This could have important implications as the U.S. energy industry struggles to reduce carbon emissions in response to the climate crisis.
While some try to blame one fuel source or another, the reality is that Arctic temperatures are hindering fossil fuel and renewable energy production.
Extreme cold causes the entire system to freeze, said Jason Bordoff, former energy chief in the Obama administration and director of the Center for Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. Not all power sources are efficient enough in extreme cold because they are not designed to function in such unusual conditions.
The ripple effect is being felt across the country as Texas’ rich oil and gas industry struggles.
Motiva’s sprawling Port Arthur refinery, the largest in the United States, closed Monday due to unprecedented low temperatures. According to Rystad Energy, approximately 2.5 million bpd of refining capacity was unused between Houston and Louisiana.
As temperatures fell below freezing in the Permian Basin, the country’s fault capital, numerous drilling rigs failed. Tight supply has pushed the price of US oil above $60 a barrel for the first time since January 2020.
Prices at the pump are also rising. The national average could easily rise by 15 cents a gallon within a week or two, according to Patrick de Haan, head of oil analysis at GasBuddy.
Texas – No. 1 for natural gas, oil and wind powerTexas – No. 1 for natural gas, oil and wind power
Surprisingly, these power outages occur in a state where energy resources are abundant. Texas produces more electricity than any other U.S. state – nearly twice as much as Florida, the closest state, according to federal statistics.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Texas is the state with the largest oil and natural gas reserves in the United States. In 2019, the state accounted for a whopping 41% of U.S. oil production and a quarter of the market’s natural gas production.
Wind power is also on the rise in Texas. According to the EIA, it will produce about 28 percent of all wind power in the United States in 2019.
The problem, however, is that Texas is not only an energy superpower, but also suffers from above-average temperatures. This means that the infrastructure is poorly prepared for the cold snap that is currently wreaking havoc. And the consequences are felt by millions.
It’s not just about wind energy.
Critics of renewable energy point out that wind turbines have been frozen or had to be shut down due to extreme weather conditions.
And that’s important, because according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), nearly a quarter (23%) of Texas’ electricity was generated by wind power last year.
Although other colder climates (such as Iowa and Denmark) rely on wind for even more power, experts say the turbines in Texas won’t survive the winter because of unexpected freezing temperatures. Cold protection measures such as antifreeze and heaters in turbine blades and components are generally not used in Texas.
It increases costs, so it’s cheaper to leave out those extra features, said Jesse Jenkins, an associate professor at Princeton University who researches energy systems and policy.
But it’s not just about shutting down the wind turbines. Natural gas and coal-fired power plants need water to stay in operation. Yet these water systems are frozen and others no longer have access to the electricity they need to operate.
The ability of some companies to generate electricity has been frozen. This includes natural gas and coal-fired generators, Texas Governor Greg Abbott wrote on Twitter.
And this is even more true for Texas than for frozen wind turbines, as ERCOT claims that by 2020, more than half of the state’s electricity will be generated from natural gas (40%) and coal (18%).
Price of electricity during a flight to the moon
According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, nuclear power plants also depend on the availability of water, and at least one unit in South Texas has been shut down. Texas gets about 11% of its electricity from nuclear power.
Even if there were no wind in Texas, electricity prices would skyrocket, said Matthew Hoza, head of energy analysis at BTU Analytics.
The problem, Khoza said, is that many Texas companies have not invested in cold protection for power plants and natural gas plants.
If you’re in West Texas, do you really want to spend money on this equipment? said Mr. Khoza.
isolated from national grid
It is too early to definitively pronounce what went wrong in Texas and how such disruptions can be prevented. The authorities should make more detailed information available to the public.
Yet according to some experts, the criticism of wind energy already seems exaggerated.
As for the question of blame, it’s a diversionary tactic to take the wind out of the sails. This is more of a political issue than the cause of the problems on the power grid, says Dan Cohan, associate professor of environmental engineering at Rice University.
According to Cohan, Texas is expected to have a much greater energy shortage for natural gas than for wind.
Clearly, a wide range of energy sources, from fossil fuels to renewables, were not prepared for Texas’ unusual climate.
Regions need to rethink the extreme conditions they expect and make sure their systems can withstand those conditions, Princeton’s Jenkins said.
The energy crisis in Texas also raises questions about the nature of the state’s deregulated and decentralized power grid. Unlike other states, Texas has deliberately chosen to isolate its network from the rest of the country.
This means that Texas, if all goes well, will not be able to export its excess capacity to neighboring states. And in the current crisis, it cannot import electricity.
What happens in Texas stays in Texas, Cohan said. It really came back to bite us.
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