ApolloHoax.net

Off Topic => General Discussion => Topic started by: JayUtah on February 17, 2021, 01:55:45 PM

Title: The future of the electric grid
Post by: JayUtah on February 17, 2021, 01:55:45 PM
Y'all okay down there in Texas?  Just pointing out how Rick Perry was President Trump's energy secretary.  The whole nation might have dodged a bullet here.  Stay warm.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: gillianren on February 18, 2021, 10:03:00 AM
And of course people are trying to blame the windmills, not the infrastructure.  As a friend put it, she hadn't realized the Green New Deal had already been passed and implemented in Texas, of all places . . . .
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: JayUtah on February 18, 2021, 12:21:01 PM
As usual, one party seems particularly adept at blaming the other party for catastrophes obviously caused by its own actions.  And people seem all too eager to believe it.  I really hope our regulars from Texas are safe.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: apollo16uvc on February 18, 2021, 01:05:49 PM
USA's unwillingness to spend money on repairing and expanding the bulk of its infrastructure is once again manifesting itself.

This time as a failure of the electrical grid.

This is something multi-generational, not one one single party or parties.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: apollo16uvc on February 18, 2021, 01:13:52 PM
Lets talk about how the Texas powergrid works. They’re the only state not part of the two national interconnections. This is because in 1935, The Federal Power Act came to be. The law gave the federal government authority to regulate power companies.

(https://pbs.twimg.com/media/EuZr2jvU4AEOWx-?format=jpg&name=large)

The Texas powergrid is 90% self-contained, they can't simply get power from other states. This is why all the states are connected, so the demand of the grid can be met.

Right now, acc to ERCOT, Texas's electricity demand is FAR exceeding current generation capacity.

Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: JayUtah on February 18, 2021, 01:39:12 PM
Right, the vulnerability of the U.S. power grid just a couple decades ago was one of American civil engineering's dirtiest secrets.  It was vulnerable to physical attack, to cyber attack, to sabotage, and to deficiencies caused by widespread natural disaster.  A great deal of effort has been expended toward improving the U.S. electrical distribution infrastructure and hardening it against failures -- both natural and human-intended kinds.  But there is still a long way to go.

My reference to Perry, and especially to his role in the Trump administration (which is why I posted it in this thread), is that it's being widely reported that Perry and others who hold or held authority in Texas specifically separated Texas from the U.S. national power grid system so that it would not come under the regulation that makes the national power grid work.  That is, the regulations that require expensive backups, hardening, and other measures.  My brother is an electrical engineer now working in the field of infrastructure-scale power distribution and management systems.  His regulatory structure is even more stringent than aerospace now.  Texas is not part of the national electrical grid systems not because of a failure in infrastructure upgrades, but because Texas explicitly chose not to be a part of it.

As a result, Texas could cut corners and provide only a minimally robust electrical distribution system.  It could rely on whatever generator technology it wanted.  It wasn't fettered by cost and rate controls that are generally uniform across each of the major U.S. grids.  It is responsible only to minimal federal oversight.  In short, it seems it was a system designed to privatize electrical generation and distribution for the financial benefit of a select few.  It's the "free market forces" at work.  In other words, while the technical topology that's presented here is accurate and is the proximal cause of Texas' current problems, it also seems that the Republication leadership that has dominated Texas for the past 20 years drove the policy that resulted in Texas opting out of the more heavily-regulated, but also far more robust, national electrical grid.  If the reporting I'm reading is accurate, we can certainly entertain political causes for the failure.

And the reason I say we dodged a bullet is that Perry, as Trumps Secretary of Energy, could have implemented at the national level a "free market forces" privatization of the electrical distribution grid that would have amplified the failures were seeing in Texas to a national level of vulnerability.

Don't.  Privatize.  Your.  Infrastructure.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: Peter B on February 18, 2021, 09:57:48 PM
As usual, one party seems particularly adept at blaming the other party for catastrophes obviously caused by its own actions.  And people seem all too eager to believe it.  I really hope our regulars from Texas are safe.

You mean actions like going on holiday to Cancun?
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: gillianren on February 19, 2021, 10:06:30 AM
I mean, I'm strongly of the opinion that people from the US shouldn't be traveling to other countries right now regardless.  The only other person I know of who has made Mexican travel plants lately is that child of privilege who planned her vacation for after a planned insurrection.  But yesterday, I found out that a friend who was traveling within the US more than I was particularly comfortable with has now been diagnosed with Covid, and that was me failing to be surprised.  We have a responsibility not to spread our ridiculously high numbers to other countries.

I'll also acknowledge that, you know, Ted Cruz could not personally do anything about what was happening.  I get that.  But for one thing, optics are a thing.  And for another, he blamed his ten-year-old daughter.  He said he didn't want to disappoint her.  I've been disappointing my kids all their lives because of what we can't afford, in no small part because people like him want the disabled to stay poor.  I've also been disappointing them because we're following quarantine protocols.  People in Texas are disappointing children by melting snow for them to drink because they have neither power nor water.  Like, consider these things.  Also, a friend of mine in Texas points out that his neighbourhood never lost power.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: JayUtah on February 19, 2021, 12:20:30 PM
Sen. Cruz is being uncharacteristically contrite over this.

I assume he and his family have been vaccinated.  And he appears to be obeying mask protocols for travel.  So while I agree that discretionary travel should be curtailed as a matter of courtesy and utmost safety, I don't think there was any real danger of coronavirus transmission in Cruz' case.  It just creates a bad image, just as other politicians (both U.S. and U.K.) did earlier in the pandemic when they disregarded travel and gathering restrictions.  You trust people more to make and execute laws when they show they believe the laws to be reasonable according to their own desires and behavior.

Normally in a crisis involving a substantial part of a State, the Governor is in charge.  There is indeed very little a single U.S. Senator can do.  But politics, like entertainment, is a relationship-driven industry.  Sen. Cruz should have been seen calling in favors, working the back channels, aligning federal resources -- perhaps not with statutory authority, but at least with expressed interest and practical power -- to maximize the Governor's relief efforts.  Sometimes just making your staff available to the Governor or other officials is a meaningful contribution.  And yes, you can Zoom those things from Mexico just as effectively as you can from Austin or Dallas.  But you have to be seen being engaged.  What looks like jetting off for a vacation has the simple appearance of abandoning the people he represents, in their time of need.  As gillianren notes, it's terrible optics, and optics matter quite a bit in politics.

It's no great surprise that Sen. Ted Cruz is not particularly well liked.  So the controversy probably has more to do with him as a public-figure Texan than it has to do with the Senate.  Character matters too in politics -- or at least the ability to simulate character convincingly.  What Cruz did reeks of smugness and arrogance.  He and his family get to flee the cold and other harsh conditions while less fortunate Texans have to wait for help.  It doesn't matter a whole lot to me whether Cruz could have meaningfully (or even disingenuously) accelerated that help.  It's the tone-deafness of having the privilege to flee the harsh circumstances that his party's policy created.  And the policy helps generate and sustain that privilege.  Sure, have a statewide energy policy that has little if any margin for failure, so that it can be run cheaply and generate more profits for those who operate it.  But when it breaks, you have to sit there and freeze your ass off just like everyone else.  Otherwise it's a moral hazard.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: gillianren on February 20, 2021, 10:44:45 AM
Especially in someone who's so denigrating of other people who take their children from their homes in order to make things better for them.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: apollo16uvc on February 20, 2021, 02:23:11 PM
I don't think a state having a 90% independent power grid is necessarily a bad thing. Nor is having a joined one the be-all-end-all manner of avoiding this.

