The major ice storm that slammed Texas the week of Valentine’s Day was devastating to everyone, no matter their age, social standing or tax bracket. Every single Texan was at the mercy of the numerous failed power plants of all kinds across the state. As citizens, who were initially told that they would be experiencing only intermittent rolling blackouts, began to realize that the power would not be returning to their homes any time soon, the questions began to arose. Mainly, why wasn’t the power coming back on like officials said it would?
The issues lie with the power plants themselves. No matter the type – natural gas, coal, biomass, hydroelectric, wind, solar, even nuclear – the weather had a profound effect on the generators needed to keep homes warm and lit during the extreme weather. At the peak of the energy crisis, households were experiencing no power for hours and even days at a time.
This map shows the vast number of power plants that supply homes and businesses with energy across the state of Texas. Altogether, there are 193 power plants shown here. The state is no stranger to rolling blackouts during extreme weather conditions. Usually, these instances occur in the summer, when temperatures raise well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the resulting increase in power demand from countless homes running their cooling systems overloads the grid.
At face value, the winter storm was no different. Temperatures plummeted into the single digits in a matter of hours, the power demand increased as heaters began to turn on and the grid overloaded. However, whereas the generators could be brought back online in a relatively timely manner in the summer heat, the winter frost prevented any start up. At all.
The map above represents the mass amount of power plants that remained offline for days during the winter storm. All types of generators experienced weather related issues during the storm. Natural gas pipelines, which contain liquid natural gas for the purposes of transportation, froze in the low temperatures. Wind turbines, which are situated at the top of tall windmills, froze in the extreme windchill. The constant snow fall prevented solar farms from working properly. Even one of the two nuclear plants in Texas went offline due to the weather. For lack of a better term, it was a perfect storm for an energy crisis.
Additionally, Texas power plants were not properly equipped for such drastic dips in temperature; partly because the region simply doesn’t experience weather like this but once every decade or so. But also because power plants under the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) were not urged or incentivized to weather prep their equipment. As a result, millions of homes remained without power in single digit temperatures and some citizens even lost their lives.
In the months following the winter storm and the resulting energy crisis, confidence in ERCOT’s abilities to supply the state with power in increasingly drastic weather in the wake of climate change has dropped. With summer heat threatening to reach extremes in 2021, Texans are understandably worried that they’ll be facing the hotter version of the energy crisis. And while ERCOT reports that it’ll be ready to meet the higher energy demands, that does little to comfort those it serves. Only time will tell if the winter storm will serve as a lesson and a bringer of change in Texas’ energy system.