Expected first vaccine date WA: July (50% vaccinated)
About ten years ago, we had what I characterized at the time as a “stiff breeze” here in Seattle. The wind didn’t strike me as particularly exceptional compared to what I was used to in Virginia and other places I’d lived. Certainly, it wouldn’t register in a place like Texas. However, here in Seattle, most of the powerlines were above ground and they didn’t bother to trim the trees around the powerlines.
As a result of this moderate wind, I, like millions of others, lost power for five days. High temperatures were in the low 30s, and it was late December, so we had maybe seven hours of daylight a day. By the second day, my house was in the 30s, and it stayed that way. I had no candles or flashlights or anything. It. was. awful. Many people actually lost power for much longer – for up to three weeks.
I was absolutely furious. Absolutely. Fucking. Furious. Why wasn’t Seattle robust to a moderate windstorm? Something I wouldn’t have even characterized as a windstorm if it happened in Virginia? Something that wouldn’t have caused power loss where I grew up because powerlines are, sensibly, underground?
I am reminded of this reading the fury of my friends and relatives who are Texans. Texas is a much bigger more populous place than the Seattle area, so more people are affected, but the theme seems the same. What should be a fairly routine weather event, colder than usual temperatures, causes utter chaos and misery.
For me, what separates a developed country from the third world is reliable power and potable water.
I would just like to pitch to ALL my friends, wherever you live, that you consider purchasing a kerosene heater. This is one that looks identical to mine. I bought mine after the power loss debacle. I swore I would never be that cold again. Even if you have backup gas heat, like we do now, it is really important to have another backup, because gas can also fail. (If we have an earthquake, I’m sure gas will fail.) So if you don’t have a woodstove AND wood, a kerosene heater is a fantastic option. When my furnace failed a few years after the power loss incident and it took a week to get replaced (in winter), that little kerosene heater did a fabulous job of keeping my house livable. This was my 1200 sq ft house, but even in a larger house, it’ll keep the heat level tolerable in a large living area. I also have several of these lanterns. We have regular power outages around here (which continues to infuriate me, incidentally). These lanterns are awesome for providing light.
With all that being said, I think it’s somewhat reasonable that Texas not be fully robust to a weather event that occurs every thirty years. However, the “rolling” power outages don’t seem to be rolling at all. Some people are not losing power at all, or only for a few hours total, while others are losing in for several consecutive days. If they could maintain three hours on and three hours off for everyone, or one hour on, two hours off for everyone, people would be able to maintain safe, if uncomfortable housing temperatures. In Seattle, there were 18 deaths due to the wind power outage (due to cold and unsafe attempts to heat houses.) It’s not OK for people to be without power for days on end. It IS OK, I think, once a decade or two to have intermittent power for a day or three. Don’t even get me started on the water loss, though.
Last thoughts: a big reason for this debacle is that many Texan homes are heated by heat pumps. I had one growing up. Heat pumps are crazily inefficient at low temperatures. Electricity demand goes up not by 20% when temperatures drop by ten degrees, but by an order of magnitude. In Virginia, we ALWAYS had a backup heat source to our heat pump – either a wood stove, kerosene, or propane. You wouldn’t think that would be necessary in Texas, but I guess it is. There’s been an argument about whether wind or natural gas is to blame, but I think that’s kind of missing the point. If people in Texas heated their homes with natural gas rather than electricity, the demand would have risen proportionally rather than exponentially as the temperature dropped, and the system would have had to deal ONLY with the impact of cold on power generation, instead of the double whammy of supply drop and demand skyrocketing. In WA, they are starting to ban gas heating and require electrical heating instead. I’ve always been opposed because of my experience growing up with a heat pump in VA. (We had a heat pump rather than gas because gas was not available on our mountain.) Watching the TX debacle makes me even more opposed.
A couple plots to ponder:
This plot shows two things. First, wind went offline first. Second, the increase in demand on gas no doubt contributed to the failure of that system. Could the gas supply have coped with a 45% increase in demand rather than a 450% increase in demand? Again, I think the nonlinear increase in demand on the system, especially on gas, was undoubtedly a huge part of the problem.
Again, another plot showing the huge increase in gas demand, failure of wind, and then the drip in gas, which was the harbinger of system failure.
One more plot: