Are frozen wind turbines to blame for Texas power outages?

Tech

AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) — With power still out for Texans across the state, many people are placing the blame on renewable energy and frozen wind turbines. Earlier this week, many turbines had to be shut down as a result of the winter weather.

Why were they turned off? Ice accumulating on a turbine can slow its ability to produce energy. Also, sheets of ice on the turbines can fall to the ground once it starts spinning. This can be dangerous for crews working nearby.

But the vast majority of energy the state generates is through natural gas. In October 2020, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that renewables generated 22% of the state’s energy, while gas generated 51.8%.

In ERCOT’s plan for this winter, it expected that thermal and hydro resources, i.e. gas, coal and water, would need to generate 67,000 megawatts per hour during a high-demand event to support the state. This didn’t take into account a historic snowstorm where demand would increase and supply would be threatened.

On Monday, frozen instruments and a limited gas supply forced 30,000 MW/h of power offline. This was half of what ERCOT believed they would need. According to the agency, wind turbines account for less than 13% of the total generation that was lost. The majority of which was coal and gas.

ERCOT stressed in a press conference Tuesday afternoon that the majority of the energy loss is not because of the wind turbines being taken offline. A spokesperson for ERCOT said the losses were spread across all generation types.

16,000 MW/h of renewable energy, including wind and solar, has been lost since the storm began according to ERCOT. This is compared to between 28 and 29,000 MW/h of thermal energy that has been lost.

So yes, there are some issues with renewable energies during extreme weather events, but those issues are only a sliver of a larger problem that has left hundreds of thousands in the dark.

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