A Tale of Two Renewable Energy Blackouts: California vs Texas

Guest “Yi-hah!” by David Middleton

Energy
California Blackouts Highlight Contrast with Texas Energy, Provide Forewarning
Last summer, Texans nearly experienced similar rolling blackouts to what Californians faced just a few weeks ago.

BRAD JOHNSON SEPTEMBER 7, 2020

Driving north from San Antonio to Austin on I-35, a billboard towers over passing traffic broadcasting a simple message: “Don’t California our Texas.” In California’s recent rolling energy grid blackouts, Texans might recognize a warning for its own power supply.

Californians faced rolling blackouts in mid- to late-August as the summer’s heat sweltered, leading to unsustainable electricity usage. Its energy grid is primarily powered by a mix of 35 percent natural gas and 31 percent renewables, like wind, solar, and geothermal sources.

Democratic politicians in California have mandated that 60 percent of the state’s grid be made up of energy generated by renewables by 2030. Similarly-aligned but more vague proposals have been made at the national level including by Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden.

The unreliability of the state’s renewables spurred the dearth in supply and was made worse by surrounding states from which California imports ancillary power also experiencing high demand.

This perfect storm was compounded by the state’s concerted effort to shutter natural gas and nuclear plants which can provide power on demand, especially for emergency situations.

[…]

Texas, meanwhile, experienced a similar emergency last summer, again because electricity use skyrocketed as Texans retreated indoors to escape the blistering heat.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the nation’s largest non-capacity energy market in which producers are paid by consumers based on their usage, rather than paid upfront for a contractually set amount of production, warned of possible blackouts last summer, but ultimately avoided them.

That close call was caused by a deficiency in the projected wind and solar production and a fossil fuel-powered energy plant malfunction.

Contrasting with the West Coast giant, Stein stated, “In Texas, the state regulator makes an effort to incentivize extra capacity.”

[…]

Renewables make up nearly a quarter of the total output of Texas’ energy grid, while natural gas accounts for over half of the electricity generation. A big reason California bolstered its renewable grid share at the expense of natural gas was to eliminate emissions.

Texas far outpaces California on total carbon dioxide emissions — producing 13 percent of the U.S.’s emissions and 22 percent of its energy, compared with California’s 3 percent in generation and 7 percent in emissions.

And while renewables share of California’s grid is higher than Texas’, our state generates about 3,000 MWh more electricity from its renewables. That’s enough to power nearly 2 million more homes at any given time.

[…]

Brad Johnson
Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.

The Texan

This was ERCOT’s August 2019 “warning”…

August 13, 2019

Extreme heat across the state results in high usage, need for conservation

Austin, TX, Aug. 13, 2019 – The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) canceled its Energy Emergency Alert (EEA1) at 5 p.m. today and returned to normal grid operations by 5:30 p.m.

“Extreme heat across the state resulted in high usage today,” said ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness. “Declaring an EEA1 allowed us to access tools to maintain reliability, and we appreciate everyone’s response to the conservation appeal.”

At 3:10 p.m. today, ERCOT issued an EEA1 due to operating reserves below 2,300 MW. During normal grid conditions, ERCOT’s operating reserves are at or above 3,000 MW. This is the first time ERCOT has issued an EEA1 since January 2014.

One megawatt (MW) is enough to power 200 homes on a hot summer day.

When ERCOT issues an EEA, it is then able to take advantage of additional resources that are only available during tight operating conditions.

This afternoon, the average real-time market energy price reached the $9,000/MWh offer cap for multiple 15-minute settlement intervals.

ERCOT set a new all-time peak demand record on Monday, Aug. 12, when demand reached 74,531 MW between 4 and 5 p.m. Today’s peak came in at 74,181 MW between 3 and 4 p.m.

Consumers can monitor real-time grid conditions by downloading the ERCOT mobile app in the Apple Store and Google Play and/or by following ERCOT on Twitter.

ERCOT

Last summer, Texans nearly experienced similar rolling blackouts to what Californians faced just a few weeks ago.

When I read the sentence above, I immediately thought of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

“The Brave Sir Robin: The One who nearly fought the fierce Dragon of Angor, Almost stood up to the vicious chicken of Bristol…” Imgur

I knew this wasn’t a coincidence after reading the brief bio of Brad Johnson, author of The Texan article.

In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.

California experienced an actual ~4,400 MW deficiency in generating capacity. Texas experienced a brief period (less than 3 hours) when our operating reserves fell below 2,300 MW… It was ERCOT’s first Energy Emergency Alert (EEA1) since 2014.

