Texas Electricity Generation in Crises

From Dan Soloman at Texas Monthly:

On Monday the good people of Texas, many still suffering from lingering trauma as a result of the February 2021 failure of the state’s power grid, braced for bad news. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the much-maligned entity that manages Texas’s famously independent grid, warned that the situation was dire because of “a projected reserve capacity shortage with no market solution available.” If things got worse, rolling blackouts might be needed. Not great!

Fortunately, the worst didn’t happen. There are a few reasons why. To reduce demand, many Texans turned up the thermostat by a few degrees to help save power, and ERCOT’s emergency response program paid some large energy customers to scale back usage during peak times. And significantly, solar power, which has been the star of the Texas grid so far during this interminable summer, continued to set records for energy production. If your air conditioner has been steadily running all summer long, you can thank the mighty power of the sun.

“We’ve got twice the solar we had last summer, and something like three times what we had eighteen months ago,” energy consultant Doug Lewin told me on Monday. “We actually set another solar record today, and we set one yesterday. Renewables throughout most of May and June, as we’ve been experiencing extreme heat, really were the difference between [having] a whole lot of conservation calls and potential rolling outages and not having them.”

The two key renewable energy sources contributing to the Texas power grid are solar and wind power; solar accounts for roughly 25 percent of the renewable resources on the grid, while wind represents the other three quarters, according to Andrew Dessler, director of the Texas Center for Climate Studies at Texas A&M.

Here is a graph depicting the share of Texas power supplied from various sources, through 2020.

Source: Dallas Fed.

As for assertions that renewables were the cause of the disaster of 2020, from the NYT:

The bulk of the power loss in Texas came from natural gas suppliers, according to regulators, as pipelines froze, making it difficult for plants to get the fuel they needed. Production from coal and nuclear plants dropped as well. A similar phenomenon played out in Kansas and other states.

Or from per Busby et al. “Cascading risks: Understanding the 2021 winter blackout in Texas,” Energy Research & Social Science Volume 77, July 2021, 102106.

At its depth, gas production declined by nearly 50% [7], which lowered pressure in the pipelines, making it harder for power plants fueled by natural gas to operate. Overall, the state faced outages of 30 GW of electricity as demand reached unprecedented highs [8]. Other sources of electricity – nuclear, coal, and wind – also suffered from supply disruptions but these were smaller than the loss of generating capacity from gas power plants.

This point is illustrated in this figure.

Source: Busby et al. (2021).