How Extreme Cold Turned into a US Energy Crisis: QuickTake


Texas blackouts will continue today and into the early hours of Tuesday

Photographer: Matthew Busch / Bloomberg

Energy markets have never seen anything like this. Within four days, an intense blast of cold that gripped the central US froze pipelines, sent electricity prices skyrocketing to record highs, and ultimately forced the Texas grid operator to sink. over 2 million homes in the dark on the first winter weather related shoot. blackouts since 2011. As power outages began to spread through a network of 14 states in the Southwest, a lot of blame for the crisis was already being assigned.

1. What started this?

At the most basic level, the weather. TO The polar vortex, a girdle of winds that keeps the cold bottled up in the Arctic, buckled and released a record cold across much of the US late in the first week of February. By February 9, temperatures had it plummeted from Denver to Chicago, and hundreds of places in the central United States set daily temperature records. Prices of various types of heating fuels began to rise, including oil and natural gas. Demand for propane rose to a 17-year high. Gas and electricity consumption increased similarly.

2. What turned the cold into an energy crisis?

As temperatures continued to drop, gas pipelines began to shut down, wind turbines began to freeze, and oil wells shut down, just as homes and businesses increased demand for heating to record levels. Strong gas demand in the central US, especially Oklahoma, took some traders by surprise. Physical delivery of the fuel to a facility in Oklahoma was priced at a staggering $ 600 per million British thermal units. By Friday, February 12, traders panicked and tried to get additional supplies for the long holiday weekend. That night, Texas’ top energy regulators called an emergency meeting to prepare to ration gas supplies across the state. They adopted a measure that put residential customers, medical facilities, schools and churches in front of the gas line ahead of industrial users.

3. Why was the network unable to meet the demand?

The Texas grid operator says widespread shortages of natural gas supplies for power plants and a decline in wind generation helped create the shortfall. Several other plants went offline in the cold for reasons that are not yet known. In total, the agency estimated that more than 34 gigawatts of generation capacity were removed. That’s as much as 40% of the capacity the region had. It is expected to be online by summer 2020. Wholesale electricity prices in Texas soared to $ 9,000 a megawatt-hour, the maximum allowed in the market.

4. What turned the lights off?

The Texas grid operator and Southwest Power Pool have implemented ongoing power outages. These are controlled blackouts, designed to last 15 minutes to an hour (but are actually proving to be much longer), that force electricity demand to be switched off to protect grids from total collapse. In the past three decades, Texas has only resorted to such a drastic measure four times. The network operator expects the state outages to extend through Tuesday, February 16, as temperatures remain low. The US Department of Energy has issued an order allowing power plants to continue to operate despite possibly violating certain environmental limits. President Joe Biden approved the Texas emergency declaration, making more resources available.

5. Is the shift to renewable energy to blame?

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