While, we’ve experienced many power failures due to ice, lightning and/or wind damage, rolling blackouts are almost unheard of here. I’ve lived in Dallas County since 1981, and the only rolling blackout I can remember was during Super Bowl week 2011. The rolling blackouts were due to bitter cold that inhibited the startup of idle coal-fired power plants… Oddly enough, the blackouts did not affect venues related to Super Bowl festivities.

Functional

Texas

Dysfunctional

Calizuela

At the same scale…

Texas is in red, California is in blue.

California = Blue, Texas = Red

70 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Renewable Energy Blackouts: California vs Texas

  1. It should be illegal to call solar PV and wind power “renewable”.
    I wish so someone, anyone, could describe in detail exactly how the above are “renewable”. They take more power to produce, operate, backup due to intermittency, and dispose of than they will ever produce in their lifetimes.

    Prove me wrong.

    • The drivers and generation are renewable, albeit with phase shifts in time, space, and productivity. That said, save the birds, whack a wind turbine.

      • The drivers and generation are renewable

        Renewable means – not depleted when used.

        Solar panels and wind generators have a finite life. Both degrade over time and ultimately fail completely – typically about 25 years before they need to be replaced.

        If they could produce enough energy over their life to drive the production systems that built them and still have surplus to power the economic activity needed to support the production processes then they could be classed as ‘renewable’ but they don’t; so they aren’t.

        Weather dependent generators (WDGs)
        Variable generation.
        Intermittent generation.
        Ambient energy intermittent generators.
        Wind and solar generators.
        Any of the above is suitable.
        NEVER can they be accurately described as ‘renewable’.

        Most hydroelectric generators offer a renewable source. Some managed forests are a renewable energy source. Some geothermal sources provide renewable energy. WDGs in combination with hydroelectric are renewable where the hydroelectric is perched water constrained.

        • Rick,

          +1

          Wind and solar are UNRELIABLE, not renewable. At the end of life they are replaceable, not renewable.

          If we can get the adjective inserted into the nationwide meme of energy the general public would have a much better idea of what they are buying into. The term UNRELIABLE would explain why blackouts and brownouts are in the future of anyone trying to get more than 30% of their energy from these sources.

          It will also help bring forward what will happen as dependence on EV vehicles rise and their charging profile occurs just as the UNRELIABLE sources go down (i..e. evening).

        • Once again, griff gets offended whenever uncomfortable facts are brought to the fore.

          The fact that the left tortures language is indisputable. Pointing that out is not an “ideological position”.

          If the left declared that water is not wet, then pointing out that water is in fact wet, is not an ideological position.

        • griff
          It is not the Right that prevents contentious topics from being discussed at universities. It is not the Right that complains about certain words being “triggers,” or demands that words that they designate no longer be used. Almost by definition, conservatives are content with the status quo. It is those with an “ideological position” that want to change things.

    • You are not wrong. In singapore which is but 1 degree north of the equator where the government does not subsidize solar, and power is not very expensive the suppliers admitted to me that it takes 20 years to get back your investment. Given that the products themselves will not last 20 years this is a complete waste of money.

      • Many Loan, Investment, Future value and Present value calculators are on the internet. I have ran the cost of a solar panel, including installation, for my home calculating the cost of the loan and the loss of future value to my retirement account. I used the last five year average of increased value of my investments for the interest for the future value, and the average home equity loan for the loan interest.
        Have done this every five years since 1973 and have always lost money by purchasing a solar panel. And these calculations do NOT consider maintenance of the equipment. If you factor in maintenance expenses, and add these expenses to your investment (as you are not spending them) you actually can start deducting enough from your investment to pay your electric bill each month, after the so called break-even point, and it still grows in value. (may not work in California with there excessive rates.) In essence even with free electricity from the utility, you are paying for it in your loan, maintenance, and, worse, LOST retirement funds.

        • I live in Arizona, I penciled out solar shortly after I moved here. At that time I would never recover my cost. I look at a solar site recently, their number were in laulau land. Their payback number were eight years looking at my electric bill it worked out to be sixteen. That was just the cost with subsidies. No maintenance included, one would need at least on invert in that time. Solar is a lot of blue sky.

        • Clearly the subsidies are too low in your location. I took up the government incentives on offer in Australia in 2010. My system recovered its costs by 2014. The AUD0.66c/kWh on exported output certainly made money. Cost of energy imported is 34c/kWh. My 3kW system now earns almost AUD2000 per year. Was back in 2010, the subsidised cost was $9000.

