Texas could face days in the dark as load shedding rolled out to prevent grid collapse

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A candle in the dark.
A candle in the dark.
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  • A massive blackout has left millions in the dark in the US – as many as 15 million in Texas, Bloomberg estimates.
  • Some 26 000 MW of power have been wiped off the grid in Texas since Sunday, forcing the implementation of load shedding to prevent total collapse of the system.
  • The blackout has been attributed to a combination of frozen wind turbines and Texas' deregulated power market, which allowed companies to skimp on maintenance and upgrades.

 


It’s not easy putting a number on what is undoubtedly the largest forced blackout in US history.

If you take the Texas power grid operator’s word for it, the rolling outages that have plunged much of the state into darkness amid an unprecedented cold blast have affected at least two million homes and businesses.

If you trust a well-known website that scrapes data from 725 utility outage maps nationwide, it’s about 3.3 million in Texas alone, and 3.6 million across four states. But that may not include rolling outages that some power companies aren’t accustomed to reporting.

And if you’re looking at the sheer size of the power load that fell off of Texas’s power grid Tuesday, you’d think it could be exponentially more: As much as 26 000 megawatts of load have been wiped off the grid managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas since Sunday, when the agency warned it would start rolling blackouts to keep the entire system from collapsing, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

For reference: A megawatt can power about 200 homes in Texas, according to its grid operator.

The blackout has been attributed to a combination of frozen wind turbines and Texas' deregulated power market, unique in the country, which allowed companies to skimp on maintenance and upgrades.

But how many are affected?

The only real way of knowing exactly how many people are being plunged into darkness in one of the worst energy crises America has ever faced would be to call up all of the utilities across the central US cutting power and collect real-time data from them by the second.

But then there’s also the fact that utilities count outages by “customers” rather than actual people. Judging by the average size of a US household, and the amount of load shed in Texas, at least 15 million people may have been plunged into darkness in that state lone.

The deep freeze that has forced the shutdown of US refineries, oil wells and meat plants, disrupted shipments of soybeans and corn, and is still leaving more than 3 million customers without electricity could continue to keep parts of Texas in the dark for several days.

Operators have been slow to get power generation back online and data showing the availability of generation has little signs of improvement. Without any additional supply, rolling blackouts are likely to be needed Wednesday to prevent the total collapse of the network. On Tuesday, the blackouts spread to North Dakota, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

The operator of the Texas electric grid says it could take days for enough power plants to be up and running to restore supply. Utility CenterPoint Energy Inc. also warned residents blackouts may last for several more days.

The greatest forced blackout in US history, as this event has almost certainly become, was the result of a systemic and multifaceted failure, Bloomberg earlier reported. There are no promises of when power will be restored and little likelihood that the episode won’t be repeated in a corner of the country hard hit by climate change.

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