Much of the USA has been struck by unusual cold, with freezing temperatures and heavy snow and ice. At least forty people have died. There have been massive electricity blackouts, especially in Texas, which has America’s largest capacity of wind turbines. Electricity prices have soared. For a while I have predicted global cooling if the Sun remains quiet, and I have said that wind and solar are always an expensive failure for grid electricity. Does Texas prove me right?

In the first case, not necessarily. There has been unusual cold in much of the Northern Hemisphere, including parts of North America, Europe and Asia. But the world’s weather system is chaotic, and spells of unusual cold or unusual warmth may not be statistically significant. You need to see a long-term trend to find out whether the Earth is warming or cooling or doing neither.

Maybe the freakish weather in Texas has no more significance than a rank outsider’s winning a horse race, or maybe it portends a long-term trend. We’ll have to wait and see. But it does make nonsense of alarmist nonsense about ‘Our Burning Planet’ and of predictions that snow and ice will become things of the past.

In the second case, yes. There is an iron trend all over the world: the more wind and solar you have on the grid, the higher electricity prices and the more blackouts. Texas is the biggest electricity producer in the USA. In 2019, it generated 483 TWh (Terawatt-hours), over twice the total generated in South Africa. It has the biggest wind capacity in the USA, at 29 GW (Gigawatts).

Bowing to green ideology

This compares with SA’s total electricity capacity of about 46 GW. Texan electricity used to rely on coal and gas, with a small amount of nuclear, but recently, bowing to green ideology and helped by Federal subsidies, it moved heavily into wind, with some solar. Coal plants have been shut down. The gas network has been neglected.

During the freeze, the gas power stations kept operating as long as they had gas, but some of the pipelines supplying them failed in the cold, and some gas stations had to shut down. The coal stations (those that had not been scrapped) kept running. There are two nuclear power stations, with two units each; three of the four kept running but one of them shut down when a frozen sensor sent a false alarm about cold feedwater; this has now been repaired and the unit is running again.

The wind turbines, making up about 25% of generation capacity in Texas, failed horribly and were the main reason behind the blackouts. Had there been no wind on the grid, more nuclear and coal, and the gas system properly maintained, there would have been fewer blackouts if any, despite the freakish weather.

How much money should you invest in insuring against a rare event? This is for actuaries to decide. It would be stupid to make house roofs strong enough to withstand a passenger aeroplane crashing into them but wise to make them strong enough to withstand the strongest likely winds. Gas pipelines can be made to operate in extreme cold; the Russians make them all the time. Should Texas now make them, or should it regard the present freeze as unlikely to happen again?

For South Africa’s electricity supply, the lesson of the Texas freeze is clear: stop using solar and wind for grid electricity. (They are wonderful for off-grid electricity.) The wretched IRP2019 (Integrated Resource Plan of 2019) should be scrapped immediately.

Texas gives a hint

This mad plan gives the legal authorisation for new power stations in South Africa until 2030. It was devised by the Department of Energy and the CSIR, both of whom seem to have been captured by green ideologues and renewable power companies. It is a fantasy, bearing no resemblance to the real world. It asks for a massive switch from coal and nuclear to wind and solar, and completely ignores the staggering costs of incorporating these ‘unreliables’ into the grid. It is a suicide note for South African electricity supply. Texas gives a hint of what it could bring.

IRP2019 says the ‘least cost’ option is solar and wind combined with a ‘flexible’ energy source, meaning natural gas, which we don’t have. Actually it is by far the ‘greatest cost’ option. In Texas, with the greatest capacity of wind in the United States, the price of electricity last week reached $9,000/MWh – or R135/kWh. This is over a hundred times higher than Eskom’s average selling price and over three hundred times higher than the cost of electricity from Koeberg.

Does Texas teach us anything about the future climate in South Africa? I don’t think so, except to reject the alarmist nonsense about runaway warming. Long-term weather forecasts have always been unreliable and always will be. There is nothing to suggest that mankind is changing the unpredictable weather changes that nature has always brought.