          The income justified taking most of my load off-grid using a separate solar system with battery. That took another 3 years to recovery its cost of $5,800. My electricity income has payed for my gas water heating since I installed a wood heater two years ago. The wood comes off my property. The solar plus LiFeoPO4 battery breaks even at 60c/kWh providing the battery gives 12 years life. It is now 8 years and capacity about 5% down on new but the battery rarely gets deep cycled and never charged over 90%. Not fantastic economics but it is a long-term experiment of component life.

          Australia is now getting about 15% of its electricity from WDGs. Rooftop solar is growing fast. There is so much rooftop in South Australia that the grid is at risk of having zero demand during Sunday lunch this November. So far the most Sunday rooftop has been 929MW when the grid generators were producing just 330MW. The wholesale price in South Australia usually goes negative at lunchtime most days through spring.
          https://www.aemo.com.au/energy-systems/electricity/national-electricity-market-nem/data-nem/data-dashboard-nem#price-demand

          • This analytical report tells a different story: https://www.energycouncil.com.au/analysis/south-australias-blackouts-not-as-simple-as-it-looks/
            “In the year to May 2017 renewables have supplied 51.7 per cent of total generation in South Australia[i].”
            and
            “The level and frequency of these events (blackouts) are also unprecedented in the history of the National Electricity Market and in comparison with modern grids around the world.”
            and
            “Conclusion

            South Australia has had an unprecedented number of significant blackouts since November 2015. It also has high levels of intermittent renewable generation. These two factors are only partly related. South Australia has also experienced three extreme weather events and been impacted by increased transmission unreliability, which combined have been material contributing factors to five of these recent blackouts….”

            Read the article to see how they NUANCE the causes.

            Compared to the US Australia’s price for electricity is $0.24 vs the USA’s $0.14. https://www.globalpetrolprices.com/electricity_prices/

            The core arguments against renewables is intermittency and cost. SA is living it and teaching all of us.

          • It’s a really sad day, when a defense of solar starts with the statement that, “Clearly the subsidies are too low in your location.”

            If the only way to make something affordable is a huge subsidy, then obviously it’s better not to invest in the first place.

          • And when Everyone get a subsidy payment for their solar installation, (or wind) WHO is paying for it? Worse, there is the hidden cost of the electricity sold to you and the utilities maintenance cost of transmission lines. Look at it this way. If everyone had a solar system and they generated 50% 0f the consumed power, assuming they did not have a battery backup large enough to provide them selves with power in an extended outage, The electric co. would need to maintain the same size facilities as they would with out all of the home power generators. since they are selling 1/2 the electricity they could make, they need to charge twice as much for each kWh sol to meet their expenses. If not they go bankrupt or the government takes over and you pay anyway.

          • CoRev – it is forgivable that you obviously missed my sarcasm. On the other hand it is unforgivable that you use the term ‘renewable’ to describe South Australia’s WDGs. They are NOT renewable. Please desist from using the term ‘renewable’ so loosely.

            MarkW – I am pleased that subsidised rooftops are making it near impossible for the more heavily subsidised grid scale WDGs to make money. Rooftops have the competitive advantage of always being dispatched unless the local distribution is on overvoltage. The first mistake was allowing any intermittent source of energy to connect to the grid. The rot was started years ago.

            Usurbrain – In Australia, the price of grid power is getting to the point where it is economic to go off grid. There will be those who can afford reliable electricity using their own source and those stuck with unreliable grid power. It will be supplied as a public service to the underprivileged. At present there are more than 200k households in Australia being supplied but not paying bills.

            Australia is continuing to forge ahead with the experiment in WDGs. While the countries continues to export its low cost iron ore, bauxite and coal to China and buy low cost WDGs made in China using those raw materials then the fairy tale can continue.

    • There is no sense trying to communicate with the “Climate Cult” using terms they do not understand, or don’t accept. Intermittency is conceptually more difficult than renewable. Even though the wind sometimes doesn’t blow, and sometimes the sun doesn’t shine, there is the fact that by-and-by both will happen. Thus, Cultist define wind and sun as renewable. It means what they want it to mean.
      See: Humpty Dumpty Theory of Language

      Better to define your terms and talk to those not part of the Climate Cult. You will not be able to deprogram them.

    • It’s a typical focus on first-order effects with a total disregard for second- and third-order. First-order: eliminate “carbon” emissions. Who cares what the ramifications are, even if they’re worse that what we’re trying to “fix”?