Infrastructure independence can be a good thing.

Quality above quantity. Either system can work if it has the overhead to handle long-term unforeseen spikes such as this.

Many places and big cities in the USA that are part of one half of the national power grid have rolling/cascade blackouts, often.

This one just comes at such a bad time (Due to the cold) that it has caused a mass humanitarian crisis.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: LunarOrbit on February 20, 2021, 09:13:13 PM
An interconnected system is smart since it provides a backup in situations like this, but also because it provides a way to sell excess power to other states. I can't think of a good reason not to have one.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: gillianren on February 21, 2021, 11:28:31 AM
Avoiding regulation.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: Jeff Raven on February 21, 2021, 11:55:11 AM
An interconnected system is smart since it provides a backup in situations like this, but also because it provides a way to sell excess power to other states. I can't think of a good reason not to have one.

The first thing that comes to mind is security. If the system doesn't have good network security, it might be possible to hack the system from a vulnerable node and take down much or all of the rest.  I know it's the stuff of movies, but any interconnected system can make its component parts vulnerable. The likelihood is low, and that's what safety and security measures are for, but it is possible. Of course, the pros far outweigh the cons.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: grmcdorman on February 21, 2021, 01:51:50 PM
For an electrical grid, it also makes the system - generally - more stable. In particular, the system frequency (60Hz in North America) will drift less, because there's fewer major changes in load.

Many years ago, my brother, my father, and myself took a trip to Iceland. We were able to go into the control room of a hydroelectric station, and my father - who was an electrical engineer, and worked for what used to be Ontario Hydro - noticed a strip chart that showed a major event. Turned out it was the system frequency over time, and that event was when the aluminum smelter came online. The sudden increase in load caused the system frequency to oscillate for a while before it settled down.

A larger grid would have been impacted less when that happened.

Of course, the downside is that - like in 2003 - major failures can quickly cascade through the grid unless your interconnects are properly secured.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: Obviousman on February 21, 2021, 02:56:52 PM
This is all quite interesting - I've always just 'flicked the switch' without a second thought about how the "green steam" gets to me.

Reminds me of a friend of a friend explaining about a new residential development near the CBD in Melbourne , Victoria, Australia. People were complaining that there weren't going to be enough EV charging points or something, and people complaining that the government wasn't committed to reducing carbon emissions, etc.

He explained that the existing grid simply could not provide the required power / load.

I'll post his email if I can find it.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: Obviousman on February 21, 2021, 04:15:28 PM
Not quite as I remembered it but some might find the instance interesting:

Quote
Here's a fascinating insight, from the ground, into just how far away and unlikely mass charging of electric vehicles is in Melbourne. I suspect it wouldn't be too wide of the mark in other cities throughout Oz...............maybe even Canberra

I recently did some work for the body corporate at the Dock 5 Apartment Building in Docklands in Melbourne to see if we could install a small number of electric charging points for owners to charge their electric vehicles. We had our first three applications. We discovered:

1. Our building has no non- allocated parking spaces ie public ones. This is typical of most apartment buildings so we cannot provide shared outlets.

2. The power supply in the building was designed for the loads in the building with virtually no spare capacity. Only 5 or 6 chargers could be installed in total in a building with 188 apartments!!

3. How do you allocate them as they would add value to any apartment owning one. The shit fight started on day one with about 20 applications received 1st day and many more following.

4. The car park sub-boards cannot carry the extra loads of even one charger and would have to be upgraded on any floors with a charger as would the supply mains to each sub board.

5. The main switch board would then have to be upgraded to add the heavier circuit breakers for the sub mains upgrade and furthermore:

6. When Docklands was designed a limit was put on the number of apartments in each precinct and the mains and transformers in the streets designed accordingly. This means there is no capacity in the Docklands street grid for any significant quantity of car chargers in any building in the area.

7. It gets better. The whole CBD (Hoddle Grid, Docklands)and Southbank is fed by two sub stations. One in Port Melbourne and one in West Melbourne. This was done to have two alternate feeds in case one failed or was down for maintenance. Because of the growth in the city /Docklands and Southbank now neither one is now capable of supplying the full requirement of Melbourne zone at peak usage in mid- summer if the other is out of action. The Port Melbourne 66,000 volt feeder runs on 50 or 60 year old wooden power poles above ground along Dorcas Street South Melbourne. One is pole is located 40 cm from the corner Kerb at the incredibly busy Ferrars /St Dorcas St Intersection and is very vulnerable to being wiped out by a wayward vehicle.

8. The infrastructure expenditure required would dwarf the NBN cost excluding the new power stations required

These advocates of electric vehicles only by 2040 are completely bonkers. It takes 5-8 years to design and build a large coal fired power station like Loy Yang and even longer for a Nuclear one (that’s after you get the political will, permits and legislative changes needed ). Wind and solar just can’t produce enough. Tidal power might but that’s further away than nuclear.

It's just a greenies wet dream in the foreseeable future other than in small wealthy countries. It will no doubt ultimately come but not in the next 20 years.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: LunarOrbit on February 21, 2021, 07:33:43 PM
This is all quite interesting - I've always just 'flicked the switch' without a second thought about how the "green steam" gets to me.

I didn't really give it much thought until recently, but I've been trying to learn more about it. It gives me hope that there are solutions to the problems we're facing.

Quote
He explained that the existing grid simply could not provide the required power / load.

Whenever new electrical devices explode onto the market (think of TVs, clothes washers & dryers, refrigerators, microwave ovens, personal computers, air conditioning) the power grid adapts fairly quickly.

I think there are a lot of things we can do... such as reducing energy usage in other areas, improving efficiency, expanding solar & wind generation, and adding energy storage to the grid. Saying "it's too hard so let's not bother" is what we've been doing for too long. If we took it more seriously 40 years ago we would be under less of a crunch now.

Right now our existing solar & wind power generation capability is being under utilized because of the way we produce power on demand. Near where I live you will often see wind turbines completely still on windy days because there isn't enough demand for electricity at that time. If we had grid storage capacity we could utilize solar & wind farms on low demand days, and then use that stored power on cloudy/windless days (or when a freak weather event takes out the traditional power stations). You can sell that excess power to other states or countries that need it and make a profit. It would also allow you to reduce the need to fire up fossil fuel peaker plants when demand spikes.

If every new building was built with a solar power roof and battery system it would allow home/business owners to charger their vehicles, which would mean no additional demand on the traditional power grid. But not only that, it would allow the building owner to sell electricity to the grid. They could also use their vehicle as a backup power supply for their building if needed.

And how much electricity does fossil fuel refining demand of our grid? If everyone switched to EVs, wouldn't that mean the oil industry would require less electricity?

The Engineering Explained YouTube channel just put out a video going over why the grid can handle the switch to EVs.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dfyG6FXsUU
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: Obviousman on February 21, 2021, 08:32:43 PM
And when you thought it couldn't get worse...

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-02-22/texans-stuck-with-high-electric-bills-after-winter-storm/13177926
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: bknight on February 21, 2021, 08:32:55 PM
And of course people are trying to blame the windmills, not the infrastructure.  As a friend put it, she hadn't realized the Green New Deal had already been passed and implemented in Texas, of all places . . . .

I'll answer Jay and provide some information for you.  My wife and I bought a generator over ten years ago and survived quite well through the 10-12 degree temperatures.  I had one copper water line that burst in in five spots, but little or no damage to the house.  Our neighbors were without power for almost 3 days through that period did not fare so well.  I would guess 95 % of houses sustained burst pipe water damage when the temp dropped.
Anyway to the power issue.  I don't believe it is an infrastructure problem but a generating problem.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: bknight on February 21, 2021, 08:35:13 PM
And when you thought it couldn't get worse...

