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Can someone tell me what's going on with power

 
pollinator
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I've talked to people around and I'm aware that there is a bit of a power crisis happening in parts of the U.S. My kids school is experiencing power shortages. My bosses. etc.

So other than Texas, what's happening out there? I mostly don't read the news because I don't want fear fuel.
 
elle sagenev
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Ok so apparently they do have coal power plants but they're all frozen. Why are Texas power plants frozen? I don't understand what is happening.
 
elle sagenev
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Ok then I just read that Texas has it's own energy grid. So why is Colorado suffering and my kids school having issues? I'm really confused about what's happening with power right now. Please someone smart explain this to me.
 
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Hi Elle;
I'm far from that "Smart" responder you were hoping for. I make my own power and have for almost 40 years now.  I also do not watch tv news or internet news.
However that may be, I still have picked up a few tidbits of information.
I'll share them with you but consider the source and take a big grain of salt with it!

Texas opted off the US power grid in 1939. They are a stand alone power grid with the exception of El Paso, who choose to stay on the US grid and are now only have minimal problems.
The rest of the state floated their own boat and apparently forgot to install the drain plug... it sank!

As far as the rest of the country.   Just nasty winter storms playing havoc with a tired power grid.  I assume  they are trying to move power around to keep the lights on in hard hit areas.
Thus causing shortages in places not hit with extra bad weather.
 
elle sagenev
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thomas rubino wrote:Hi Elle;
I'm far from that "Smart" responder you were hoping for. I make my own power and have for almost 40 years now.  I also do not watch tv news or internet news.
However that may be, I still have picked up a few tidbits of information.
I'll share them with you but consider the source and take a big grain of salt with it!

Texas opted off the US power grid in 1939. They are a stand alone power grid with the exception of El Paso, who choose to stay on the US grid and are now only have minimal problems.
The rest of the state floated their own boat and apparently forgot to install the drain plug... it sank!

As far as the rest of the country.   Just nasty winter storms playing havoc with a tired power grid.  I assume  they are trying to move power around to keep the lights on in hard hit areas.
Thus causing shortages in places not hit with extra bad weather.



Thank you!
 
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I stumbled across this in my morning read: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/feb/18/why-is-texas-suffering-power-blackouts-during-the-winter-freeze

In short - Texas is an energy island.  The generation plants weren't designed with these temperatures in mind, and they couldn't operate in the cold.  Being an energy island, they can't import electricity when they are short.

As aside ... I know Texas has a tremendous amount of wind power that's been installed in the last decade.  I wonder if the operators of those windfarms are tied to the Texas grid or if they have chosen to tie to the national grid?
 
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As aside ... I know Texas has a tremendous amount of wind power that's been installed in the last decade.  I wonder if the operators of those windfarms are tied to the Texas grid or if they have chosen to tie to the national grid?



I saw an interview with an official from Texas. I can't remember his name or his position, but I'll try to find it and post back here. But in short, he said the most recently added energy infrastructure in Texas is, according to his verbiage, "unreliable." That is, wind and solar are considered unreliable because we depend on sun and wind energy to produce it, and those factors are beyond our control. Conversely, natural gas and other electric generation is considered "reliable" because workers can step up production as demand increases.

I am under the assumption that Texas wind farms are tied to the Texas grid. However, the crazy cold temps have frozen the windmills. They are nonoperational right now.

I am using this scenario as a sign that we cannot depend on others for our energy needs. We need to take responsibility for our own household. Help each other if we can, but depend on no one.

EDIT: Here is the interview: it's the first story of the newscast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcJ7hohtsAE
 
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Stacie Kim wrote:

As aside ... I know Texas has a tremendous amount of wind power that's been installed in the last decade.  I wonder if the operators of those windfarms are tied to the Texas grid or if they have chosen to tie to the national grid?



I am under the assumption that Texas wind farms are tied to the Texas grid. However, the crazy cold temps have frozen the windmills. They are nonoperational right now.

I am using this scenario as a sign that we cannot depend on others for our energy needs. We need to take responsibility for our own household. Help each other if we can, but depend on no one.