      • The national electricity market operator in Australia has had a 12% per annum increase in operating costs since Hazelwood power station closed down. Their charges now amount to 60c/MWh, not much yet but at a 12% annual increase it cannot be disregarded.

        Managing the market has become very complex. On most days there are market ‘directions’ to generators to stay connected for stability reasons. Those directions cost a lot of money that is levied outside the wholesale market price setting. It involves considerable calculation that involves every growing manpower. These are the ‘little’ things that occur when trying to integrate WDGs into the supply network.

    • You forgot “cleanup” once they pass their usable lifetimes. While most power plants are in a limited space, the buildings can often be reused for longer periods of time, and the lifetime can often be greatly extended of the entire plant – solar and wind turbines are different.

      Solar efficiency degrades over time until complete failure of a panel section so a large capital cost per 20 years to replace. There are no plans to deal with the hundreds of thousands of glass panels that must be thrown away – the costs will be enormous.

      Wind turbines usually require new pylons to hold ever larger blades. Larger blades mean turbines must spread out more, meaning new concrete bases.

      In either case, you will have large areas of land damaged for hundreds of years before returning to a usable state unless large expenditures of money are made to clean the sites up.

  2. When South Africa started running out of generation capacity in the late 2000’s, load shedding (rolling blackouts) were mandated.

    Companies and the private individuals responded by simply buying portable generation capacity.

    That’s what the market does in response to a supply shortfall, it finds an alternative.

    That portable generation typically burned petrol.

    • I’ve lived in California all my life. I bought a 7500 watt gasoline powered generator last year, the first alternative power generation system I ever purchased when they shut off the power for 3 days. I also bought extra fuel storage canisters and installed an extra 25 gallon tank on my truck. So have some of my neighbors. I refuse to live in a third world country style of power generation. At some point, people will figure out that all of this renewable energy management nonsense is actually taxation without representation.

      • I’ve done likewise, although on a smaller scale. I found that a 2kVA generator was enough to comfortably run our refrigeration so that our food wouldn’t spoil during outages. I can get by without aircon as long as I can have the occasional cold drink.

  3. Texas far outpaces California on total carbon dioxide emissions — producing 13 percent of the U.S.’s emissions and 22 percent of its energy, compared with California’s 3 percent in generation and 7 percent in emissions.

    The term order is reversed in the comparison clauses, awkward at best — was that second part supposed to be “… California’s 7 percent in generation and 3 percent in emissions.?”

    Otherwise, not only is Texas generating a lot more power than California, but doing it at much lower emissions per megawatt-hour as well.

    Oh, and doing it cheaper too: average residential electric rates per KWh (January 2019):
    Texas: $0.1165
    California: $0.1834

    Not everyone has has a right to gloat over CA electric rates; six have higher ones:

    Alaska: $0.2175
    Connecticut: $0.2151
    Hawaii: $0.3208
    Massachusetts: $0.2251
    New Hampshire: $0.1996
    Rhode Island: $0.2270

    But these states do (rates <= 50% of CA):

    Louisiana: $0.0884
    North Dakota: $0.0917
    Nebraska: $0.0960
    Oklahoma: $0.0880

    • Compare these rates to South Australia who have 56% “renewables” at a cost of US$0.30 a unit, and perhaps even California might not seem so bad. (Other Australian states pay much less.)

      • Graeme#4,
        How does SA’s state tax rate and petrol prices compare to Calizuela’s? Then if you add in the high cost of housing and some of the highest state income tax rates in the nation you get a state where only the super wealthy and the destitute can afford to live!
        Calizuela seems determined to price their electricity out of the reach of the working class and poor! The Silicon Valley and Hollywood elites will feel all warm and tingly from their self righteous support of GangGreen, while everyone else will feel warm, hot or cold depending on the weather due extreme energy poverty and ever more frequent blackouts!

      • PG&E charges us 0.24 for the first tier, and 0.32 for the second and .37 for third tier. We used half half our energy in the second tier last month due to running the AC day and night through the toxic smoke from the Left Wing caused fires. We’re screwed in the Bay Area.

        • I believe that South Australia competes with Denmark for the highest domestic energy costs in the world. Also believe Germany costs are slightly less.

          • Pompeo, Scott, et a,l are doing their best to make Germany the most expensive by sanctioning NordStreamII, with a mafiosi offer they cannot refuse of a US LNG terminal, and $1 billion protection. Makes al Capone look like a waitress.
            That “insurance” will surely get passed onto hapless voters.