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-02-22/texans-stuck-with-high-electric-bills-after-winter-storm/13177926
.

We haven't received our bill yet so i can't comment on that, but I hope the government prevents these high bills.  We shall see. 
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: Allan F on February 22, 2021, 09:45:29 AM
I really haven't followed the news on this, since events closer to home has dominated. How bad was the weather? Is this disaster related to the american way of building timberframed houses with gypsum walls?
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: bknight on February 22, 2021, 10:24:43 AM
I really haven't followed the news on this, since events closer to home has dominated. How bad was the weather? Is this disaster related to the american way of building timberframed houses with gypsum walls?

With burst pipe flooding the walls/floors until somebody thinks to shut the incoming water off.  There were some who weren't at home when the temps rose above freezing thereby increasing the extent of damage.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: gillianren on February 22, 2021, 10:29:08 AM
I don't believe it is an infrastructure problem but a generating problem.

Leaving aside that power generation is arguably part of infrastructure, the problems had a lot to do with things like natural gas lines freezing.  Apparently, even with some windmills out of commission because of freezing, the remaining ones were producing more electricity themselves, because the wind was so strong. 
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: jfb on February 22, 2021, 01:57:49 PM
Y'all okay down there in Texas?  Just pointing out how Rick Perry was President Trump's energy secretary.  The whole nation might have dodged a bullet here.  Stay warm.

Perry's the reason we have such a large renewable component in our grid - he really championed wind and solar while Governor.  He had big, forward-thinking plans like the Trans-Texas Corridor, a massive infrastructure project for transportation and utilities that had everyone losing their minds because it was very "big gummint" and would have had an eye-watering price tag.  We're talking rights-of-way on the order of a quarter mile wide for roads, rail, and utility lines.  There were real practical issues with the plan beyond the cost, though, and it was eventually shelved.

Perry always frustrated the hell out of me because he's not stupid1, but he always played into the yee-ha culture of "We're Texans, we thrahv on adversity" and it's all bullshit.  No, I would not rather spend three days freezing than allow the federal government to regulate our grid, thank you very much.  But otherwise, I would take Perry back in a hot minute over Abbott right now2.  Abbott using this as an opportunity to take shots at the GND (which isn't even a law yet) is just downright gross. 

Our deregulated grid is cheap, most of the time.  It works, most of the time.  But when it falls down, it falls down hard.  Anyone on a wholesale rate plan like Griddy is staring at bills in the thousands of dollars for several hours of power usage, but fortunately most of us go through providers that negotiate fixed prices for 6 to 12 months at a time.  We're part of the Bluebonnet Electric Co-op, which was able to keep all their customers up (within the limits of the rolling blackouts mandated by ERCOT). 

Natgas delivery (which is the responsibility of the Texas Railroad Commission3, not ERCOT) was the big failure as the lines are not winterized and froze up, which was the bulk of the shortfall on the generation side.  What gas was available was prioritized for residential use (for good reason - you don't want everyone's pilot lights to go out, then start the gas up again and asphyxiate or explode everybody).  The older coal-fired plants had their coal piles freeze up so they were down as well.  Apparently there were some idle plants that weren't frozen but also weren't brought on line, and there are questions that need to be asked about that.

But everyone needs to remember, we don't do winter.  South of the Caprock we don't have 100+ straight hours of subfreezing temperatures combined with freakish amounts of frozen precipitation.  Plants were down for maintenance because this is the time of year power usage is typically at its lowest. 

In a bad winter down here (Austin area) we'll get an overnight hard freeze four of five times a year, a night of freezing rain that leaves elevated roads an ice rink, and maybe some sleet a couple of times.  It'll snow once a decade, usually a light dusting that's gone by noon because the ground is still warm from the previous day being sunny and 70.  But usually the lows are in the 40s and we'll have extended periods of warm and sunny.  Houses are built to keep heat out, external hose bibs and faucets are fully exposed, inner pipes often aren't insulated, many houses are built on slabs (no basements or crawlspaces), all because we deal with six straight months of daily highs in the 90s or higher.  In August our daily lows can be in the 80s. 

We came out of it about as well as anyone could expect - even though we were caught in the rolling blackouts, we never lost our water and we have gas for heating and cooking, so we always had hot water.  Had a couple of inside lines freeze up, but I was able to run the hot water long enough to get the cold side moving again.  Only burst pipe was an exposed line from the house to the garden, which has its own shutoff valve and I will fix in the next day or so.  Between that break, the constant drips, and needing to run hot water to unfreeze the cold side, our water bill is going to be a bit uglier this month, but better that than having to replace a bunch of plumbing.  Little did we know 16 years ago we were moving into the one neighborhood that could weather this storm as well as it did. 


1.  I have (very briefly) met the man in person.  Yes, he had some bad moments in the 2016 primary - he was also on painkillers for a back injury. 

2.  I would prefer a Democrat, but the state Democratic party is dysfunctional, and Democratic candidates for state office tend to be...well, not good.

3.  Which could really stand a name change, as they haven't had anything to do with railroads for a while now.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: jfb on February 22, 2021, 02:19:46 PM
And when you thought it couldn't get worse...

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-02-22/texans-stuck-with-high-electric-bills-after-winter-storm/13177926

Those people were on a wholesale rate plan and represent a tiny minority of Texas electric customers.  It can be a good deal because most of the time it's cheaper than the fixed-rate plans (you're not paying a monthly service fee or anything like that), and occasionally the wholesale price goes negative, which means you get a little money back.

When things go pear-shaped like they did last week, the wholesale rate spikes to $9000/MWh and you're exposed to all of that. 

I have little sympathy for homeowners who signed up for such a plan - it's not a default option, you have to actively seek it out, and you have to understand the risk you're exposing yourself to.  It's a big problem for renters who are responsible for utilities, though, if the landlord is on such a plan.  Those are the people getting screwed right now.

Our Congressman, Michael McCaul (R, TX-10) stated on CNN that some of the federal relief money coming in will go towards paying those bills, or at least offsetting the bulk of them.  We'll see. 
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: bknight on February 22, 2021, 03:29:35 PM
I don't believe it is an infrastructure problem but a generating problem.

Leaving aside that power generation is arguably part of infrastructure, the problems had a lot to do with things like natural gas lines freezing.  Apparently, even with some windmills out of commission because of freezing, the remaining ones were producing more electricity themselves, because the wind was so strong.
Your definition of infrastructure.  Mine is the transmission of said energy.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: JayUtah on February 22, 2021, 03:40:56 PM
Perry's the reason we have such a large renewable component in our grid - he really championed wind and solar while Governor.

Oh, I see.  So the judgment heaped upon him in the media is probably not as justified as it sounds.  Thanks for filling in the details.  I hope you guys literally weather the storm and come out of it okay.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: jfb on February 22, 2021, 04:34:35 PM
Perry's the reason we have such a large renewable component in our grid - he really championed wind and solar while Governor.

Oh, I see.  So the judgment heaped upon him in the media is probably not as justified as it sounds.  Thanks for filling in the details.  I hope you guys literally weather the storm and come out of it okay.

There is going to be a lot of misdirection and finger-pointing over this because God forbid Republicans take an ounce of responsibility for their own failures.  I wouldn't be surprised if Perry gets thrown under a bus by Abbott and other state Republicans in the name of deflecting blame owning the libs. 

