I had planned on making some comments on the power failure in Texas. As an ex-electrical engineer, this was an interesting and tragic situation. However, I wasn't happy with my article, so I dropped it. To briefly summarise, my argument was that the discussion ended up somewhat overly politicised. On one side, there was an attempt to pin this on wind power, which made no technical sense. On the other, the issue was not so much the existence of energy markets -- you can get under-investment even in public utilities. You need regulators to take risks into account when mandating utility behaviour. From a bigger picture perspective, we cannot generalise too much from this incident, as it either represents bad luck, or incompetence. Telling people not to be incompetent only gets you so far.
Electrical energy regulators in Texas had to make some kind of balancing judgement between investment and occasional extreme events. Of course, ultimately, the public has a direct correspondence with the resulting enveloping infrastructure.ReplyDelete
No doubt electrical generation could have been built in a more robust fashion. History shows that most of the time, this suggested extra capacity would have been sitting idle, and could have been considered as wasteful overbuilding. It would take an extreme event (such as we now see unfolding) to justify the wisdom of more robust and expensive construction. Wisdom is only fully seen by viewing in the rear view mirror.
Extra capacity would not have helped if it was frozen. The issue was hardening equipment against cold. Engineers can’t over-design to deal with every disaster scenario. However, the story is that cold reliability problems were run into in 2011 - and obviously nothing useful was done. They need an inquest, but the regulators are not looking good right now.Delete
In case you're still interested in the Texas situation Brian, Naked Capitalism has an article by Jamie Galbraith today (Feb 19), followed by a number of often interesting comments.ReplyDelete
Thanks. That was a good read. It really looks like the Texas system was set up by 14 year olds who read Atlas Shrugged.Delete