Texas versus the Future

Want to understand what is really going on behind the scenes in the Texas power meltdown? Read this article which puts the whole mess in technical, economic and political perspective.

One fact developed in the article that I had not been fully aware of is the remarkable strides that wind and solar sources have made economically in the last ten years. Those strides are summarized in this chart . . .

40 thoughts on “Texas versus the Future

  1. The Levelized Cost of Energy as reported on your cite does not account for the subsidies given to wind and solar power, nor does it include the required idling of the fossil fuel or battery backup that accrue to the use of wind and solar. With those included the cost of wind and solar are still prohibitive.

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    1. “. . . still prohibitive.”

      So you keep saying but people deciding what to deploy seem to disagree with “prohibitive.” Maybe that is because there is a lot of room between $41 per MWh (on shore wind) and $109 (coal) to cover such costs. And there is NOTHING in that $109 to cover the cost to health and the environment. And, the back-up costs that you are concerned with will be greatly reduced with a more robust national grid.

      I would add that the trends are significant as well with wind and solar plummetting and we are still in relatively early days with respect to solar technology.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. @ Don Tabor

      Another way to say much the same thing: Just because a product is cheaper doesn’t mean you want more of it.

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      1. “Just because a product is cheaper doesn’t mean you want more of it.”

        Another piece of deflection. All Don ever says about renewable energy sources are that they are too expensive. SO now they are too cheap? Which is it?

        Liked by 2 people

        1. It is both. Cost and reliability are tradeoffs to an engineer. Dr. Tabor points out the costs that rise to achieve reliability. I point out that cost alone is an insufficient basis for wanting renewable energy.

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          1. “Dr. Tabor points out the costs that rise to achieve reliability.”

            Indeed he does. And it should be noted that the narrower the boundaries, the more significant those reliability costs can be. That is why supporters of greener energy want to see significant investments in a more robust and efficient national grid so that the needed reserves and backups can be shared more widely and thus reduce their cost impact. Had Texas not isolated itself from the national grid it is likely that this disaster would have been avoided.

            Liked by 3 people

          2. Dr. Tabor is bigoted against green energy and renewables. He fails to note that the costs, including with regards to reliability, continue to fall. And further improvements in reliability will continue a downward trend in costs.

            He also continually ignores the social costs of continuing to use fossil fuels. The health issues alone, especially in neighborhoods that are close to plants and coal trainlines, are rarely taken into consideration by the good doctor.

            So based on your last statement, health issues and a cleaner environment are additional reasons to want renewable energy.

            Liked by 1 person

          3. RE: “He fails to note that the costs, including with regards to reliability, continue to fall.”

            What makes you think so? The graphic he and I both criticize doesn’t support your claim.. As a matter of basic physics, reliability engineering for wind and solar power electricity generation would require fossil fuel backup.

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    1. If you want to use the word “bribe” that is fine with me. There are many, many situations where a rational person acting in his own rational self-interests makes harmful decisions from the point of view of the public good.

      For example, it is too bad that nobody “bribed” the operators of the Texas power system to winterize their equipment. The cost of the “bribe” would have been recovered many times over in this one storm.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. “ERCOT acted as the purchasing agent for the people of Texas and did a poor job of it.”

          Uh, no. ERCOT was NOT a purchasing agent. It did not purchase anything from the people who should have been “bribed.” There was no contractual “Non-performance” by the producers. In a market is Producer A supposed to bear the cost of a reserve to backup Producer B? I don’t think that is how markets work. Each producer acted in his own self-interest in the Texas open market framework. You know – rationally.

          You are spinning like crazy rather than admit that as a REGULATOR ERCOT did a poor job and needs to be replaced by a better REGULATOR.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. You need to get your story straight. Either the producers acted badly because they valued profits over technical performance, or Ercot acted badly because it didn’t impose performance requirements on the producers.

            If you are going to blame the “market” for the technical failures that produced the Texas blackout, please identify the specific market actor you wish to blame.

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  2. RE: “Want to understand what is really going on behind the scenes in the Texas power meltdown? Read this article which puts the whole mess in technical, economic and political perspective.”