[Image: Willfried Wende from Pixabay]

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40 COMMENTS

  1. Are there any DF readers who do not accept that CO2 levels have risen from 280 to 415 ppm in the last hundred years or so? If so, then you accept that humanity has had a profound impact on the atmosphere, in an unprecedentedly short space of time. This change has caused warming and will cause further warming. What are we going to do about it? That is the only question worth asking.

    • Oh please David. You assume too much.
      You have no proof that humanity has caused the increase in CO2 and besides that it is assumed without proof that it affects the atmosphere.
      There was life with levels of over 3000 ppm with no humans on Earth. So how is that so?
      How can you make such an asinine statement that CO2 casues warming and that humans are the cause. It is proven than CO2 lags warming so how can it be causual.
      I suggest you read Ed Berry’s preprint. Preprint #3C: Carbon cycle model shows nature controls CO2 level- link here. https://edberry.com/blog/climate/climate-physics/preprint3/

    • For some people only the most dramatic event,theory, idea, and language is worth anything. Thank heaven engineers don’t think the same way.History is a good guide, not that educated people these days know anything of it. The result is that common sense is seldom applied and when it is, it provokes an instant outpouring of rage from the ignorant. Sure recipe for disasters of all kinds, methinks. Alas, this simplistic thinking raises its head once more in this reaction to the Texas power shortage.

    • …make a ‘pipe’ that will run from earth’s atmosphere through the stratosphere into the outer space to suck excess CO2 from earth.

    • I accept that CO2 levels have risen, and that humanity’s activities are warming the earth. I do not accept that these are bad things, and I do not accept that people who are rational about things would walk around with such fearmongering. Time is not running out. As Texas has shown us now, and like we full well know in South Africa, you can screw something up in the short term far worse than a potential long-term threat or even a threat on the immediate horizon could.

  2. Yes. The warnings continue ad nauseum. Grid collapses, rocket power prices, the list goes on.

    The issue is that the Corporates and the Investors who seek profit have many well paid lobbyists with bags of cash to influence the unelected bureaucrats policy makers who in turn convince the politicians.
    There is insufficient space and time for reasonable discourse to take place. The media have too much influence and they are controlled by the Corporations to beat the drum and use foghorn or loudhailers to proclaim the lies so that they can profit.

    It is shown over and over that you canot rely on an unstable, unpredicatable, puny intermittent power source that is incompatible with a modern power grid to power a modern economy. Yet there are idoits that belive it can works unitil it goes wrong. RE Wind and Solar in particular, surely by now has been proven to be a completely delusional concept.

    “[T]he majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power, it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.” – Harold Pinter, Nobel Lecture (Literature), 2005

    • Wind and solar are not delusional concepts, but they are not stable or reliable enough to be substitutes. They are also not more environmentally friendly. They have their place in a larger energy mix, but they cannot substitute reliable, clean and environmentally friendly energy sources like nuclear.

      • With respect Garg, I don’t accept that position for a number of reasons.
        The delusion is that they are even considered a a power source for a modern economy.
        Wind was modern in the 14the century for powering ships and windmills becasue there wasn’t electricity.
        It has a place for pumping water from undergound where the cost of providing power to a pump is very expensive and the demand is not critical for example a windmill in mthe middle of the karoo or in a remote area. Have no issue with that. It has a particular niche.
        Solar also has a place, again I have no issue, its ok for a domestic application where its solution for unreliable supply or even an expensive solution for those who can afford it due to circumstances. Its also great for providing an energy source for a low power consuming device like a remote communication system or for a sattelite. Besides the fact it is still the most expesive form of energy production. Again it is very much a niche market.

        However to include it in as a “Energy Mix” as part of a modern economy is completly rediculous and delusional as you will see.
        It is political and massively destructive to grids and economies.
        It creates instability due to numerous factors.
        It causes blockouts becasuse of the unpredicatble and unstable nature. It has added hugely to the increased cost of the production and therefore the competiveness of countries and in fact is shown to cause unemployment as industries attempt to reduce costs to maintain profitability cutting down workforces and moving to cheaper sources of supply like China. Ding dong— Favoured by the UN, OECD, WEF, IMF etc etc.

