The highly publicized and politicized Texas Winter Storm power outages sparked outrage across the United States and abroad. Many people from the public and private sector were quick to point fingers at utility providers while focusing a lions’ share of the blame on wind power. However, the blame placed on wind power was misinformed and there is a much larger and more complicated story here. A story of media-initiated hysteria, a scapegoat and, more importantly, human errors that could have been prevented through the use of Artificial Intelligence.
Texas is the only state in the United States to operate its own power grid, the Texas Interconnection, maintained by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and kept separate from other US-based sources of power for political reasons, to not be subject to federal law. ERCOT manages the supply of power to more than 26 million customers in Texas, roughly 90% of the State’s entire electric load. As an independent systems operator, ERCOT is responsible for maintaining reliable power and setting expectations and forecasts for the summer and winter capacity loads.
The Texas Tribune reported that “about 80% of [the grid’s winter capacity], or 67 gigawatts, could be generated by natural gas, coal and some nuclear power,” while just a small percentage, “Only 7% of ERCOT’s forecasted winter capacity, or 6 gigawatts, was expected to come from various wind power sources across the state.”
With such a small percentage expected and forecasted to come from wind power, how could the narrative get shifted so far?
And, ultimately, the two questions we should ask ourselves are “why did the wind turbines shut down in the first place?” and “how could it have been prevented?”
Texas does not usually experience extreme winter weather, but there is always a possibility, as was shown this past February. Due to the moderately temperate climate, most Texas-based corporations responsible for generating energy in all of its forms chose to opt out of various maintenance solutions for insulation from the cold, as a cost saving measure, even though it was recommended they do so by regulatory bodies. The lack of insulation across providers, but mostly in Natural Gas, caused the disruption in power throughout Texas during the cold spell. Natural Gas producers were still able to produce natural gas however the hiccup occurred when the poorly insulated pipelines were freezing and that natural gas could not be accessed. Similarly to Natural Gas pipelines, wind turbines can be winterized however these investments were not made and lead to the disruptions.
Natural Gas suppliers, one of the largest sources of power to Texas’ grid, and state lawmakers dropped the ball for the people of Texas.
In Texas, the utility industry holds a lot of power due to their financial position, and this power often gets them what they want. In 2011, the last time legislators were meeting to discuss utility solutions, rather than require, “the electric utilities and the companies that supply them with fuel to protect that infrastructure against cold weather that can knock plants offline, they just recommended it.” In an effort to appease the utility industry, the legislators let down their constituents, the residents of Texas, 111 of whom died as a result of the power outages.
Much of Texan policy revolves around what to do when outages occur and how to respond once something has already occurred but as a result of this most recent tragedy, they are finally looking towards preventative measures. This is where artificial intelligence can play a very large role in the Texas Interconnection, across each and every one of its suppliers from natural gas and nuclear right up to wind power. Artificial Intelligence, Maestro specifically, can predict and optimize the performance of assets within the utilities space fully utilizing outside sources such as weather to increase performance and prevent downtime.
The agencies, regulatory bodies and legislators all fell short but it is not too late for them to make significant changes. Maestro Artificial Intelligence is a cost effective solution for all utility providers, not just those in Texas, to increase capacity and prevent failure. Legislators can look to Artificial Intelligence to help provide better, more accurate reporting across the agencies in addition to disaster prevention and better warning systems. ERCOT could utilize Artificial Intelligence in their forecasting and planning for future power needs given that Maestro takes into account historical and real-time data for its predictions.
While political opportunists have taken this catastrophic event and used it as an opportunity to mislead consumers against renewable energy, it is our intention to reach those utilities providers and offer an opportunity to review their internal process and apply end-end artificial intelligence in order to prevent any further disruptions and catastrophes.
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