There is considerable and justifiable frustration over the failures in the Texas electrical grid yesterday and continuing into today. Much time will be spent debating and trying to fix these issues over the coming weeks, months, and perhaps years. For now, I wanted to provide information I received from a call with Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) this morning, as well as an update from Oncor that provides some answers based on what is known right now.
I'm going to keep this brief because the Legislature is going to spend the next 3 months analyzing this question, and I pray, making changes that will ensure it doesn't happen again. With that said, what happened is that we lost a ton of our supply of electricity at the same time that demand skyrocketed because of temperatures. This event has been FAR worse than even the worst-case scenario ERCOT plans envisioned.
The grid was able to meet the high demand numbers on Sunday night when it peaked. Unfortunately, the frigid temps started knocking out a number of the production facilities of all types (wind, natural gas, coal, nuclear) in quick succession. All told, 49,000 MW of power was unavailable right when it was needed the most. As a result, ERCOT had to force the distributors (like Oncor) to curtail demand to make sure that it could meet basic requirements for critical infrastructure. That curtailment was in the form of "rolling blackouts." Unfortunately, with production unable to come back online quickly, there was not enough capacity in the system to allow the blackouts to roll.
Power generation facilities have started coming back online this morning and more are expected throughout the afternoon. This means that the current required "load shedding" (enforced blackouts) should lessen throughout the day. However, that most likely means that the areas that have been without power so far are looking at rolling blackouts rather than a full restoration of power. My advice to those without power at this time--especially with more winter weather on the way--would be to plan as though you still won't have power until tomorrow. If you are in a life-threatening situation, call 911.
Why Has My Power Stayed Off But [FILL IN THE BLANK] Has Kept Theirs the Whole Time?
The one question I have been asked the most since this all began is: "Why have some of my neighbors not lost power at all while I/my family/etc. have not had it for more than 30 hours?" I think all of us are willing to tolerate hardships as long as we feel like it's fair and this hasn't felt fair.
ERCOT runs the overall grid for most of the state and they tell the power distribution companies (like Oncor) when they need to cut distribution and by how much. This reduction requirement is assessed equitably throughout the state (Oncor has 36% of the grid load, so they have to account for 36% of the reduction amount). It is up to each individual company to figure out how to meet that reduction requirement.
So why such a disparity between the power haves and have-nots? There are a number of factors that are at play. From my understanding, the primary factor is whether you happen to be along a circuit that is providing power to "critical infrastructure" like hospitals or water treatment plants. If you are on one of those circuits, you will maintain power. However, in order to ensure that those critical places are keeping power, those that have lost power can't gain it back until that capacity we discussed previously comes back on. Additionally, it could be a very localized issue with the distribution network (lines down, transformers out, etc.) that is addressed on a case-by-case basis.
There are going to be a lot of questions to get to the bottom of once we're through this. Speaker Phelan has announced a hearing on this next week and Governor Abbott has just today made the electric grid an emergency item for this session. Among all of the important items for us to look at, I want to make sure we examine the prioritization orders for who gets power first (or last in this case) and seeing if that information is available to the public.
Truly dangerous weather events challenge each of us and bring out the best and worst in people. As with so many of you, yesterday was crazy for me and my family as our rental home in Austin was without power all day. While not as cold as back home, the sub 20 degree temps were much lower than we expected when we packed to be in Austin. Thankfully, we had some friends that blessed us with a place to stay last night.
I say this to remind all of us that there are those around you that need help. Please take care of yourself and your family and help the many who are truly in danger during this bitterly cold weather. We will get through this challenge and I pray we will be stronger because of it.