Instead of winterizing we'll blame the windmills.  20 years from now it will happen again. 

No, I'm not cynical at all
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: jfb on February 22, 2021, 10:51:46 PM

I'll also acknowledge that, you know, Ted Cruz could not personally do anything about what was happening. 

He couldn't fix power lines or water lines, no.  As a Senator, he could have helped coordinate federal relief efforts.  He could have used his Twitter account to communicate status of repairs, provide relief information, relay messages between different groups, any number of small but useful things. 

Even the empty symbolism of a photo op handing out bottles of water would have been something.

These are things that normal politicians who even just pretend to give a crap about their constituents do.  But no, his first instinct wasn't to do any of that, his first instinct was to fly to Cancun because he could.  His second instinct was to blame his family when the optics went sour and he had to come back (and do the stupid photo op handing out bottles of water). 

Dude is a moral and ethical vacuum. 
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: Zakalwe on February 23, 2021, 02:31:26 AM

I'll also acknowledge that, you know, Ted Cruz could not personally do anything about what was happening. 

Rubbish. Rafael couldn't have done anything? When he was flying to Cancun with his family AOC was flying into Texas to help.

(https://i.postimg.cc/QN7wvD3W/Screenshot-2021-02-23-072709.jpg)   

(https://i.postimg.cc/6qTsG2Pj/Screenshot-2021-02-23-072506.jpg)


He could also have not spent his political career denying anthropogenic climate change and instead have done something to prepare for it's effects.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: Peter B on February 23, 2021, 03:51:07 AM

I'll also acknowledge that, you know, Ted Cruz could not personally do anything about what was happening. 

He couldn't fix power lines or water lines, no.

Heh, like the Prime Minister of a certain country a little over a year ago, after it was found he'd jetted off to Hawaii on holiday just as that country's Black Summer was kicking into high gear: "Mate, I don't hold a hose."

Quote
As a Senator, he could have helped coordinate federal relief efforts.  He could have used his Twitter account to communicate status of repairs, provide relief information, relay messages between different groups, any number of small but useful things. 

Even the empty symbolism of a photo op handing out bottles of water would have been something.

Perhaps not lobbing them out basketball free-throw style like a certain President in Puerto Rico...?

Quote
These are things that normal politicians who even just pretend to give a crap about their constituents do.  But no, his first instinct wasn't to do any of that, his first instinct was to fly to Cancun because he could.  His second instinct was to blame his family when the optics went sour and he had to come back (and do the stupid photo op handing out bottles of water). 

Dude is a moral and ethical vacuum.

In our case the PM talks often about the "Canberra Bubble" (it's vaguely interesting to know I live in this bubble!) that he claims the Parliamentary Press Gallery exists in, separate from the reality of "real" Australians. Yet so often his explanations are so at odds with the evidence that it's reasonable to claim he's more in a reality bubble than the journalists.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: molesworth on February 23, 2021, 05:06:44 AM
...

Instead of winterizing we'll blame the windmills.  20 years from now it will happen again.
With ongoing climate change it's going to become more and more frequent.  I'd be surprised if it's as long as 20 years until the next similar event.

The likely worsening of winter storms, hurricanes, floods etc. is going to need to be dealt with all over the world, and politicians should be making plans now.  Unfortunately that means spending money, which is never a popular political move.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: Peter B on February 23, 2021, 06:19:06 AM
This is all quite interesting - I've always just 'flicked the switch' without a second thought about how the "green steam" gets to me.

I didn't really give it much thought until recently, but I've been trying to learn more about it. It gives me hope that there are solutions to the problems we're facing.

Quote
He explained that the existing grid simply could not provide the required power / load.

Whenever new electrical devices explode onto the market (think of TVs, clothes washers & dryers, refrigerators, microwave ovens, personal computers, air conditioning) the power grid adapts fairly quickly.

I think there are a lot of things we can do... such as reducing energy usage in other areas, improving efficiency, expanding solar & wind generation, and adding energy storage to the grid. Saying "it's too hard so let's not bother" is what we've been doing for too long. If we took it more seriously 40 years ago we would be under less of a crunch now.

Something like 20% of Australian homes have solar PV panels on the roof. And probably somewhere a little less than that have some sort of solar/heat pump system for producing hot water. IIRC, in West Australia alone the amount of power generated by solar PV is equivalent to a standard-size power station. And late last year, for half an hour or so renewables (wind and solar PV) met South Australia's entire electricity needs.

Sure, Australia naturally has an advantage over the USA because we're nearer the equator. But I know solar hot water makes sense even in Canberra (35 degrees south and 100 km from the sea and 600 metres above sea level, so cold in winter) and Hobart (42 degrees south) so I'm sure a lot of places in the USA would similarly benefit.

Quote
Right now our existing solar & wind power generation capability is being under utilized because of the way we produce power on demand. Near where I live you will often see wind turbines completely still on windy days because there isn't enough demand for electricity at that time. If we had grid storage capacity we could utilize solar & wind farms on low demand days, and then use that stored power on cloudy/windless days (or when a freak weather event takes out the traditional power stations). You can sell that excess power to other states or countries that need it and make a profit. It would also allow you to reduce the need to fire up fossil fuel peaker plants when demand spikes.

South Australia has a large-scale battery installed by Tesla a few years ago. AIUI it can meet the state's electricity needs for only about half an hour if all production is knocked off-line. But the main ongoing benefit it provides is as a buffer - smoothing out imbalances between supply and demand in seconds, rather than the minutes required by even the best gas-powered generators, and thus saving a lot of money in wholesale electricity prices.

The Federal Government is also looking at pumped hydro as another method of storing energy, but that's still years away.

Quote
If every new building was built with a solar power roof and battery system it would allow home/business owners to charger their vehicles, which would mean no additional demand on the traditional power grid. But not only that, it would allow the building owner to sell electricity to the grid. They could also use their vehicle as a backup power supply for their building if needed.

Yes, and I think there are some countries which already mandate this sort of thing. Heck, even requiring roofs to be painted white might help save money in hotter parts of the land. Or not stigmatising the idea of hanging clothes on a clothesline to dry...

Quote
And how much electricity does fossil fuel refining demand of our grid? If everyone switched to EVs, wouldn't that mean the oil industry would require less electricity?

The Engineering Explained YouTube channel just put out a video going over why the grid can handle the switch to EVs.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dfyG6FXsUU

Buying an electric car is something I plan for the future. But not now - not if the electricity to run it is being generated by a power station running on brown coal, as some Australian power stations still do.

My plan for the next few years is instead to start with installing a heat pump hot water system, then install solar PV panels and a battery, and then get an electric car (or two). The idea is that the car would act as a second battery, providing even more storage capacity for use when we have a run of cloudy days.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: gillianren on February 23, 2021, 10:43:18 AM
You can coordinate from anywhere.  That he wasn't doing that is its own issue, and I'm assuredly not trying to absolve him from that.  I'm just saying, you know, he's not an expert in logistics.  He's not an expert in infrastructure.  He can't personally get people's power and water back on.  The hard work that's on the ground?  That has to be done in Texas?  He can do some of that symbolically, but he's not really doing the work that needs to get done.

Really, where he's needed most is arguably in DC, doing the work of, you know, a Senator.  Working with other Senators.  Now, none of the other Senators, including on his own side, like him, so that's going to be a problem, but there we are.

