Some of the coldest temperatures seen in Texas for 30 years result in huge power outages across the state, leaving millions of residents without electricity.
Arctic blasts have hit much of central USA in recent days, with temperatures dropping to as low as -18oC.
According to the National Weather Service (NWS), more than 150 million Americans were living under winter snow warnings, with Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, and Oklahoma also affected.
On the evening of Sunday 14 February, state grid operator ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) revealed the plummeting temperatures had led to a new winter peak demand for electricity.
#ERCOT set a new winter peak demand record this evening, reaching 69,150 MW between 6 and 7 p.m. This is more than 3,200 MW higher than the previous winter peak set back in January 2018. Thanks to everyone who has been conserving today. We appreciate it! #conserve #saveenergy pic.twitter.com/eq56LLxcAS— ERCOT (@ERCOT_ISO) February 15, 2021
Ongoing Power Outages
However, the cold snap knocked out several gas-fired power plants. While the storm also sent half of the state’s wind power capacity – which is the second-largest source of electricity – offline.
As a result, ERCOT initiated load-shedding and rolling blackouts to try and get the situation under control.
With nearly 34,000 MW of generation taken out of the system, the website Poweroutage.us reported nearly four million houses were still left without power as of the early hours of Tuesday. The outage affected major cities such as Austin and Houston.
Dan Woodfin, ERCOT’s senior director of system operations, warned that the rolling blackouts were likely to remain in place “until there’s sufficient generation able to be brought back online to meet the demand on the system”. This would probably be Tuesday afternoon local time at the earliest.
The supply problems also hit customers across the border in northern Mexico, where another five million people were left without electricity.
The incident has again placed into question the nature of the power grid in Texas. Unlike the utility monopolies that operate in several other US states, generators are only paid for the power that they sell. This means they aren’t incentivised to keep reserve capacity to deal with unexpected stresses on the network.