Texas Storms, California Heat Waves and ‘Vulnerable’ Utilities

Texas Storms, California Heat Waves and ‘Vulnerable’ Utilities

in California, Forest fire And heat waves In recent years, utilities have been forced to shut down electricity to millions of homes and businesses. Now, Texas is learning that Deadly winter storms and intense cold He can do the same.

The two largest states in the country have adopted very different methods of managing their energy needs – Texas aggressively allowed the free market to flourish, while California adopted environmental regulations. Yet both states are facing the same ominous reality: they can be overwhelmingly unprepared for the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters caused by climate change.

Blackouts in Texas and California have revealed that climatologists have said that the way greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere, such cold and warm weather can cause power plants to get tense and offline.

Problems in Texas and California highlight challenge The Biden administration is fully involved in wind turbines, solar panels, batteries and Other zero emission technologies by 2035 – A goal that President Biden set during the 2020 campaign.

The federal government and energy businesses may have to spend trillions of dollars to toughen the power grids against the threat posed by climate change and move away from fossil fuels responsible for the planet’s warming in the first place. These are not new ideas. Scholars have long warned that the US electricity grid, which is being run regionally, will require increasing tensions and major upgrades.

“We really need to change our paradigm, especially utilities, because they’re becoming a lot more vulnerable to disaster,” said Nazedin Meshakti, an engineering professor at the University of Southern California who has blackouts in Texas and California Said about “They always need to think about the worst situation literally because the worst situation is going to happen.”

Mr. Meshkati, who studied in committees of National Academies BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill And the Fukushima nuclear disaster said, Mr. Biden should set up a commission to investigate grid failures in Texas and California and recommend changes.

But it is unclear whether Mr. Biden will be able to fulfill a limited federal role under the supervision of utilities, which are primarily regulated at the state level. He may not be able to get a majority in Congress to pursue an ambitious climate plan given Democrats’ narrow grip on the Senate and strong opposition to policies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions .

In California and Texas, conservatives are Blamed renewable energy Even for the blackout, energy experts, grid managers and utility officials have said that solar and wind farms had a smaller role than poor planning and problems with natural gas supplies and other power sources.

Texas and California have been the hardest hit, making it clear that simple conceptual explanations are often inaccurate. For example, Texas is Market forces trusted To balance your electric grid. If there is not enough supply, the price of electricity rises in its wholesale market, which aims to encourage companies to use more electricity and businesses and consumers to use less. California also has a power market, but it requires power producers to maintain excess capacity that can be called upon in an emergency. Nevertheless, both systems were stuck in extreme conditions.

The common theme in both states is that many traditional power plants are more susceptible to temperature changes by the utility industry, said JAP, co-director of the Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center.

“Coal plants and gas plants have both summer and winter problems,” said Mr. Epp, who is also a professor at Carnegie Melvin University.

Last August, many natural gas-fired power plants stopped generating electricity as people in California were cranking out air-conditioners as equipment in plants deteriorated in hot weather. Other plants were down for maintenance, which Many experts found it strange Given that electricity demand usually occurs towards the end of summer.

With reduced power demand, the California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s grid, Ordered utilities to conduct rolling blackouts Until the system achieved equilibrium. The order came so suddenly that Gov. Gavin Newsom complained that the blackout occurred “without prior warning or with sufficient time for preparation.”

Separately, California utilities have turned off electricity to hundreds of thousands of customers over the years to prevent power lines and other equipment from starting fires on dry, windy days.

In Texas this week, many natural gas plants went offline or had to delay their operation because their equipment malfunctioned. Others may not generate as much power as they usually do, because the pipelines that deliver them gas were either frozen or not receiving enough gas from farms in the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico, where Below-and-below operation of the temperature was also hampered. .

The power industry typically looks at average annual temperatures rather than seasonality. Changing the distribution of power sources based on seasonal temperatures can help avoid power shortages. For example, nuclear plants usually work well in the cold, but are vulnerable to heat due to the need for cold water, Mr. Apt said.

The extreme temperatures should not have caught utilities and grid managers by surprise. Historical weather data has shown a clear increase during the last few decades on very hot days.

In addition, Mr. Apt reported that the United States had experienced five major cold snacks since 2011, including a polar vortex in 2014, which caused about a quarter of available power shutdowns in the country’s largest energy market, PJM Went, mid-Atlantic region. In some plants, coal dunes become useless as they freeze.

“These types of cold snaps are not particularly rare,” Mr. Epp said. “A Black Swan Event – An Unknown Unknown – It Wasn’t.”

Some climate scientists believe that a warming Arctic Can be responsible for harsh winter storms Even winters are getting hot.

The Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities, acknowledged that the industry faced many challenges, but pointed out that much of its work is closely watched by state and federal officials.

“It is important to reinforce that we are the most regulated industry in the country, and we serve customers by the various rules and regulations set by federal and state regulators,” said group spokesman Brian Rill.

Pedro J. Pizarro, president and chief executive officer of Edison International, the parent company of California’s second-largest investor-owned utility, said no utilities in Texas or California had anticipated the type of extreme weather in both states.

“Let me start here and acknowledge that both the Texas incident and the California incident are really good examples of how we are all living with climate change,” Mr. Pizarro said. “Electric grid systems need to be able to cope with the new normal.”

Mr. Pizarro said his company is increasing battery storage, which can help if demand increases in extreme weather. California also requires its utilities to install more batteries, which typically deliver power more quickly than larger power plants, although they do so for only a few hours at a time.

Lawmakers, residents and others have begun demanding a clear account of what went wrong during this week, as they did in California last summer, and how another day of power crisis can be avoided.

Some of them have criticized the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state’s grid, for not exceeding the need for plants to prepare for cold temperatures. To prevent such further failures, the council can learn from states with cold climates where power plants and other equipment are in winter with insulation and heaters.

Some possible improvements would be useful in Texas and California. Neither state has sufficient capacity to differentiate between supply and demand during extreme weather. They may need to invest more in batteries and transmission lines to bring power from other states. Texas has historically opted not to have extensive links to other states to avoid federal regulation.

States may need some natural gas plants to quickly prepare for ramps in an emergency situation with enough gas stored on site to run for several days to avoid relying on the pipeline. This dependency can be fatal, as Texas has learned this week.

Some changes are already being made. In California, regulators had allowed the closure of some natural gas plants, although it was clear that the difference between supply and demand was narrow on most summer days and in the late afternoon, as the sun sets and solar The panels stop producing electricity. Following the August blackouts, the California Public Utilities Commission delayed the closure of several natural gas power plants.

Utilities, grid managers and regulators need to become better at planning storms, heat waves and cold weather, said Dan Reiker, founding director of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford University. “If we cannot do our work with the US grid, we will not solve the climate crisis.”



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