Honestly?  I also get not investing in infrastructure.  I live in the Greater Seattle Area.  People mock us for our reaction to snow, and we get snow every year.  It doesn't always stick, and we usually have it for a couple of days before it melts, but we get it.  And (in part because we just moved here and I didn't go anywhere) I don't know what the nearest street in my neighbourhood that got plowed was.  I have a guess, but I know ours didn't, and I know the one you turn into to get to our street didn't.  Because we don't have the infrastructure.  We have chosen to spend it elsewhere.

But Texas had this problem once before.  And making sure all these things are winterized is an expense that may to an extent feel unnecessary.  But winterizing, unlike maintaining enough snow plows to deal with an extremely hilly area, is much more of a once-and-done expense, and it's going to turn out to have cost Texas more not to have done it.  I just wonder if this time, they'll learn their lesson.

As for "deserving" to have these extraordinarily high power bills, no, I disagree with that.  Frankly, I am of the opinion that utilities should be socialized and definitely shouldn't be for profit, and those exorbitant increases in power bills should not be happening, spread over months or in a single bill.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: jfb on February 23, 2021, 01:14:07 PM
You can coordinate from anywhere.  That he wasn't doing that is its own issue, and I'm assuredly not trying to absolve him from that.  I'm just saying, you know, he's not an expert in logistics.  He's not an expert in infrastructure.  He can't personally get people's power and water back on.  The hard work that's on the ground?  That has to be done in Texas?  He can do some of that symbolically, but he's not really doing the work that needs to get done.

Really, where he's needed most is arguably in DC, doing the work of, you know, a Senator.  Working with other Senators. 

Like John Cornyn, who was doing exactly that. 

His family could have flown to Cancun without him, and I wouldn't have had any issue with that (well, yeah, I would have had issues, but they'd have been more along the lines of "travel during COVID" and "must nice to have the resources to just get away while everyone else is stuck").  It's that he took the opportunity to check out when Cornyn and a good chunk of the TX House delegation were doing what they could to help, like normal elected officials.

Quote
Now, none of the other Senators, including on his own side, like him, so that's going to be a problem, but there we are.

Al Franken once said he probably liked Ted Cruz more than any of the other Senators did, and he hated Ted Cruz. 

Quote
Honestly?  I also get not investing in infrastructure.  I live in the Greater Seattle Area.  People mock us for our reaction to snow, and we get snow every year.  It doesn't always stick, and we usually have it for a couple of days before it melts, but we get it.  And (in part because we just moved here and I didn't go anywhere) I don't know what the nearest street in my neighbourhood that got plowed was.  I have a guess, but I know ours didn't, and I know the one you turn into to get to our street didn't.  Because we don't have the infrastructure.  We have chosen to spend it elsewhere.

But Texas had this problem once before.  And making sure all these things are winterized is an expense that may to an extent feel unnecessary.  But winterizing, unlike maintaining enough snow plows to deal with an extremely hilly area, is much more of a once-and-done expense, and it's going to turn out to have cost Texas more not to have done it.  I just wonder if this time, they'll learn their lesson.

Ars Technica had an article (https://arstechnica.com/science/2021/02/even-power-disasters-are-bigger-in-texas-heres-why/) about the grid failure, and one of the outside experts (who has nothing to do with the Texas situation) pointed out that if we had winterized for the 2011 event, that likely would not have been sufficient for this event (this was colder for longer with more frozen precipitation).  He also pointed out that can't really test if our winterization is sufficient until a similar event occurs, which won't be for years, possibly decades.

Quote
As for "deserving" to have these extraordinarily high power bills, no, I disagree with that.  Frankly, I am of the opinion that utilities should be socialized and definitely shouldn't be for profit, and those exorbitant increases in power bills should not be happening, spread over months or in a single bill.

Again, the extraordinarily high bills are for customers with variable-rate plans, which exposes them to spikes in the wholesale price of energy.  That's a small minority of consumers.  Most of us have fixed-rate plans through our providers, so we're insulated from those spikes.  Our bill next month will be higher for a variety of reasons, but it won't be in the thousands of dollars range. 

And I'm not saying they "deserve" those bills, I'm just saying that being on a variable-rate plan exposes you to some risk, and you should be aware of those risks before signing on.  Now, my wife read yesterday that some customers who had been on a fixed-rate plan were placed on a variable-rate plan without their knowledge, so they're getting screwed.  Again, per our Congressman, some of the relief funds coming in should go towards paying those bills. 

Our grid does need real regulation and oversight, but I disagree that it needs to be completely socialized.  It's cheap and stable under normal conditions, we just need to make sure it's also stable under abnormal conditions, which will make it less cheap. 

Finally read the water meter yesterday, and the situation isn't anywhere near as dire as we were fearing - it was on par with the previous month's usage.  Maybe a little more than we've used in past Februaries, but not a severe outlier. 

God we were lucky. 
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: gillianren on February 24, 2021, 10:25:41 AM
If it is possible for the company to charge that kind of bill, no matter the specific situation, there is something wrong.  Full stop.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: jfb on February 24, 2021, 03:04:47 PM
If it is possible for the company to charge that kind of bill, no matter the specific situation, there is something wrong.  Full stop.

I agree it's a mistake to allow private individuals to sign on to the same kinds of wholesale plans available to providers and commercial customers because of exactly this kind of risk.  Whatever regulatory action arises from this, that should be part of it.

Note that providers like Griddy were telling their customers "you really want to change providers" before the storm hit because they knew what was going to happen. 

So as more comes out about this, we're learning that we got incredibly lucky and the grid was literally within minutes of total, irreparable collapse, which would have knocked power out to everyone for weeks. 

This was scary enough that action may actually be taken to protect the grid from future cold events.  Texans are stubborn and a little stupid, but getting kicked in face will usually elicit a response. 
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: Peter B on February 24, 2021, 06:59:44 PM
If it is possible for the company to charge that kind of bill, no matter the specific situation, there is something wrong.  Full stop.

I agree it's a mistake to allow private individuals to sign on to the same kinds of wholesale plans available to providers and commercial customers because of exactly this kind of risk.  Whatever regulatory action arises from this, that should be part of it.

Note that providers like Griddy were telling their customers "you really want to change providers" before the storm hit because they knew what was going to happen. 

So as more comes out about this, we're learning that we got incredibly lucky and the grid was literally within minutes of total, irreparable collapse, which would have knocked power out to everyone for weeks. 

This was scary enough that action may actually be taken to protect the grid from future cold events.  Texans are stubborn and a little stupid, but getting kicked in face will usually elicit a response.

Do you have some more information on the bolded bit, please?
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: jfb on February 24, 2021, 07:08:40 PM
If it is possible for the company to charge that kind of bill, no matter the specific situation, there is something wrong.  Full stop.

I agree it's a mistake to allow private individuals to sign on to the same kinds of wholesale plans available to providers and commercial customers because of exactly this kind of risk.  Whatever regulatory action arises from this, that should be part of it.

Note that providers like Griddy were telling their customers "you really want to change providers" before the storm hit because they knew what was going to happen. 

So as more comes out about this, we're learning that we got incredibly lucky and the grid was literally within minutes of total, irreparable collapse, which would have knocked power out to everyone for weeks. 

This was scary enough that action may actually be taken to protect the grid from future cold events.  Texans are stubborn and a little stupid, but getting kicked in face will usually elicit a response.

Do you have some more information on the bolded bit, please?

4 minutes 37 seconds (https://www.khou.com/article/news/local/texas/ercot-texas-power-grid-total-collapse-blackout/285-ae35263d-dfad-49b5-aa6b-26f12c3e1654)

Abbott just gave an address - the next legislative session will mandate and fund measures to protect the grid.

