EGEB: Why some wind turbines froze in Texas, but don’t in the Arctic

EGEB: Why some wind turbines froze in Texas, but don’t in the Arctic
  • Texas utility ERCOT said that frozen wind turbines were the “least significant factor in the blackout.”
  • The US installed record amounts of wind and solar in 2020, despite the pandemic.
  • UnderstandSolar is a free service that links you to top-rated solar installers in your region for personalized solar estimates. Tesla now offers price matching, so it’s important to shop for the best quotes. Click here to learn more and get your quotes. — *ad.

Texas’s frozen wind turbines

Despite what some Texas officials are stating (thus causing a lot of misinformation to fly around), frozen wind turbines did not cause the state’s widespread outages, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the state’s power grid. It said that failures in wind and solar power were the “least significant factor in the blackout,” according to Reuters.

ERCOT CEO Bill Magness says bottom line, the cause of this failure is the storm. And demand for electricity during the weekend cold front far exceeded what ERCOT predicted for a winter storm. Here’s an interview with Magness on ABC News on February 17:

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Dan Woodfin, a senior director at ERCOT, said on Tuesday [via the Texas Tribune]:

It appears that a lot of the generation that has gone offline today has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system.

The Tribune continues:

It’s estimated that of the grid’s total winter capacity, about 80% of it, or 67 gigawatts, could be generated by natural gas, coal, and some nuclear power. Only 7% of ERCOT’s forecasted winter capacity, or 6 gigawatts, was expected to come from various wind power sources across the state.

‘Texas is a gas state,’ said Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

While Webber said all of Texas’ energy sources share blame for the power crisis, the natural gas industry is most notably producing significantly less power than normal.

We at Electrek would like to reiterate that Texas leads the US in wind, and solar is rapidly increasing, despite the fact that natural gas still dominates.

So why did some wind turbines fail (and others continued to function, thus making up lost power due to failure of natural gas), particularly when wind turbines function just fine in much colder climates?

First of all, Texas wind turbines aren’t equipped with cold weather packages, which can involve a number of precautions such as heating up turbine components and lubricants. This is because the state typically does not experience extreme cold.

Newsweek spoke to various experts, and here’s what a couple of them had to say:

In Northern Europe, wind power operates very reliably in even colder temperatures, including the upper Arctic regions of Finland, Norway, and Sweden.

As long as wind turbines are properly maintained and serviced, they can operate reliably in temperatures well below zero. Humans, to carry out servicing and maintenance and operation, are the most important factor, not the weather.

Benjamin Sovacool, professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex, UK

Also:

With the current range of anti-icing measures available, wind power is an effective source of energy in cold climates, because icing can be managed and the quality of wind that is normally available in colder locations.

Although fossil fuels may have met our needs in the past, they have caused significant problems for the environment and to our health. They are also a finite resource which is reducing with the growing market demand for energy, so relying on them would not be a wise long-term strategy.

Jian Wang, professor of aircraft technology at London’s Kingston University

US renewables in 2020: a good year (mostly)

The US added a record amount of wind and solar energy in 2020, according to BloombergNEF and Business Council for Sustainable Energy yesterday, who released their annual Sustainable Energy in America Factbook. Here are the highlights:

  • Installations of wind and solar power soared 61% over the previous year, with 33.6 gigawatts added to the grid in 2020. 
  • Renewables, including hydro, accounted for 20% of US electricity last year, with nuclear adding another 20% – that’s 40%.
  • Coal dropped to 19% of electricity production. Natural gas made up 41%.
  • Sadly, due to the pandemic, the renewables industry lost more than 67,000 jobs from February through December. But ultimately that didn’t hinder the sector’s growth. President Joe Biden has promised the growth of green energy jobs going forward.
  • BloombergNEF’s data showed a record year for US solar installations, landing at 16.5 gigawatts. The previous record, set in 2016, was 14.4 gigawatts.
  • The wind industry added more than 17 gigawatts, according to BloombergNEF.
  • US emissions dropped 9% in 2020, but that is not expected to be sustained, as it was the result of COVID-19 and a floundering economy.
  • Energy demand from the transportation sector fell hardest, slipping 14.4% as Americans commuted and traveled less to stay safe.
  • Electricity demand declined least, falling just 3.8%. Commercial and industrial demand falls were partly offset by growth in residential use as millions of Americans stayed home.

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