        It is completly incompatible with the modern grid which requires stability and on demand control and needs to be deterministic and despatchable.

        Both Wind and Solar are niether, A weather and seasonally dependent source is idiocy (delusional).
        This is besides solar lives in a DC world and Grids live in an AC world should aslo explain that too.

        Everything is currently bieng attempted using obfuscation, manipulation of facts to complete rubbish and outlight lies trying to prove it is usefull.

        The attempt to make it part of the Grid is purley political in support of a parasitic industrial complex of scammers and scamsters. That is the matter here.

        We also need to note why the Ramaposha driving this because he has a vested interst as his father in law is massivly invested in the RE Industry. Don’t forget that for a moment.

        The unreliability of “renewable” sources of energy, such as wind and solar is clear; and the long-term effects of the neoliberal policy of deregulation, which puts speculative profits ahead of the necessary, continuous investment in infrastructure required to sustain a modern electricity grid.

        One simply can look at the lies, the spin and that it is clean and green. None of that is true.
        It is unable to stand on its own. It is heavily dependent on conventional power for its creation as well as its operation.

        It wants to be a player burt cannot meet the commercial requirments (costs) or the technical requirment reliability, stability, power quality requirments or power production at levels need to power energy intensive production like, mining, steel, chemical and glass making to name a few.

        The industry only wants to partake in a selected segment, not comply with the requirments but demands to be part of it.
        So it sucks up to Government to provide protection and welfare to try and be a player.
        It is clear there has to be and is obvious that there is massive bribery and corruption that has allowed this to happen to the country. It is a clear fleecing mechanism.

        • Totally agree with you, but that assumes an either-or situation. In South Africa’s case, we have ample sunshine for most of the year. I’m not a fan of wind at all, because it is not environmentally friendly at all. You’re quite right about the demands as well, because most of our demand is early morning and early evening, when we have neither sunshine nor wind. However, on a fairly small scale, wind and solar both have their place to tie us over between say loadshedding/rolling blackout sessions. As you mention, they are not reliable nor switched on on demand, although we don’t have the snowfall or extreme weather conditions of say Texas. As a supplement, for a household or a security village or even a suburb, it is feasible. As a replacement? Absolutely not. And for industry? Most likely not at all.

  3. Did the failure of the wind turbines (due to freezing conditions) in Texas force the South Texas nuclear power station to shut down one of its units because its water supply froze? Last year in August France had to shut down two nuclear power stations temporarily due to a shortage of water caused by the severe heat wave and drought.

    The power failures in Texas were caused by two issues:

    The wind turbines used in Texas (and for that matter pretty much all the power stations) have not been designed for such cold conditions. In colder climates these are “winterized” (effectively installing heating systems for critical parts and water inlets) and wind turbines in Scandinavia run happily in conditions much colder than what Texas experienced. The utility companies made the decision not to include this technology to cut capital costs as Texas is one the the hottest states in the US. The same happened in 2011 when a winter storm knocked out 200 plants (many coal plants) but the impact was much lower.

    The Texas grid is not physically connected with the rest of the US whereas all other states form part of two national grids. This decision was made the the 1940’s to prevent federal oversight of Texas’s grid. So Texas could not purchase emergency power from other states even if they wanted to.

    • “winterized” Now where does the energy come from for winterization. “Self Generated” ok so how much of produced energy is used for this solution” And of course only when the wind is blowing withing the operating envelope. So, when the wind isn’t blowing within the operating parameters?….. huh. Its is such a stupid and delusional solution is it not,
      Stop fooling yourself.

      • All power sources are subject to intermittency. How much power does a nuclear station generate when it is shut down for refuelling (for months at a time), or a coal power station when it is off line for major scheduled maintenance to the tubes (also for extended periods). One has to plan for for this and the plan has to cope with the type of intermittency. Do some reading up. It is being done around the world.