We’ll see.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: VQ on February 24, 2021, 10:01:22 PM
If it is possible for the company to charge that kind of bill, no matter the specific situation, there is something wrong.  Full stop.

This comes down to a question of how much legislation should protect people from their own dubious decisions. Generally I gravitate towards the opinion that people should be allowed to make decisions for themselves and be responsible for the risks of those decisions (though it sounds like some of the victims of this were tenants who didn't actually make the choice to be on a normally-cheaper-but-risky wholesale plan; they should have recourse through whoever made the decision for them, for example their landlord).

Of course, the wholesale prices spike precisely because there was something wrong, in that demand exceeded the capacity of the generation system.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: Grashtel on February 25, 2021, 05:26:45 AM
4 minutes 37 seconds (https://www.khou.com/article/news/local/texas/ercot-texas-power-grid-total-collapse-blackout/285-ae35263d-dfad-49b5-aa6b-26f12c3e1654)

Abbott just gave an address - the next legislative session will mandate and fund measures to protect the grid.

We’ll see.
I am not able to access that article, do you know of alternatives?
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: gillianren on February 25, 2021, 10:24:04 AM
This comes down to a question of how much legislation should protect people from their own dubious decisions. Generally I gravitate towards the opinion that people should be allowed to make decisions for themselves and be responsible for the risks of those decisions (though it sounds like some of the victims of this were tenants who didn't actually make the choice to be on a normally-cheaper-but-risky wholesale plan; they should have recourse through whoever made the decision for them, for example their landlord).

Whereas I don't see this as "this behaviour was risky."  I see this as "these companies are trying to gouge their customers."  Why should the power suddenly be enormously more expensive?  I can see averaging your payments over months--something not everyone has the option of--as being a sensible plan based on higher usage.  But that is not what is happening here.  This is electricity's suddenly being phenomenally more expensive.  Some years ago, when our washing machine went out and flooded our apartment, we had to run an industrial blower for days, and our usage spiked.  I think we ended up charged about an extra hundred dollars, which our landlord paid as the problem with the washing machine was a mechanical defect.  I'm sure using substantially more heat all of a sudden did that for some people.  But these people lost power, meaning their usage went down, and are being charged literally thousands of dollars in some cases?
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: JayUtah on February 25, 2021, 11:33:32 AM
While I'm generally in favor of caveat emptor, it's hard to see where a line should be drawn, if any, between that and predatory or deceptive marketing.  It seems a thorny issue to determine what risks the customers believed they were incurring.  So much of that gets buried in fine print these days.  But I can see the advantage in allowing customers to accept greater risk in exchange for lower prices.  To me that's not an immoral way to do business, provided (of course) that the risk is clearly spelled out.

As a landlord in a place that has extremes of both hot and cold, I'm required to cover utilities with a landlord account. 
The law deems it unacceptable to cut energy supplies for non-payment.  So if the tenant's account is in arrears, I'm charged and I'm expected to extract the payment from the tenants if I want to be reimbursed.  But because of how the billing works, the tenant account has to have the same payment structure as mine.  So I sympathize very much with Texas tenants who may have been caught in a similar situation and become the victims of their landlords' poor decisions.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: JayUtah on February 25, 2021, 11:38:16 AM
I am not able to access that article, do you know of alternatives?

This might work better for you, although it's a 3:37 television report instead of a written article.

https://www.cnbc.com/video/2021/02/25/ercot-texas-power-grid-winter-storm-aftermath.html?&qsearchterm=texas?__source=twitter%7Cmain

Often the problem is that not all American web sites are fully compatible with the GDPR yet, and so as a matter of limiting their liability, they deny access to non-American destinations.  I think the Salt Lake Tribune is now finally GDPR compliant.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: JayUtah on February 25, 2021, 12:25:06 PM
Your definition of infrastructure.  Mine is the transmission of said energy.

Yeah, this bears discussion because it's not easy to know how to demarcate that.  A power "grid" is very much its own animal because it abstracts the generators.  They're just boxes annotated with so many megawatts, and the switching network and transmission lines (which have fixed maximum capacities) become the engineering problem.  But engineering the grid for both reliability and flexibility means making decisions about what loss of generators can be sustained before a cascade failure occurs, and estimates of how likely that's going to be.

That in turn means assessing the reliability of generators under various load and environmental conditions.  You have the direct consequences of inclement weather, such as fog freezing on wind turbine blades.  But you also have indirect consequences such as the impact on the generator's energy supply chain.  If you rely on natural gas pipelines or gas brought in by train car, and snow makes the train tracks impassable, you still have an infrastructure problem and it's going to result in reliability numbers for some box in the grid architecture being too optimistic.  Ditto coal, since many people didn't realize coal piles (which trap water) can freeze.

And the typical way to burn coal in a power plant is to pulverize it very finely and blow the powder into the combustion chamber.  Pulverization and blowing require energy, which is generally tapped from the plant's product itself.  But if the plant is offline altogether, you need startup power from another generator, which is usually supplied via the grid.  But it can also be supplied by onsite auxiliary generators, which may have their own, different environmental susceptibility (see below).  So then part of the grid engineering involves how to restart failed generators.  It turns out the behavior of the generators has to factor into transmission grid engineering, and it's often a more complex problem than originally believed.

For my critical computer systems, I have two big Cummins diesel skids on the roof (for noise reasons).  It's literally the case that we could lose weeks of work if the power to our supercomputers fails unexpectedly.  When our sensors detect something sketchy in the line power, it automatically fires up the diesels.  We have a 2000-liter tank in the basement and a 60-liter "day tank" on the roof.  (You can only keep a certain amount of combustible fuel on an upper floor.)  A pump tops off the day tank automatically.  We have a giant bank of lead-acid batteries that can run the critical circuit for 30 seconds while the diesels come up to speed, if the line power fails altogether.

Every Monday morning our ops supervisor presses the test button on the sensor, which simulates a power trip (the electrical kind).  And the big old diesels rumble to life over everyone's head.  We run them for five minutes, which is enough to gather power output statistics and fuel consumption statistics, and test the day-tank supply pump.

But what if one day they didn't?

A few Decembers ago, on a very cold day, the generators started, ran for 15 seconds, and then shut down.  As most people know, diesel fuel acquires the consistency of hand lotion at very low temperatures -- an unpumpable goop.  But we know this.  There are additives that allow it to stay liquid at low temperatures.  But it requires the fuel lines, day tank, and main supply tank to be flushed properly when you change over.  And we discovered the hard way that it's not always possible to tell whether you've flushed exposed fuel lines correctly.  The answer was heated fuel lines, which we didn't previously have.  But the question could be what part of that counts as infrastructure?  You can draw boxes and lines at a lot of different levels of abstraction and come up with different answers because it all depends on what assumptions you make as part of your abstraction process.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: VQ on February 25, 2021, 01:32:58 PM
...it's often a more complex problem than originally believed...

Not to mention that "winterization" of a complex system is not a binary "do or don't" situation. The generation systems and infrastructure are designed to a specific temperature (or design storm conditions for things like rainwater runoff or snow removal). Regardless of what the design conditions are, there will be a statistical number of hours per year (or years between events) in which those design conditions are exceeded.

My industry uses design guidelines published by ASHRAE to determine the temperature conditions for a particular location. Those guidelines are based on historical weather data and updated every four years or so, so they aren't necessarily even that accurate (to my knowledge) for forward-looking predictions over maybe 30 years of plant operation, given how climate change is making weather more extreme.

ASHRAE's focus is on environmental heating and cooling; probably the folks that design power plants have different standards?

