How Texas and the Polar Vortex Has Businesses Asking the Hard Questions

NASA Caltech AIRS Globe 2019

Global animation shows the cold air of a polar vortex blowing south from central Canada into the U.S. Midwest in January 2019. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech AIRS Project

The recent winter storm that swept through Texas left millions without power and caused an estimated $18 billion in damage. The infrastructure and the people responsible for managing it were not prepared for the prolonged freezing temperatures that accompanied the storm. Operational failures forced them to either shut down or implement rolling blackouts.

The massive shortage of available power happened right as power demand throughout the region spiked. Consumers and businesses turned up the heat to offset the freezing cold. The power failures left millions of people without power during dangerously cold conditions. Whether there was a single root cause or multiple failures, it is now clear how important off-grid backup power can be.

Tragically, Texas lost lives during this event. The outcome of this failure for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) will be a defining moment for the future of renewable energy and backup power in Texas and in other states.

Texas, even as a leading producer of power, has through near total grid collapse, made the case for onsite backup power generators.

In another example of electrical system failure, the combination of aging power lines, drought, dry vegetation and heavy winds in California create a near year-round potential for devastating wildfires. Because of this, during high-wind events state power providers must temporarily cut electrical power to large portions of the state to avoid downed power lines starting wildfires. In some cases, these power shutoffs have lasted for days and caused serious problems for residences and businesses. Much like Texas, weather is unpredictable and makes the case for off-grid backup power.

Also, just this last November, hurricanes in the southeast and gulf coast increased in their frequency. Hurricane season lasted much longer with 12 named storms. With flooding, high winds and unpredictable landfalls, these storms destroy infrastructure for days and weeks at a time. Again, the capacity of renewables and the quality of the grid really have no chance against weather events of this size and intensity.

So why is backup power so difficult and what happens during these events?

The first thing that happens is the demand for power generators spikes and local supply is depleted. Second, local and federal agencies are forced to allocate available emergency power to those in most need. Unfortunately, many of those who are able to find a generator quickly discover that the equipment is not setup properly. Getting a generator and not being able to use it only compounds the problem. The time and money spent typically will not be recouped.

When your local mattress store with a backup generator becomes a lifesaving refugee center you know there needs to be more consideration for backup generators.

How much power do I need and for how long?

The proper application of critical power to critical loads relative to the size of the fuel storage requires an electrician and generator sizing calculations. The cost of fuel, either diesel or natural gas, can be compared depending on location, access to gas, and the size of the demand.

Is it a standby need or a prime power need?

Are you in a rolling blackout territory and, if so, for how long? What type of need are you in, minor, modest or urgent? Every business should know exactly how long they can afford to be without power. For hospitals lack of power is simply not an option. Food processing and storage facilities may have an hour buffer.

What is the best way to connect and switch over to generator power?

Do you believe this will happen in the future? How much growth in power demand will you have over the next three to five years at your current facility? Can your business survive if the power is shut off or do you truly need the power to be uninterrupted? What types of power generation will your city permit for temporary service? What will they allow for permanent systems? What about the landlord? Do you have a place to put a system?

You get the point.

Configurations are unique and require expertise. Financial decisions span every aspect of the project. Finding the correct group to provide the best options is unique in the industry. Many companies are prepared to offer you what they have regardless of the facts on the ground. GPS is one of the few US companies that can offer start-to-finish application consulting, sales/rental, and installations.

Please contact us today to get started answering these questions for your business.