On Texas' Big Blackout and Why It Happened

More often than not, Texas outages are due to weather physically knocking homes offline by way of fallen trees, high wind speeds, etc. These outages are known as unintentional blackouts. Unintentional blackouts also happen when an issue arises with the power plants generating and distributing our electricity. The least likely culprit is major grid failure due to exceeding our energy production with abnormally high consumption, which we came close to doing during the recent freeze in Texas. ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) oversees this balance to ensure a major failure never occurs. If it were to happen, we could experience weeks without power.

Texas resident without power during Texas's Big Blackout

Rolling blackouts occur when electricity is shut off to specific geographic areas in a scheduled and (ideally) timely manner for short periods to spread the burden across multiple communities. This allows for more stability and allows everyone to cook, boil water, and heat or cool their homes. Internally, it prevents catastrophic grid failure and gives utilities time to generate more electricity as facilities are brought back online.

What we experienced last week was a combination of unintentional and rolling blackouts. The unintentional blackout was caused by frozen equipment at natural gas facilities, frozen wind turbines, and other physical, weather-related problems, which resulted in outages exceeding 35 consecutive hours. Once utilities began to come back online and produce energy, rolling blackouts were carried out by utility companies who executed them in 15–45-minute intervals on rotation throughout the community. As you can see, the entire situation was complicated.

In Texas, our post-1999 deregulated market, and “wild west” style of energy sales (a decision that both parties supported and the public) does not incentivize electric companies to keep and store energy for a rainy day. Also, utilities are not allowed to store energy with batteries. While ERCOT does require that a certain amount of energy be stored, the technology and equipment used to do so are antiquated and barely operable. So, we can presume those were not available in this freezing weather.

Showing the benefits of having a solar Benefits of having a solar panel battery backup for hurricane season
Battery Backup Powering Home During Blackout

On Texas's Big Blackout and Why It Happened : Continued

For a bit more historical insight, in the 1930s, Texas decided to have an independent power grid separate from the rest of the US to avoid federal regulations and protect free-market energy sales. This means that we cannot pull electricity from neighboring states when in need, or it will be regulated. Oddly, there are a few exceptions to this as we have three ties to Mexico and one tie to Oklahoma, which do not require federal regulation. These were used during the freeze of 2011. So, why were they not used this time? I do not know. Why did we not learn from the 2011 event? Because private business is for profit, and if preparing for a once-a-decade weather event means cutting into that already thin margin, you can bet it’s not going to happen. As continues to be the case, lives must be lost for precautions to be taken. In this case, people from all socioeconomic backgrounds were affected, so you can expect change to come a bit faster than usual.

So, what’s the solution? Several governmental and regulatory changes need to be made and will come in time. In the meantime, a generator will do the trick if you have the means to purchase and reliable access to gas (which was scarce this time around). The best solution I know of that guarantees energy independence is a combination of solar and battery backup. It only requires the sun to operate, and Texas has plenty. Besides, these systems can be financed for close to what you’re already paying monthly in energy bills, and they will never increase. The utilities hold the reigns as long as they produce the energy, but those days are numbered, and Texas is ready to progress.

Ready to gain control of your energy needs? Sunshine Renewable Solutions offers a free solar estimate. What are you waiting for, another freeze? Contact us today

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