Whereas I don't see this as "this behaviour was risky."  I see this as "these companies are trying to gouge their customers."  Why should the power suddenly be enormously more expensive?  I can see averaging your payments over months--something not everyone has the option of--as being a sensible plan based on higher usage.  But that is not what is happening here.  This is electricity's suddenly being phenomenally more expensive.  Some years ago, when our washing machine went out and flooded our apartment, we had to run an industrial blower for days, and our usage spiked.  I think we ended up charged about an extra hundred dollars, which our landlord paid as the problem with the washing machine was a mechanical defect.  I'm sure using substantially more heat all of a sudden did that for some people.  But these people lost power, meaning their usage went down, and are being charged literally thousands of dollars in some cases?

The wholesale rates spiked because there was not enough capacity to meet demand. Most customers are insulated from wholesale rate spikes by their retail providers, who use futures and contract agreements to average out the cost of the power over periods of months. A small subset of retail customers chose to use a wholesale provider such as Griddy, which provides usually lower (and even sometimes negative) wholesale prices plus a fixed monthly fee to pay for Griddy's administrative costs. Griddy wasn't gouging when they charged $2.00/kWh during the storm, they were passing through the wholesale cost of power during the spike. In my opinion, those individuals that chose to go with a plan that was normally cheaper but exposed to cost spikes, should not expect relief when they hit a cost spike.

Since this is a cost of power used issue, the people being hit with $5,000 power bills are not the same people that did not have power during the spike. And most people that did have power during the spike are on more traditional retail plans and will not have a huge bill.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: jfb on February 25, 2021, 04:00:25 PM
4 minutes 37 seconds (https://www.khou.com/article/news/local/texas/ercot-texas-power-grid-total-collapse-blackout/285-ae35263d-dfad-49b5-aa6b-26f12c3e1654)

Abbott just gave an address - the next legislative session will mandate and fund measures to protect the grid.

We’ll see.
I am not able to access that article, do you know of alternatives?

KUT article (https://www.kut.org/energy-environment/2021-02-24/texas-power-grid-was-4-minutes-and-37-seconds-away-from-collapsing-heres-how-it-happened)
Texas Tribune article (https://www.texastribune.org/2021/02/18/texas-power-outages-ercot/), although it may have been written before it was announced exactly how close it came to collapsing.

Hopefully one of those should work.  Trying to avoid paywalled news sites.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: jfb on February 25, 2021, 04:24:26 PM
Whereas I don't see this as "this behaviour was risky."  I see this as "these companies are trying to gouge their customers."  Why should the power suddenly be enormously more expensive?  I can see averaging your payments over months--something not everyone has the option of--as being a sensible plan based on higher usage.  But that is not what is happening here.  This is electricity's suddenly being phenomenally more expensive.  Some years ago, when our washing machine went out and flooded our apartment, we had to run an industrial blower for days, and our usage spiked.  I think we ended up charged about an extra hundred dollars, which our landlord paid as the problem with the washing machine was a mechanical defect.  I'm sure using substantially more heat all of a sudden did that for some people.  But these people lost power, meaning their usage went down, and are being charged literally thousands of dollars in some cases?

The wholesale rates spiked because there was not enough capacity to meet demand. Most customers are insulated from wholesale rate spikes by their retail providers, who use futures and contract agreements to average out the cost of the power over periods of months. A small subset of retail customers chose to use a wholesale provider such as Griddy, which provides usually lower (and even sometimes negative) wholesale prices plus a fixed monthly fee to pay for Griddy's administrative costs. Griddy wasn't gouging when they charged $2.00/kWh during the storm, they were passing through the wholesale cost of power during the spike. In my opinion, those individuals that chose to go with a plan that was normally cheaper but exposed to cost spikes, should not expect relief when they hit a cost spike.

Since this is a cost of power used issue, the people being hit with $5,000 power bills are not the same people that did not have power during the spike. And most people that did have power during the spike are on more traditional retail plans and will not have a huge bill.

The bolded parts need to be emphasized.

The people being hit with the outrageous bills are not the people who were without power for days on end (aside from the inevitable billing screwups that happen with every utility all the time). 

The people being hit with the outrageous bills are on wholesale plans that charge the market rate at the time the electricity is being used, and who happened to be running their heaters when the market rate was as high as $9/KWh because the grid was being stressed to its limit. 

People on retail plans like ours will not be hit with outrageous bills. 

And the bigger issue is the fact that people were without power for days, leading to burst pipes and other damage, and who are also facing bills in the thousands of dollars range for repairs.  They're the ones who need support and sympathy, not the people who willingly took on the risk associated with a wholesale plan. 
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: Peter B on February 25, 2021, 10:24:48 PM
Whereas I don't see this as "this behaviour was risky."  I see this as "these companies are trying to gouge their customers."  Why should the power suddenly be enormously more expensive?  I can see averaging your payments over months--something not everyone has the option of--as being a sensible plan based on higher usage.  But that is not what is happening here.  This is electricity's suddenly being phenomenally more expensive.  Some years ago, when our washing machine went out and flooded our apartment, we had to run an industrial blower for days, and our usage spiked.  I think we ended up charged about an extra hundred dollars, which our landlord paid as the problem with the washing machine was a mechanical defect.  I'm sure using substantially more heat all of a sudden did that for some people.  But these people lost power, meaning their usage went down, and are being charged literally thousands of dollars in some cases?

The wholesale rates spiked because there was not enough capacity to meet demand. Most customers are insulated from wholesale rate spikes by their retail providers, who use futures and contract agreements to average out the cost of the power over periods of months. A small subset of retail customers chose to use a wholesale provider such as Griddy, which provides usually lower (and even sometimes negative) wholesale prices plus a fixed monthly fee to pay for Griddy's administrative costs. Griddy wasn't gouging when they charged $2.00/kWh during the storm, they were passing through the wholesale cost of power during the spike. In my opinion, those individuals that chose to go with a plan that was normally cheaper but exposed to cost spikes, should not expect relief when they hit a cost spike.

Since this is a cost of power used issue, the people being hit with $5,000 power bills are not the same people that did not have power during the spike. And most people that did have power during the spike are on more traditional retail plans and will not have a huge bill.

The bolded parts need to be emphasized.

The people being hit with the outrageous bills are not the people who were without power for days on end (aside from the inevitable billing screwups that happen with every utility all the time). 

The people being hit with the outrageous bills are on wholesale plans that charge the market rate at the time the electricity is being used, and who happened to be running their heaters when the market rate was as high as $9/KWh because the grid was being stressed to its limit. 

People on retail plans like ours will not be hit with outrageous bills. 

And the bigger issue is the fact that people were without power for days, leading to burst pipes and other damage, and who are also facing bills in the thousands of dollars range for repairs.  They're the ones who need support and sympathy, not the people who willingly took on the risk associated with a wholesale plan.

I've commented elsewhere that the people with these outrageous bills are like people who own a house but don't insure it. Sure, while things are fine you're saving money compared to people who pay for insurance. It's when things go bad that all of a sudden the idea to not pay for insurance ends up costing you a lot of money.

I understand there are people suing electricity companies over these bills. I'm curious to see how these cases will go, particularly relating to how these contracts were marketed. That is, how much information were people given about where the price of electricity might go.

