Monday, February 7, 2011

ERCOT Isolated - Ergo, Texas Blackouts

Master Resource has an excellent article on the Texas blackouts last week.  Initial reports on these events blamed wind energy, the President, coal and natural gas - but in the end it looks like the main reason is the isolation of the Texas grid.

In many ways this is similar to the blackout in the northeast in the summer of 2003.  While demand was very high when the blackout occurred, that was found to contribute, but not cause, that blackout.
Texas, similarly, had very high demand - for it's low demand season.  It's understandable that many producers were offline, it's understandable that some units failed because of the coldest sustained weather in over 3 decades - it's even understandable there were some gas supply issues.
What's difficult to understand is why the rest of the continent could not provide needed supply to a market where the spot price was $3000/MWh on a number of occasions.
Even more strange, it is a market with a significant amount of wind capacity.  I'm no fan of wind - to put it mildly - but, the European experience is leading to heavy emphasis on interconnecting grids to distribute not only the renewable energy output, but to distribute the output variability issues.
There is frequently mention in the Toronto press of the idea of importing hydro power from Quebec, and some talk out east of utilizing more of Labrador's  hydro potential.
Toronto isn't much closer to Churchill Falls than it is to Dallas.  Ontario had lots of electricity to spare last week.  At $40/MWh.  Texans might want to consider that as they review what went wrong.
Albertans might want to pay attention too - their 3 plants (coal) were offline for their power usage record last week, sending market prices to $990/MWh.

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