day as we'd like to," said Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations at ERCOT. "And what we have added back, we're hoping to keep online but if additional generation doesn't become available as the day goes on, we might actually have to take some of it back offline to maintain that power supply balance."

Demand for energy has skyrocketed as Texans want to heat their homes during the frigid temperatures of the winter storm.

Record electricity use amid the storm put unprecedented strain on the grid. ERCOT initially announced shorter rolling blackouts to lessen that strain, but ultimately had to move to more sustained outages.

"We broke the prior winter record for ERCOT by a lot — basically shattered the record," said CEO Bill Magness. "We saw more demand from this set of weather events than we have ever seen in the winter. Almost as much as we see at the peak of our summer."

Supply is also under strain. A quarter of the generators in Texas are failing to produce energy because the freeze challenged so many.

Some reasons for the diminished supply are frozen wellheads, pipes and instruments at thermal power plants. Icy turbines have also limited generation from wind sources.

The majority of the loss supply — 65% — was due to problems with gas, coal and nuclear generators. Renewables such as wind turbines in West Texas and the coast are responsible for most of the remainder of the shortage.

The imbalance of supply and demand are causing ERCOT to intentionally cut power for some customers. Officials say permanent damage could come without these controlled and temporary blackouts.

"We can’t let ourselves tumble into a situation where by acting prematurely — and I hate to say it because it's been such a long event — that we end up in that blackout that could last you know an indeterminate amount of time, maybe months in order to speed the resolution," Magness said.

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