What went awry? The Lone Star State made three basic errors.
How could this occur? For four days, millions of people in Texas, the so-called energy capital of the world, shivered in the dark, unable to turn on the lights or run their heaters during some of the coldest days in decades. At least 30 Texans have died till now, including a 75-year-old man whose oxygen machine lost power and an 11-year-old boy who may have died of hypothermia. Anguished families have attempted staying warm by running generators and grills indoors, causing above 450 carbon-monoxide poisonings, most of them among children.
Disconnected from electricity and exposed to the frigid weather, Texas’s infrastructure experienced a kind of multisystem failure. Pipes started bursting inside homes. Cell networks went down, due to which people couldn’t call up 911. In Austin and other places, so many people ran their pipes at a drip to prevent them from freezing that the water system depressurized, contaminating the supply and compelling residents to boil their water before using it.
On Friday, almost half of state residents were under some kind of water advisory. Around 33,000 homes and businesses still have no power.
America’s second-largest state was brought to its knees by winter weather.
Why is it so?
- Nobody had planned for this ever. At any point, power plants should generate almost the same amount of electricity that customers need. An out-of-balance grid can burst into flame or break down. This week, some of Texas’s largest cities experienced overnight wind chills around zero degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures across the state did not pass the freezing mark for days. Three out of five Texans warm their homes with electric heaters. Those heaters suddenly required a lot of power. The system didn’t have that much power, so it failed. This failure cascaded down the power lines. When the managers of Texas’s grid realized that they had too little power to meet demand, they communicated to local transmission organizations like smaller grids that cover specific cities or regions to start rolling blackouts.
- Texas couldn’t generate enough electricity as the Lone Star State as a whole doesn’t maintain much natural-gas storage, as it treats the ground as its reserve. If it requires more gas, it can always drill. The power system is not the sole consumer of natural gas in Texas. During the winter, homes, hospitals, and offices pipe in the fuel to burn in heaters and boilers. This extraordinary system was totally unprepared for a polar vortex. As temperatures plunged, the pipelines providing gas to power plants froze and depressurized. Simultaneously, those homes, offices, and hospitals all claimed whatever meagre gas was still available. A system meant for summer was outmatched by winter and Texas, sitting on one of the world’s largest natural-gas reserves, suffered a statewide run on gas.
- No one planned for a natural gas shortage as it was unthinkable.