    The author of your substack doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Here’s an example of getting his facts wrong:

    He writes, “According to ERCOT, wind outages accounted for only about 13% of the total power losses.” To substantiate this claim, he links to a Time article which quotes an ERCOT official. But on the same day of publication, ERCOT officials were giving different numbers to the Texas Tribune, which reported, “By Wednesday…45 gigawatts total were offline, with 28 gigawats from thermal sources and 18 gigawatts from renewable sources, ERCOT officials said.”

    How to account for the discrepancy (13% of total lost wattage versus 40%)? It is hard to say. Both reports may have been correct, but for different days in the progress of the blackout. Either Time or the Texas Tribune may be in error. Or perhaps ERCOT is lying. However you slice it, Noah Smith, author of the substack bases his claim that “Texas’ blackout woes aren’t because of wind power” on bad data.

    The generally accepted order of events is:

    • First wind turbines became disabled.
    • Natural gas turbines surged to meet demand, but then they, too, became disabled.

    • Finally, the grid operators, ERCOT, implemented rolling blackouts that couldn’t be reversed (rolled back) because electricity demand far exceeded supply, a physically dangerous circumstance.

    You can blame the engineers or the regulators or the markets for what amounted to a preventable cascade of errors, but it is indisputable that wind power was the originating point of failure in the system as it existed when the storm hit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If wind and solar are dependent upon backup as the argument goes, then why would power producers in Texas not make sure the backups were winterized. That is akin to having a flat spare tire in the trunk.

      It was already known that winterizing was highly recommended by engineers after a 2011 failure. Not winterizing the windmills is bad enough, but avoiding protection for the main sources of energy that also need to backup alternatives is almost criminal.

      We know the answers, of course. It cost money to make sure power plants can operate even under rare weather events. And avoiding the grid saved even more money.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. RE: “If wind and solar are dependent upon backup as the argument goes, then why would power producers in Texas not make sure the backups were winterized. That is akin to having a flat spare tire in the trunk.”

        Yes, it was. Who do you want to blame, the manufacturer that built the car, the owner who drove it, or the government that provided the road?

        My advice: Don’t try to blame anyone. Flat tires happen. Corollary: Don’t try to pretend the flat was really a good tire.

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        1. The analogy goes only so far. But in the case of the car, the owner is responsible for the maintenance, servicing and condition of the the car. Just like the power companies are responsible for their equipment.

          Simply put, not winterizing the Texas grid after a decade of warnings is the issue.

          I would blame a system that allowed electricity providers to roll the dice with the lives of its citizens. And who decided that Texas did not need winterized power sources or that the national grid was bad?

          And why?

          Liked by 2 people

          1. RE: “I would blame a system that allowed electricity providers to roll the dice with the lives of its citizens.”

            What system is that? The power companies met their contractual obligations. So did Ercot. So did state government. Under the circumstances, what “system” are you referring to?

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    2. As I have noted, your repeating of false statements does not make them true. The wind turbines were NOT the cause of the problem. They performed BETTER than they should have given their lack of suitable equipment. Of course, some of them were not available. That was the plan. Where events differed from what was planned was the failure of the non-winterized coal, gas and nuclear plants.

      The substantial difference between 13% and 40% – both sourced from ERCOT – may be the difference between raw numbers and planned numbers. No ignorance or dishonesty required. And if this explanation is the right one, the relevant figure is the 13%. And we do know that 100% of the failures were from the same cause – lack of winterization. You want to blame wind turbines for failing when even more gas turbines failed for the same reason.

      But, hey, we get it. You don’t want to believe me. You don’t want to believe Noah Smith. You don’t want to believe the officials at ERCOT. You don’t want to believe the Wall Street Journal. You really, really want to believe Tucker Carlson and take this preventable tragedy as proof that green energy is BAD. That is just how some people roll. It has become, as Smith noted, a cultural thing. We all know what culture you are comfortable in. The Trump culture of alternative facts and conspiracies.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. RE: “You really, really want to believe Tucker Carlson and take this preventable tragedy as proof that green energy is BAD.”

        What I really, really want is for people to understand that renewable energy is fine, but to achieve the same reliability as thermal energy requires extra engineering. This was known, but apparently not sufficiently appreciated, when Texas began adding windmills and solar panels to its electrical grid.

        Articles like the one you posted distort reality by claiming that wind turbines didn’t cause the Texas blackout. They certainly did as a factual matter.

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        1. “They certainly did as a factual matter.”

