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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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Texas Winter Storm Highlights The Importance Of Fossil Fuels


The message that we need to electrify everything that currently uses fossil fuels to generate energy has become the dominant message of the energy transition. Solar, wind, and energy storage—perhaps with the help of hydropower and some nuclear—can handle the energy needs of mankind, the argument goes, and do it with a much lower carbon footprint.

Yet, the Arctic cold wave that is sweeping across the United States has seriously undermined this argument.

Natural gas prices exploded last week in many parts of the U.S. and are still rising higher, as are electricity prices. In Texas, a state unaccustomed to such weather, wholesale electricity prices hit $9,000 per MWh on the spot market, prompting at least one retail power supplier to urge its clients to switch to another provider to avoid huge utility bills.

Blackouts are now a fact, with two million households across Texas without power at the time of writing. Authorities, meanwhile, are urging people to conserve energy by limiting their consumption. ERCOT has said the blackouts will be rolling, lasting for 45 minutes per area. This may not be a lot, but it does indicate the presence of a problem.

Texas, the Wind Capital of the U.S.

Texas is the biggest producer of wind energy in the United States.

Unfortunately, the state saw half of its wind turbines frozen by the icy winds blowing from Canada to parts of the U.S. that were unaccustomed to such temperatures. Of a total 25 GW in wind power capacity, 12 GW were knocked out by the freezing spell. At the same time, there is a shortage of natural gas, likely because of the sudden spike in demand. And it could get worse.

The cold spell has hit the oil and gas industry in Texas as well. Oil wells are being shuttered, and refineries are being shut down amid the blackouts caused by the deep freeze and a shortage of gas. Pipeline operations have also been affected by the blackouts, which could compromise gas supply further.

Related Video: To Pump Or Not To Pump: Big Oil Diverges On Production Strategy

“Attempting to electrify everything would concentrate our energy risks on an electricity grid that is already breaking under the surge in demand caused by the crazy cold weather,” wrote veteran energy journalist Robert Bryce in an article for Forbes this week. The current weather situation, Bryce said, shows very well why it would be highly risky to put all our eggs, as it were, in the electricity basket. If we electrified everything, he argued, it will only a matter of time before a much more serious blackout hits.

Indeed, a blackout of massive proportions almost hit Europe earlier this year. The fact that the catastrophe was avoided was lucky, but the event highlighted two problems: over-reliance on intermittent solar and wind power, and a possibly excessive interconnectedness of the continent’s national grids.

Cost of Electrification

Speaking of Europe, its solar power production has dropped to zero these days. No country except Slovenia is producing solar power right now, and Slovenia’s production is a meager less than 1 percent of its total generation. Wind power is going strong in most of Europe, but solar is out.

In Sweden, even wind power production is low because wind activity is low. So Sweden, which has ambitions to become all-renewable by 2040, is seeing a jump in electricity prices to the highest since 2011 and is urging people to conserve energy by reducing their consumption. Incidentally, it is also importing electricity from countries such as Poland and Lithuania, which generate it from coal, compromising Sweden’s green commitment.

This is telling us—in no uncertain terms—that the lack of diversification is the opposite of wise. It is as true of electricity supply as it is of economies and businesses. Total electrification and the shutting out of fossil fuels completely will mean blackouts. It’s as simple as that.


Because while the energy generated by the Sun and the wind comes free, it cannot be summoned when you need it, and even combined with energy storage, it will be insufficient. That’s what fossil fuels are for.

Incidentally, a report from last year forecast that the Earth was entering a cooling period because of a phenomenon called a Grand Solar Minimum that could last until 2053 and lead to a “noticeable reduction of terrestrial temperature.”

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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  • Jason Kinsley on February 17 2021 said:
    "Failures across Texas’ natural gas operations and supply chains due to extreme temperatures are the most significant cause of the power crisis that has left millions of Texans without heat and electricity during the winter storm sweeping the U.S.

    From frozen natural gas wells to frozen wind turbines, all sources of power generation have faced difficulties during the winter storm. But Texans largely rely on natural gas for power and heat generation, especially during peak usage, experts said.

    Officials for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages most of Texas’ grid, said the primary cause of the outages Tuesday appeared to be the state’s natural gas providers. Many are not designed to withstand such low temperatures on equipment or during production."

  • Dirk Ho on February 17 2021 said:
    O&G propoganda, this is an infrastructure problem.
  • Angeline Green on February 17 2021 said:
    Alternatively, this entire article could be re-titled "Texas Winter Storm Highlights The Dependence On Fossil Fuels" without any changes to the content. It would convey the need to move away from fossil fuels as quoted "a shortage of natural gas".
  • 12volt dan on February 17 2021 said:
    One has to wonder if this author really looked at what happened in Texas. To blame the windmills when it was Natural gas that was the problem due to extreme cold is either incompetent or willfully ignorant. https://www.texastribune.org/2021/02/16/natural-gas-power-storm/

    This capacity problem due to cold is a known problem that obviously wasn't dealt with for years despite the providers claim they were ready for it.

    As for the grand solar minimum? listen to the science not the economists
  • James Holloway on February 17 2021 said:
    No, it doesn't--it highlights the dangers of privatization of power.
  • Edwin Ochmanek on February 17 2021 said:
    One can search for ones desired outcome to any argument, but I fail to see any logic in the authors argument. In fact wind power is the only form of generation that outperformed - much less met - expectations in Texas this week. The issue was mainly die to a lack of Winteization of the electrical grid.

    That problem can be solved in two ways; one invest in infrastructure upgrades so that the U.S. grids are more like their Canadian counterparts and two encourage more local production and less reliance on the grid overall.

    Arguing against change that is already proceeding ahead only ends up leaving more people behind.
  • John Doe on February 17 2021 said:
    The opinions expressed in this editorial are fair and reasonable, and there are indeed cogent arguments for fossil fuels even as the transition to more sustainable options proceeds.

    What isn't reasonable is the offhand, context-less inclusion of a 'report' by a scientist whose work, at least in this field, has been repeatedly shown to be biased and often wrong, published in a journal from a publishing house repeatedly shown to be a broker of hack science. Cherry-picking biased material does nothing to further the conversation: It reinforces the echo-chamber of climate denialists, while suggesting to the scientifically-literate that the proponents of fossil fuels are idealogues with little understanding of the underlying science or interest in engaging with credible research on the subject. Ultimately, this works against the pro-fossil fuel case by implying that it can only be made by resorting to pseudo-scientific claims. That does a huge disservice to the conversations that can and should happen around the value that fossil fuels can still provide.
  • 12volt dan on February 17 2021 said:
    I get that this website is about oil but implying the problem in Texas was due to 12 GW of wind was the problem is irresponsible journalism. the main reason was natural gas distribution that wasn't hardened for the cold despite assurances that it was.

    "Incidentally, a report from last year forecast that the Earth was entering a cooling period because of a phenomenon called a Grand Solar Minimum that could last until 2053 and lead to a “noticeable reduction of terrestrial temperature.” "

    that report was a joke and was pulled from publication. Peer review works
    here is a link to a summery and the peer review process


    I'm used to better reports from this site, hope this is just an anomaly
  • Sean Allard on February 17 2021 said:
    Is the author seriously trying to blame the Texas blackouts on wind generators when much more was lost by coal, gas, and nuclear and the State government failed to enact measures to ensure this wouldn't happen like it has in the past?

    Either Irena doesn't have a good grasp of the situation or she is intentionally misleading people.

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