In the aftermath of massive power outages in Texas, millions of people are struggling without heat and electricity coupled with frigid cold temperatures, snow, and ice.

Virginia Tech expert Saifur Rahman says this unfortunate situation is the result of low energy supply to the grid, which was curtailed due to weather and technical issues, and the fact that demand is higher than normal.

Quoting Rahman

Rahman explains that power grids in Texas are not built to handle extreme weather conditions.

“Power grids start at the power station and end at the customer premises. This includes fuel supply infrastructure, substations, transmission lines, distribution lines and transformers. While high voltage long distance transmission lines are designed and built to withstand inclement weather, the other parts of the grid are not.”

“This is a cost benefit issue,” says Rahman. “Because the ice storms Texas is facing today happen infrequently - at least used to - the cost of building a more robust power supply network was not justified politically.”

Another strain facing Texas’ energy infrastructure are its renewable energy resources.

“It is true that wind turbines have mostly failed to produce the expected amounts of electricity during this crisis in Texas, but this was not due to lack of wind. The wind turbine blades froze due to ice and cold weather,” explains Rahman. “In the northern parts of the U.S. cold weather and icing are not uncommon. In those cases, wind turbines are weatherized to operate in cold weather. This was not done for wind turbines in Texas.”

Rahman says to avoid future problems, Texas needs to maintain more reserves internally (both in terms of fuel and equipment capacity) within their system and/or have strong interconnections with their neighboring power systems to get power during emergencies like this one. 

About Rahman

Professor Saifur Rahman is the founding director of the Advanced Research Institute at Virginia Tech, where he is the Joseph R. Loring professor of electrical and computer engineering in the greater Washington, D.C. metro area. He also directs the Center for Energy and the Global Environment. His research areas focus on Alternative Energy, Distributed Generation, Microgrids, Demand Response, Smartgrid, Smart Buildings, and Electric Vehicles. More here.

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