          Nope. They performed as planned. That is NOT failure. That is success.

          Other than rabid anti-green energy partisans, there is universal understanding that the problem was a system where NOBODY actually had the responsibility for winterization or for maintaining backups and reserves. Even worse, the Texas system encouraged individual producers to avoid the cost of winterization and to let others provide backups and reserves. Both the WSJ and the NYT have run lengthy pieces saying essentially the same thing. THAT should tell you something if you have an open mind.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. RE: “They performed as planned. That is NOT failure. That is success.”

            You mean it was a success that the windmills iced up and went offline when they were actually needed.

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          2. Machines can only do what they are designed to do. This is not a hard concept. Try harder to understand it.

            The wind turbines in question were not designed to be operational in the extreme weather that climate change visited on Texas. The fact that many of them remained operational and harvested energy from the storm anyway IS a success.

            Liked by 1 person

          3. RE: “The fact that many of them [windmills] remained operational and harvested energy from the storm anyway IS a success.”

            You can’t be serious. That’s a success in the same way that some people recover from radiation poisoning after a nuclear bomb attack.

            The bottom line is that too many wind turbines were part of the Texas electrical grid. When they started failing, other sources of electrical supply became stressed. When those sources started failing, the grid operators created blackouts manually.

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          4. It is still not working.

            Double down. Triple down. Quadruple down. Quintuple down. It does not change things. Repeating things that are false does not make them true.

            Failure to winterize wind turbines, gas facilities, coal facilities and even nuclear facilities – not the mix of power sources – was the cause of the disaster. That, and the absurd idea of avoiding basic regulation by keeping Texas off the national grid.

            Liked by 1 person

        2. …” the same reliability as thermal energy:

          Interesting choice of phrase to avoid saying “fossil fuels”.

          Of course the idea of geo-thermal energy to produce electricity is out there as wel,l and is much cleaner than oil, gas and coal.

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          1. RE: “Interesting choice of phrase to avoid saying ‘fossil fuels’.”

            In this context, “thermal” and “fossil fuel” are synonymous. Wind and sunlight are non-thermal power sources as used.

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          2. I get it. But it is a way for anti-green energy folks to avoid using a negative buzzword for fossil fuels.

            And what of the geo-thermal (naturally-based steam) generation I mentioned. No take on that? Or are you too busy with semantics?

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    3. “Natural gas turbines surged to meet demand, but then they, too, became disabled.”

      On that particular point, I saw an article over the weekend that stated the water in the gas lines is what froze, preventing the gas to flow properly.

      I do not claim to know if that is true, but it is something I saw reported on one of the regular REAL news sites.

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  3. When solar panels first came on the market, they were really expensive, a novelty, and the “theoretical limit” was 15% efficiency. In 85, I had a roughly 14″x14″ 13.5v 1amp panel that I wired with a quick disconnect to keep a big assed Die Hard 90Ah on my boat charged up. It would take a week to charge it for the running lights overnight.

    This last year I put two 180w 23% efficient solar panels attached to two 240Ah batteries. That’s enough refrigeration, lights, small electronics, hairdryer, coffee maker, etc., and never draw the battery.

    The 90% life expectancy of the panels is 25 years and the batteries (lead acid) is 5. If they ever make a lion battery that I can fit, that’ll be more than 10 years, I’ll do it.

    If I ever build a house, and I’d like to, I’ll take it off-the-grid. This house is 100% off-the-grid. Lat/ln 44.818056, -66.958333. If they can, anyone can.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. About 10 years ago there was an article that said enough sunlight hit the Mojave Desert so that a 100 mile square area, covered with solar panels would generate more electricity annually than the entire US uses in a year.

      Of course transmission is an issue, but the potential for power via sunlight is very good and getting better. And we don’t want all our sources in one place.

      Globally, we spend about 2 Trillion per year on weapons and personnel. If we applied the technology and money for 1/2 that, or more, we could clean up our only home in the universe.

      Unfortunately there is a bigger appeal for having “enemies” when it comes to political power.

      Liked by 3 people

          1. If they build it, I would be curious about the environmental change at the farm site. This is baked land. A solar panel is designed to reflect light back through the panel and shead heat. The shade beneath the panels is quality shade, dark and cool. It will be interesting to see if, like coral reefs, solar farms become fertile ground.

            Liked by 1 person

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