A couple of years ago there was a Royal Commission into the banking industry here in Australia. It uncovered all sorts of dodgy practices by banks and other financial institutions. Among them were stories of banking staff not explaining or fudging information to customers about the contracts they were signing, to the extent of selling useless products to consumers. I wonder whether something similar happened here, or did people sign these contracts with their eyes open?
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: gillianren on February 26, 2021, 10:30:52 AM
I don't believe electricity prices should be subject to the laws of supply and demand.  Every time we've allowed that to happen, we've seen horrible abuses.  I will be astounded if we discover that there was no deliberate manipulation here that just got out of hand, as we know has happened with PG&E in California.  As was apparently Enron's entire business model for a while.  Electricity is an essential service.  Any time essential services are treated like businesses, the people in control abuse that because they know their customers won't go elsewhere.  The power companies have monopolies in their area--we can't even switch cable providers, because there's only one in our area.  Which also means that, if we want cable internet, it's Comcast or nothing.  If we could choose water companies, I'd choose one that fluoridated our water, but it's a monopoly.  They can realistically charge whatever they want, and what can we do about that?
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: jfb on February 26, 2021, 10:59:26 AM
Whereas I don't see this as "this behaviour was risky."  I see this as "these companies are trying to gouge their customers."  Why should the power suddenly be enormously more expensive?  I can see averaging your payments over months--something not everyone has the option of--as being a sensible plan based on higher usage.  But that is not what is happening here.  This is electricity's suddenly being phenomenally more expensive.  Some years ago, when our washing machine went out and flooded our apartment, we had to run an industrial blower for days, and our usage spiked.  I think we ended up charged about an extra hundred dollars, which our landlord paid as the problem with the washing machine was a mechanical defect.  I'm sure using substantially more heat all of a sudden did that for some people.  But these people lost power, meaning their usage went down, and are being charged literally thousands of dollars in some cases?

The wholesale rates spiked because there was not enough capacity to meet demand. Most customers are insulated from wholesale rate spikes by their retail providers, who use futures and contract agreements to average out the cost of the power over periods of months. A small subset of retail customers chose to use a wholesale provider such as Griddy, which provides usually lower (and even sometimes negative) wholesale prices plus a fixed monthly fee to pay for Griddy's administrative costs. Griddy wasn't gouging when they charged $2.00/kWh during the storm, they were passing through the wholesale cost of power during the spike. In my opinion, those individuals that chose to go with a plan that was normally cheaper but exposed to cost spikes, should not expect relief when they hit a cost spike.

Since this is a cost of power used issue, the people being hit with $5,000 power bills are not the same people that did not have power during the spike. And most people that did have power during the spike are on more traditional retail plans and will not have a huge bill.

The bolded parts need to be emphasized.

The people being hit with the outrageous bills are not the people who were without power for days on end (aside from the inevitable billing screwups that happen with every utility all the time). 

The people being hit with the outrageous bills are on wholesale plans that charge the market rate at the time the electricity is being used, and who happened to be running their heaters when the market rate was as high as $9/KWh because the grid was being stressed to its limit. 

People on retail plans like ours will not be hit with outrageous bills. 

And the bigger issue is the fact that people were without power for days, leading to burst pipes and other damage, and who are also facing bills in the thousands of dollars range for repairs.  They're the ones who need support and sympathy, not the people who willingly took on the risk associated with a wholesale plan.

I've commented elsewhere that the people with these outrageous bills are like people who own a house but don't insure it. Sure, while things are fine you're saving money compared to people who pay for insurance. It's when things go bad that all of a sudden the idea to not pay for insurance ends up costing you a lot of money.

I understand there are people suing electricity companies over these bills. I'm curious to see how these cases will go, particularly relating to how these contracts were marketed. That is, how much information were people given about where the price of electricity might go.

A couple of years ago there was a Royal Commission into the banking industry here in Australia. It uncovered all sorts of dodgy practices by banks and other financial institutions. Among them were stories of banking staff not explaining or fudging information to customers about the contracts they were signing, to the extent of selling useless products to consumers. I wonder whether something similar happened here, or did people sign these contracts with their eyes open?

I know there are going to be people at the margins who genuinely were not aware - older customers who were signed on by their cheapskate kids, renters who have to pay the utilities, people like that.  But the majority of wholesale customers have to know they're exposing themselves to that kind of risk, because the main selling point of these plans is that you can monitor and tailor your power usage to take advantage of the minimal or even negative rates, that you're paying attention to what's happening in the wholesale market. 
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: Obviousman on February 26, 2021, 07:09:15 PM
A couple of years ago there was a Royal Commission into the banking industry here in Australia. It uncovered all sorts of dodgy practices by banks and other financial institutions. Among them were stories of banking staff not explaining or fudging information to customers about the contracts they were signing, to the extent of selling useless products to consumers. I wonder whether something similar happened here, or did people sign these contracts with their eyes open?

Let's not forget selling insurance to dead people.
Title: Re: The future of the electric grid
Post by: JayUtah on February 27, 2021, 02:16:47 PM
I assume that the retail electricity pricing model in Texas means you pay higher prices on average, but that the prices remain stable.  This would be as assumption of risk on the vendor's part, in exchange for which you agree to the higher average rate.  And I suspected that the wholesale pricing model probably did disclose the basis of the pricing, such that a properly informed customer should have known that he bears the risk of spikes in the wholesale price.  And I do think there's room for adjudicating cases where the people liable for paying the bill were not given a choice or had not been sufficiently informed.  But for the rest, yes, you are responsible for contracts you enter into, even if they go south on you.

But in general we like to scrutinize these deals closely because similar cases can have a lot of gray area.  What did the customer know, and when did he know it?  What did the vendor know, and when did he know it?  We ask customers to subscribe to increasingly complex terms of service and pricing models.  Customers are increasingly less willing to read them and less willing to understand them.  And unscrupulous vendors are quite willing to bury things in fine print, hoping they won't be closely examined.

My company advertises that it operates on "100% renewable power."  Of course we connect to the city grid just like every other business in the city.  There's no separate distribution network for electricity generated according to a philosophy.  What it means is that a certain number of kilowatts on our city power grid comes from environmentally advantageous sources, such as the giant bank of photovoltaics on top of our convention center.  Essentially the city utility sells a premium product, the total usage of which remains at or below that fraction.  So it's really just a cap-and-trade billing arrangement.  It exists only as a fiction of billing, and then for me as a fiction of public relations.

"Renewable" doesn't necessarily mean clean.  A certain portion is produced by hydrocarbon combustion, where the fuel is renewable (but expensive) biofuel.  I mean, it's not exactly coal.  But it does produce CO2, so it's "renewable" but not "green."  Another fiction of billing.  The frost really hit the fan a few years ago when one of the biofuel companies in Utah became embroiled in a fraud scheme -- our own little local Enron scandal.  They had been the darling of the renewable-fuels industry.  But they fell victim to a particular pattern of corruption that prevails in Utah.  As a result, lots of kilowatts of "renewable" power dropped off our grid.  And that meant the local utility wasn't able to provide enough kilowatts to the customers it had contracted with for responsibly-sourced electricity at a premium price.  They had to buy "renewable" power off the western grid at a commercial loss.  (When we fire up the big supercomputers, we burn about $2,000 per day in electricity.  My software people say they are experts at converting electrons to error messages.)

My point is that aside from the engineering of any scale of power grid, you can have an intricate business arrangement of contracts, deliverables, and regulations.  Maybe Texas sought to avoid that, but you really can't.  And yes, there can be considerable business pressure to hedge these business arrangements to one's benefit.  And if you're the party that has lots of lawyers working for you, you have the upper hand.  You don't relieve the customer of caveat emptor.  But I would also look very carefully at how the service agreements are written and how they're postured by the sales organization.  If there's going to be any hanky panky, it's probably more likely to come from the people who write the contracts.