Blackout in Texas. How the oil and gas state was left without fuel, electricity and one nuclear power plant

For about a week, an Arctic storm raged in the United States. Atypically cold temperatures and snowstorms have covered half the country, but the worst is in Texas. The southern state's power grid failed to cope with the load, leaving millions of people without water, electricity and heat. Why did it happen?

First, the conditions are truly extreme. There has not been such a winter for almost 10 years, and in some places absolute records of negative temperatures have been set. Usually in Texas in winter there is a plus or a weak minus, and here in some places frosts are up to -20. Accordingly, the infrastructure and people are not ready for this. On the icy roads, dozens of dead, about 12 million people are experiencing problems with a shortage of water (pipes freeze), up to 3 million households were left without electricity and heat, people were forced to evacuate from their homes or warm up and spend the night in cars.

imageThose who have gas, but no electricity, warm themselves like this. Photo by Ashley Landis / AP
The fact is that more than 60% of households in the state are heated by electricity and only 40% by gas. The houses themselves are not designed for such frosts. All this led to a gradual increase in electricity consumption - up to a record 70 GW, with an average level of about 40 GW before the storm (see graph) ... At the same time, the predicted maximum was around 67 GW. And after that, the system reached its maximum capabilities and was covered. Up to 80 power plants out of 680 in the state could not operate, up to 45 GW of capacity were unavailable. The imbalance between supply and demand first led to a sharp rise in wholesale electricity prices hundreds of times, up to $ 9000 per MWh, the maximum allowed on the market. In Texas, an isolated power system with a very free electricity market, suppliers receive billions as a result, consumers are waiting for huge electricity bills ... However, the invisible hand of the market did not reduce consumption volumes, and they had to be physically reduced by force, through rolling blackouts.

imageElectricity consumption and production in Texas during the blackout days Why did this happen? There is now a lot of speculation. Renewable energy opponents and Republicans, including including the Governor of Texas blame frozen windmills and Democratic politics Green new deal for the development of renewable sources. Democrats blame Republicans for isolating Texas' electrical system and deregulating the market. Russian the Internet together with state channels scoffs at the Western ideas of the development of alternative sources, alien to our scrapbooks, and American problems in general. Not without lies , by itself.

imageVirus photo spread by opponents of alternative energy. However, this is not Texas, but Europe in 2015. Photo of tests of the blades defrosting system with hot water, as a result, not the most popular. Source - Firstly, half of the wind turbines are really frozen (blades icing), but this not a key factor in the problem ... Usually at this time of the year they provide only about 7% of electricity, and on average for the year - about 23%. Out of about 45 GW of failed installed capacity, wind turbines account for 16 GW (out of 30 GW of installed wind turbine capacity in the state), and 28 GW - for gas, coal and nuclear power plants. The proportion of sunshine is not so significant, although they have dropped sharply. Usually, the outgoing power of wind turbines is compensated for by gas, but problems have arisen with it.

Texas gets up to half of its electricity by burning gas. Texas is the main oil and gas state of the United States. By the way, the state's GDP is larger than that of Russia, with a population 5 times less. However, even the oil and gas infrastructure is not ready for such frosts - because of condensate, pipes froze, compressors for pumping stopped without electricity, production wells got up. As a result, even production fell by 30-50%. The governor introduced a temporary ban for export of liquefied gas ... There are no stores or stocks. Gas supplies for heating homes have priority over supplies for power plants. This further exacerbated the fuel shortage in cold weather. All this shows the vulnerability of gas generation from fuel supplies even in the oil and gas region. No gas in the pipe - no electricity.

Separately, it is worth noting the restrained smirks of the supporters of nuclear energy, which I observe both in Russia and in the United States. Yes, the nuclear power plants as a whole performed well - 4 power units at two nuclear power plants in Texas worked without problems and produced about 5 GW of electricity 24/7, regardless of the weather and fuel supplies. However, in the end, one of the power units also failed (see graph). On the 15th, it was turned off by the automation systems due to a false triggering of the feed water pressure sensor on the turbine. He froze over. But after two days, the unit was already working 100% again.

imageNPP South Texas Project, one of the units of which was shut down due to sensor freezing. Turbines on the turbine halls are visible in blue, but to be honest, when I looked at the photo of this power unit, I was a little freaked out. The fact is that its turbine hall, where the turbine is located, it, as it were, does not have a roof ... Well, that is. it is there, but the turbine in the casing protrudes above it, and there is an overhead crane for maintenance nearby in the open air (see satellite photo above). Such is the design. It is clear that they have warmth there, and perhaps this is even justified for some reason. And the neighboring similar block worked without problems. But on one, the sensor is frozen over.

imageA more vivid photo of the second nuclear power plant in Texas - Comanche Peak, with similar lightweight turbine halls in the foreground This is the first time I see such a turbine hall design (thanks to the blackout for that at least). Russian turbine halls of nuclear power plants, in the Arctic and in the south, are a separate warm room where turbines and generators can be serviced in any weather, and in winter even greenhouses with exotic plants can be found there.

imageClosed turbine room of the southernmost nuclear power plant in Russia - Rostov. Photo by the author, 2017 Be that as it may, abnormal frosts in a large territory of the United States caused a short-term shutdown of only one NPP unit out of 94, in the most unfavorable conditions. So the atom actually turned out to be more reliable than other sources. In Texas, 25% of nuclear power is temporarily out of order, while loss of TPP capacity was up to 50%, and wind turbines - up to 75% ... However, the share of the atom in the energy balance of Texas is small and in the days of the blackout was comparable to the production of wind turbines.

imageDistribution of Electricity Generation by Power Plant Type in Texas for 2020 In addition, systemic concerns should be added to the reasons for the blackout. The Texas power grid is poorly connected to other states. They have a separate state for them, like Alaska, while other states are included in one of two, Eastern or Western, united power grids. In addition, the rather loose regulation of the energy market in the state (the American media blames the Republicans for this) does not oblige suppliers to have enough reserve capacity, and the backup power generators themselves are focused on operating in the summer when there is maximum consumption, so they are not protected from the cold.

imageThe isolated power grid of Texas stands out from the United States. Here's a story. Now the situation seems to be improving, but still hundreds of thousands of people have not returned to normal life. In fact, it is too early to say what played a greater or lesser role in the development of the situation. Any disaster is a combination of many factors. And there are many of them. So let the experts analyze and draw conclusions. And we'll see later. But it is clear that against the background of eliminating the shortcomings of power systems, one should be prepared for the fact that such natural anomalies may occur more and more often.
Bonus and thanks
I continue to experiment with my video channel, so I recorded a video version of this short article with video inserts that are not in the text. If you want to see more of my publications on atomic topics, you can "like" this post, subscribe to my youtube channel and twitter , or even make a small gift for a Tinkoff card 5536 9137 7974 2317 V

Natural Gas And Wind Freeze Up When The Going Gets Tough

Texas largely relies on natural gas for power. It wasn’t ready for the extreme cold.
Papay 19 march 2021, 17:30
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0 Justin139Flowers April 1, 2021, 17:07
Very good info. Lucky me I came across your blog by chance. I ave bookmarked it for later!

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