        • You have no clue as to what intermittancy is, We are taliking about ability to supply a particular power level and power quality on demand. Intermittncy relates to the predicatability, Both Wind and Solar are unpredicable becsue of wind velocity limits and gusting nature and solar on sun angles due to time of day and cloud cover etc and they cannot be dispatched to meet the demand of an electric power system. Simply put you cannot predict and control the weather and therefor you cannot predict the availibility which leads to a problem trying to balance load on the grid. Its this intermittency und unreliability of both Wind and Solar that leads to the loadshedding issue.

          You are completely confused as usual Sobey. Capacity factor includes the issue of maintenence BTW.
          Capacity Factor is an important measurement for evaluating different types of generation. CF is determined by calculating the amount of electricity a power plant actually produces over a year, divided by the amount the unit could theoretically produce based on its nameplate rating. For the primary types of energy sources we use they are 91% for nuclear, 87% for combined cycle natural gas (uses a second turbine to extract heat from waste gas), 85% for coal, 34% for onshore wind, 12 to 25% for solar.
          So Sobey you really need to stop displaying your complete ignorance. Rather button your lip.

  4. I have a good friend that lives in Texas and experienced it all first hand. ( actually frozen and burst water pipes — although he tells me he now has power )
    Would you like to know what he says / thinks ?
    ( apart from having to pay double tax to subsidize the “green-ideology” )

  5. Henk has already made the point. The reason that some wind turbines failed was that they were not winterised – which is the same reason that the gas pipelines froze. Actually at one stage the wind turbines over delivered and if they had been winterised they would probably all have over delivered. But rather talk with data: in total 16 GW of wind turbine capacity and renewables capacity was lost. But around 30 GW of capacity was lost of coal, gas and nuclear – nearly twice as much. Why blame renewables for the total loss? BBC has a more balanced article https://www.bbc.com/news/world-56085733

    Incidentally I have seen articles quoting people as saying that a few days electrical outages are worth it to keep away from federal oversight (a subject also mentioned by Henk). Well if you make your bed, you have to lie in it.

    Why do you only tell part of a story about electricity prices? In 2020 the average Texas electricity price was 11.86 US c/kWh, vs the average USA electricity price of 13.31 US c/kWh. It is only during a shortage that the price rises dynamically to manage demand. This is normal in modern systems. Even in South Africa we have a rough system where tariffs increase in Winter and during peak times. The loss of supply caused the tariff in Texas to increase dramatically. Note it can also work the other way. In the UK they have had it where people were paid to take electricity when there was a huge oversupply. It is too complicated a process to explain here. Maybe go to RethinkX.com and download and read their energy report to get a better understanding of how it is going to work going forward.

      • It is also worthwhile adding that Idaho, which has over 40% wind generation (more than double that of Texas) did not have any trouble with wind generation during the cold. Idaho is colder than Texas. The problem is not wind turbines, it is that they need to be designed to a specification that accounts for the freezing cold.
        Idaho also has a lower average electricity price than Texas: residential 9.7 US c/kWh, commercial 7.7 US c/kWh, vs. US average of 13.3 US c/kWh for residential and 10.6 US c/kWh for commercial. This also blows your argument out the water that renewables are more expensive. It is almost unkind to add that Washington, with the highest renewable percentage in the US has the lowest electricity price – an average 4.13 US c/kWh statewide for industrial consumers. (Not really a fair comparison though because Washington has a lot of hydro power).

        • Idaho and Texas are literally at the opposite ends of the spectrum, not only in terms of geography, but also in terms of population. Idaho has nearly 2 million people, whereas Texas has nearly 40 million.

          While it is true that wind turbines can be designed for the cold, it prompts the question why would you bother doing that?

          • An engineer designs something for maximum parameters. The factory I worked in Ladysmith had the roof designed for half a metre of snow (OK it was designed in 1970 before global warming took hold), but it is no good looking stupid when the roof caves in and saying “that was a one in 50 year occurrence”. Same applies here. Incidentally some of the coal stations stopped because the coal piles froze over – they would also need similar consideration. Otherwise one has to interconnect and draw from other sources in these extreme events. Taking out insurance does not work when people are freezing to death.

          • I am not sure why the fact that Idaho has fewer people makes any difference. In fact one would expect that it would be more expensive to distribute power to a less densely populated state.

