Because of the recent rolling electricity blackouts in El Paso and power plant outages in other parts of Texas, there has been a lot of talk about the need to build more power plants in Texas to saddle the extra demand on the grid.
In order to stop Texas from experiencing rolling blackouts, ERCOT urged consumers to conserve energy because reserve margins were dangerously low.
But this begs the question: do we need to build more power plants to beef up the grid’s available electricity? And in that case, with coal plants being phased out, will this need lead to more pushes for net-zero plants like Net Power is building?
Let’s explore this topic a little more.
What Causes a Blackout?
Simply put, a blackout is the result of a grid system failure or, to put it even simpler: “In nearly every major blackout, the situation is the same. One piece of the system fails, and then the pieces near it cannot handle the increased load caused by the failure, so they fail.”
Blackouts result from severe weather as well, meaning that a lightning strike or blizzard can cause a transmission line to fail and the rest of the system fails in succession because of an overload.
Rolling blackouts are a less severe, more common form of blackouts, where grid operators systematically shut down certain areas to avoid an overloaded grid.
With all that being said, do we need more power plants as an added defense mechanism for the Texas grid?
So…Should Texas Build More Power Plants?
Here’s the thing: More power plants mean higher prices for consumers. But if we do not have the reserves available for rising electricity demands, then blackouts will become the norm. Neither the electric companies nor the consumers would welcome that change.
As Bloomberg states, (via Finance & Commerce) “The U.S. has become so awash in cheap natural gas and renewable power resources in recent years that electricity prices have, in some places, plunged below zero.” This means that the burden for electricity generation has fallen largely on the shoulders of wind farms in Texas, and not the coal factories, which are being phased out.
It seems like at the very least, more natural gas plants need to be built while Texas continues its positive push into more sustainable energy and increased production of wind farms. Texas isn’t quite there yet for wind to provide the needed buffer while electricity demand is so high.
Many are seeing this as a wake up call for Texas to start the process on more power plants. We will see if this drives even more wind farms or if natural gas plant projects will emerge instead.