“The grid held up fine for a couple of reasons: the weather wasn’t as bad as we thought, and wind overperformed,” said Michael Webber, an energy professor at the University of Texas. “The demand wasn’t as high, and the supply wasn’t as low.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott and lawmakers can claim victory in averting major blackouts this time, even as experts say it’s unclear whether the state’s grid actually is ready to withstand a cold blast like the 2021 storm, which left more than 200 people dead. That has significant political implications.
Abbott, a Republican, has been promising “the lights will stay on” this winter, a crucial pledge in his re-election bid. The primary race is less than a month away, and Abbott appears to have a wide enough lead over his Republican challengers that he can avoid a runoff.
“This helps him maintain that lead,” Jennifer Danley-Scott, a lecturer at Texas Women’s University, said in an interview.
The governor pointed to measures taken since last year’s catastrophe including requiring power plants to winterize, a 15% increase in generation supplies over last year and availability of alternative fuels at generator facilities.
Critics, however, say those rules didn’t do enough to ensure the state’s gas network — the power grid’s lifeblood — doesn’t freeze up again. Gas flowed freely during this week’s storm, but that’s largely because it didn’t get cold enough.
“The state still remains vulnerable because we have not set requirements for winterization of the gas system,” said Webber, who’s also chief technology officer at venture fund Energy Impact Partners. “As such, the reliability of gas production is still flimsy.”
In Dallas, last year’s temperatures fell as low as -2 Fahrenheit (-19 Celsius), and there were 11 straight days with highs below 40 degrees. This year, forecast lows are around 10 degrees, and meteorologists expect just three consecutive days with highs below 40.
In Midland, the hub of the oil- and natural gas-rich Permian Basin, last year saw eight consecutive days when temperatures never rose above freezing, which crippled the flow of gas and starved power plants of fuel. This time, Midland didn’t have back-to-back days when the mercury stayed below 32 degrees.
“The last one was both longer and more extreme,” said Marc Chenard, a meteorologist at the U.S. Weather Prediction Center.
While Ercot didn’t ask consumers to conserve, widespread closures of schools and businesses helped cut down on consumption. Peak demand for electricity was significantly lower and a bit later than anticipated Friday morning, with consumption hitting 69 gigawatts when Ercot previously projected record demand of 75.6 gigawatts. A gigawatt is enough to power about 200,000 Texan homes.
Ercot also has been maintaining a lot more reserves ready to kick in at any signs of stress. At times, spare supplies were double or triple the 3,000 megawatts the grid operator regularly maintains. Plants were turned on even before they were needed so they would stay warm — thanks to insulation and other weatherization now mandated — even when temperatures dropped.
Supplies of natural gas, the main fuel for Texas power plants, also fared better. The 2021 disaster removed as much as 7 billion cubic feet of daily gas supplies in the state, according to industry figures. That was more than three times the losses incurred during this week’s chill, according to BloombergNEF data. Moreover, in last year’s event the state’s gas output remained strained for almost two weeks.
Wind also played a key role, bolstering power supply through the storm.
“Last year it was at zero — that is a ton of difference,” Sean Kelly, co-founder of Amperon Holdings Inc., which provides analysis to utilities and power traders. “It’s definitely a big win for renewables and it’s definitely a big win for weatherization of wind farms.”