          • Exactly. So a less populous state, with less oil, would explain why it can perhaps make do with wind power. Texas can evidently not, and it is an ideological as opposed a logical decision to switch to wind there, for a state roughly the size of our entire country. Take South Africa as a case study: When Eskom only catered for white people, it only needed to provide power to around 2 million people and at a stretch could manage nearly 10 million people. No load shedding. So it had to provide Idaho with power, for argument’s sake. Now it has to provide power to 50 million people, so a little more than Texas, for argument’s sake. With the same capacity, and Eskom has slightly less capacity now than during Apart Hate, it’s a problem. That’s just part of why population size matters and comparisons are not illustrative.

            Engineering feet as it may be, it still doesn’t answer the question. Why would you opt for wind power when it is not more green, contrary to the claims by the watermelons? It’s not safer or cleaner than nuclear, for example. Texas has never had problems like this before. Texas has also never switched to wind and natural gas like this before. Texas has had snow before, and it’s a regular occurrence in its Northern parts. Something changed, and that something is the reason for their current crisis. Spoiler alert: It’s wind power. ‘Fact checkers’ are not checking facts, they’re checking narratives.

      • That citation only shows 2021 data, so it doesn’t tell us what occurred during the periods in question. To stave any claims made in the piece, we require a trend of energy sources over the past couple of years, particularly the years of 2019 mentioned.

        From the landing page of the actual eia source:

        “Texas leads the nation in wind-powered generation and produced about 28% of all the U.S. wind-powered electricity in 2019. Texas wind turbines have produced more electricity than both of the state’s nuclear power plants since 2014. ”

        In short, the fact checker didn’t do its job and tried to paint the narrative that Texas is not in this mess because of its reliance on wind-powered electricity, or gradually going ‘green’ during the past couple of years. They are in this mess because they went watermelon, and there’s no reason to do so in a state with more than enough fossil fuels, and already nuclear capabilities.

  6. How can anyone with 1/2 a brain cell even consider that BBC is a reliable or balanced. Wow its astounding how deep the insanity has become embedded into the psychi. Mind you its like the trust in factcheckers for truth. Same doll different dress.

      • It’s not an engineering source, it’s an engineering news blog. Big difference. Case in point: It cites the Daily Mail, claiming that’s their source for the claim:

        “Wind power accounts for less than 13 percent of the 30 to 35 gigawatts of total outages, as Dan Woodfin, a senior director at Texas’s grid operator told The Daily Mail.”

        The referenced link does not contain the phrases “wind power” or “Dan Woodfin”. It’s a piece on Ted Cruz going on a trip. Not sure how that’s relevant to engineering at all. He’s not an engineer. The Daily Mail is not an engineering reference. Apparently neither is interesting engineering except if it’s interesting social engineering, perhaps.

        What about other sources? Do they contain anything about how much wind power is to blame? Well, I found one that claims wind power is responsible for at least 1/3 of the normal power capacity, so a roughly 13% breakdown of total blame indicates that roughly 1/3 of all wind power capacity is currently down:

        https://www.statesman.com/story/news/2021/02/17/texas-energy-wind-power-outage-natural-gas-renewable-green-new-deal/6780546002/

        That appears to be a source for the 13% number and Dan Woodfin, by the way.

        Why coal and natural gas are lumped together is puzzling, given that part of the problem appears to be the switch to natural gas. It would therefore be more illustrative to see how much energy sources moved to both wind power and natural gas, instead of conflating those variables. It would also be more illustrative to see the ratios of coal capacity, and natural gas capacity, that has broken down. Is that ratio bigger or smaller than 1/3, for example?

        But wait, there’s more. The ratio of failing wind sources is actually higher than 1/3. It’s 48%, so it’s closer to roughly half of their wind sources. This means it’s closer to just over 16% of the entire energy capacity of Texas from our Dan Woodfin citation
        (discounting nuclear for some reason).

        https://dailycaller.com/2021/02/24/nuclear-energy-wind-power-fossil-fuels-texas/

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