EDIT: Here is the interview: it's the first story of the newscast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcJ7hohtsAE

The solar and wind are part of the Texas grid. Wind systems automatically stop when a) the wind speeds get too high or b) the blades are unbalanced (as from ice on the blades). These are safety precautions which work against the grid when conditions are not ideal. The solar plants are covered with snow. They also had a nuclear plant go offline because it hadn't been winterized. So a few coal and NG plants are supporting the whole state at the moment.

Other areas are working with similar limitations, although not as extreme because of the interconnected nature of the power grid. So power from the water or nuclear plants in the west can support the power grid in the east (mostly "renewable,") and vice versa.
 
Stacie Kim
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Rocket Mass Heaters are looking more attractive every day.
 
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It turns out that loss of fossil fuel generation (due to lack of winterization, especially in the natural gas distribution system) was responsible for rather more missing megawatts than the missing wind/solar:

Texas Tribune: No, frozen wind turbines aren’t the main culprit for Texas’ power outages
 
elle sagenev
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We had a ton of wind turbines go up in recent years. Other than the one that caught fire they've all been spinning here. Texas must have a different model of turbine.

I must admit that when I heard that natural gas was going to go up in price because of this I got excited because it turns out we aren't sitting on oil but gas and they haven't bothered to drill for it yet and darn it, if there is going to be a pump in my line of sight I want money off it.
 
Dan Boone
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elle sagenev wrote:We had a ton of wind turbines go up in recent years. Other than the one that caught fire they've all been spinning here. Texas must have a different model of turbine.



I saw a long complicated article about this in Bloomberg (that I won't link to because it's aggressively nasty about popups) with the bottom line that it's a choice.  Winterization is an options package at the time of construction.  Adds about five percent to the cost of the turbine.  Required by grid regulators in places that have both winter and grid regulators.  Texas is light on both of those, so at least some of the turbine operators didn't bother with the winterization package.  

Here's a fun photo of a wind farm in Antarctica:  

 
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This was written elsewhere for sharing.....I did not know how complex it all is.  
We lived for many years without utilities and have really come to appreciate being back on the power grid.  

This might help explain what's happening in Texas and why it is unique.....

At the lowest levels are your local power distribution companies. These are the guys that actually run power lines to your house, like IPL or some of the REMC companies. When there are problems at this level is usually caused by wind or ice storms bringing down local distribution lines.

At the next level are companies that actually generate power. They own coal or gas fired power plants, or wind turbines, solar farms, or hydroelectric dams. A company like IPL has both distribution and generation capacity. Some places like Rural power companies, just buy power at market rates and pass on the costs to the customers at the distribution level. There are companies that just own power plants and not transmission or distribution.

At the next level are Transmission companies. These are the guys that own the big high voltage towers and move electricity cross country. These are the guys that tie all of the generation and distribution together on the “grid”. IPL happens to own Transmission lines across Marion County and they connect to Duke and other Transmission operators. Some of these high voltage lines are independently owned, and some are owned by generation or distribution companies.

At the highest level are grid operators. The country is NOT one huge electric grid. It is divided into regions. These reqions are big enough to allow fully independent operation, but no so big that an New York failure would cascade all the way to Atlanta. In Indiana, our Grid Operator is a MISO (Mid-continent Independent System Operator). This is a facility located in Carmel Indiana.

The idea of the power “grid” is like a leaky bucket. Customers are using electricity draining power from the bucket. Generation facilities are pouring power into the bucket. The trick with the grid is to make sure that is always pretty much in balance and the level of power does not rise or fall too far. On average the electricity you use generally travels less than 300 miles from it’s source. If demand goes up and nobody adds generation capacity, voltage levels will drop. This causes brownouts, or if it gets bad enough, distribution or transmission companies will kill the power to keep from damaging equipment and cause black outs.

MISO is the broker that sits in the middle when IPL has a generator “trip” or go off line, and IPL says we are using more electricity than we are making and they have a few choices. They can fire up another generator they own, or they may need to buy power off the grid. Through electronic transactions, somebody steps forward and say we have power to sell at X price, and the seller bring a generator up to full capacity or a new one online. IPL also has “spare” generators sitting offline, and still might decide to buy power, because it is cheaper than what they can make. Each Generator has a price point that they will bring it online. Some of them are coal, and may take hours to come off standby, or some of them are gas and can be up to full capacity in less than 3 minutes. IPL has also invested in battery technology and they can have capacity online in seconds.