    • At least Alaska and Hawaii have reasonable excuse in terms of remoteness. The rest – not so much.

    • Well, here in Oklahoma, we don’t have to worry about blackouts caused by too much wind and solar in the mix. And the future looks good ever since the Oklahoma legislature voted to stop subsidizing wind and solar. We want reliable electricity in Oklahoma. It gets hot here. We need our airconditoners running, especially in the hottest weather. And that’s just what we get with our current energy policies.

      Of course, the reason for this is we don’t have delusional Leftists running our government.

  4. … and I almost voted for a Democrat once long ago.

    Today if confronted with a Democrat and no other candidate on a ballot I either leave it blank or write in a candidate like Donald Duck.

  5. David,
    Thanks for the info and the chuckles!
    Does Texas have any new nuclear in their plans or is everything Unreliables with natural gas-fired plants to keep the grid from collapsing like Calizuela when the next EEA occurs?
    An interesting side note: the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) which produces just over 2,100MW would have kept the socialist state within shouting distance if it was still operational!
    SONGS and Diablo Canyon alone can produce about 5% of the states electrical needs; just two plants, with no CO2 produced or birds and bats slaughtered!
    I wonder if they are still trying to get the Hetch Hetchy system removed? It currently provides 80% of the water for 2.6 million people as well as about 400MW of hydroelectric power! Removing the dam and restoring the valley behind it would probably push Calizuela down closer to North Korea!

  6. Rates, that is simply rates, cause me to wonder what the rest of the story is.
    We have two lines on our bill:
    Facilities Charge … $22.50/month
    Electricity charge………………….$ 0.0950/kWh

    This is for a small area Public Utility District (PUD) in central Washington State.

  7. Don’t worry Biden, Harris, Pelosi, and AOC will bring California type power (and lack there of) to the rest of the United States.

    Hope you don’t need electric heat when it’s 20 below.

  8. Be prepared to make your own electricity 🙁 from reliable fossil fuel 🙂

    Here is a one minute video where you can follow the monthly startup and check of the stationary 6kW 3phase diesel I installed in 2006, a year after I came for Sweden.

    With the 1500 liter / 428 gallon diesel main storage tank, I can keep the water running and the lights on for a long time.

    • If you were in Texas, and if you had a way to sell power to the grid, you could make a few bucks from your generator, when the price goes to…

      “This afternoon, the average real-time market energy price reached the $9,000/MWh offer cap for multiple 15-minute settlement intervals.

      $9/kWh × 6kW = $54/hour.

      Under normal conditions, where I live (NC, USA), that 6 kWh of electricity retails for about US$0.65 (65¢).

      • Most dispatchable power plants earn most, if not all, of their net profits during brief “bellwether” events, when prices spike. Opportunities to occasionally make $9/kWh incentivize the maintenance of surplus capacity.

  9. The fact that these two “energy attentive” states are not supporting Gen 4 SMR molten salt nuclear reactors indicates a level of ignorance that equals almost total incompetence. Molten salt SMRs are the future : India knows that, China knows that, and now Canada and other countries know that. Renewable power is primitive, unreliable, 16th Century technology which its supporters have convinced themselves will become unreliable if batteries ever become cheap enough to store an appreciable amount of grid-level power. But batteries STOTE energy, they do not GENERATE power.
    Renewable folks seem determined to support the dumbest and most expensive forms of power generation , which also have the greatest toxic environmental footprints. Wind turbines in particular make zero sense – recent studies indicate that a turbine cannot avoid as much CO2 emissions a are required to build and install the turbine. Their environmental footprint is also enormous — the environment never had it so bad.

  10. Take a look at the ERCOT Wind Integration Reports. Typically in July and August as the electrical demand climbs to its peak, the wind is dropping off. So at peak demand time, the percentage of installed wind providing power is very small. I couldn’t find August 2019, but for August 13, 2020, wind was only providing about 30% of it’s installed capacity – and that was a good day.

    http://www.ercot.com/gridinfo/generation/windintegration/

  11. Texas has both large amounts of wind capacity and some very large fossil fuel power plants near its borders. Hopefully the wind power additions will slow down, utility scale solar will increase without subsidies, and the fossil fuel plants will remain. California will have more blackouts and blame game.

  12. The sign said – “Don’t California our Texas.” Texans being polite?

    A couple of years back, the sign in Arizona – facing traffic coming from California over the Colorado River: “Don’t Californicate Arizona”.

    We haven’t.

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