Almost all of this is highly regulated by the Federal Government. They set standards. They mandate audits to make sure things are up to snuff. They conduct DR tests on a regular basis. At the same time things are regulated at the state level. In Indiana, distribution companies are allowed to charge back 100% of the cost of new power plant to customers. In Ohio, power generation is completely up to market forces.

The situation in Texas is caused by a 1930’s era deal that left most of Texas free from Federal oversight. The state utility commission got lax on regulations, and most of the failures there come from the lack of winterization requirements. Coal and gas power plants went off line as pipes and gauges froze. Wind turbines went off line because there was no requirement for de-icing on the blades, like there are in the upper midwest that deals with ice storms all of the time. In addition Texas is more like Ohio, where they left generation capacity up to market forces. They have rolling blackouts that last 3 or 4 hours at a time, multiple time per day.


El Paso Texas is in good shape because they are part of MISO and follow the Federal regulations.

The situation in the upper midwest is a little different. The extreme cold caused a huge demand that exceeded the supply enough that it would have caused brown-outs across the region. While a large majority of the generation equipment is online and operational, there is just not enough capacity for the demand. Rather than risk damage to equipment, the SPP (Southwest Power Pool Operator), ordered distribution companies to shed load through rolling blackouts. This is where the power is cut to each section of their distribution service area for up to one hour at a time. In Indianapolis this might look like a quadrant of the city might go dark for an hour, and then the next quadrant etc... The SPP service area is huge, and there a customer might only be blacked out for one hour a day or less.

So it is hugely complicated and fascinating to see how it works or doesn’t work.

151328200_4121529244603222_4034909064190302040_n.jpg
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Elle, everyone,

Texas is in a blackout for a variety of reasons, but in this case all reasons are related to the intense cold.

The wind turbines could have worked but as has been mentioned, they were not winterized.  Part of the winterization process was essentially some cold weather maintenance.  But another factor specific to Texas (as opposed to say, Iowa) is that in order for the turbines to function properly they require a smooth airflow over the blade.  Normally in Texas this is not an issue.  But in icing conditions the leading edge of the blades require an electrical heating element to prevent ice buildup.  These exist in Iowa but not in Texas.  Worse, wind turbines are not suited to starting up a “black” grid due to their inconsistent energy output.

On the fossil fuel side (and nuclear gets included here as well) the issue is that the plants generate electricity by boiling water which froze over.  Again, power plants built in more northerly climes are adapted for this very situation, but the plants in Texas (and probably in other warmer regions as well) are optimized for hot and not cold conditions.

These are solvable problems but it likely won’t be cheap and won’t happen quickly.

Hope this helps,

Eric
 
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Thank you everyone for your insight. I have family living in the Texas Hill Country, as well as in Austin. It's good to know what the infrastructural situation is without politicisation or schadenfreude.

Here's hoping the lights get back on soon, and that maybe power generation sees the benefit of a 5% cost increase to ensure cold-weather operation.

Stay warm, everyone.

-CK
 
Chris Kott
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Also, to answer the OP's question in the abstract, power is confusing to most people. What they think is power is actually responsibility and duty, basically a lot of work hiding behind a lot of pomp and circumstance, unless you abuse that position.

That can serve as an analysis of how the power infrastructure, both generation and distribution, got to the state it's in. Hell, it's a good generalisation to describe human activity as relates to power dynamics.

You know why great people don't seek greatness, but rather have greatness thrust upon them? Because most people, when they stare that greatness in the face, run the other way unless there's no way out. Who wants the headaches? Your every misstep caught and vilified for days, your every quirk the subject of the corrosive banter of your critics. And that's if you're innocently incompetent in the face of unprecedented times (Canadians will know who I'm referencing).

Now that I got that out of my system, if anyone has good suggestions for grassroots aid organisations that accept donations, especially over etransfer, I think this thread might be a great place for them. I'm talking about groups literally taking the money and buying stuff for people. Anything charity-sized will take months to get moving.

Again, good luck to all those out there in the dark and cold. Please send us our winter back. We miss it.

-CK
 
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