The Texas Wind Turbines

Are they the culprit?

Though this was an extremely unusual weather event, there will be lessons to be learned from it to alleviate things in the future.

[Friday-morning update]

No, AOC, the Green New Deal is not the solution for the Texas blackouts.


[Update a while later]

Good news from Texas:

78 thoughts on “The Texas Wind Turbines”

  1. I’m seeing a lot of media commentary that Texas windmills CAN’T have failed due to cold weather, because regions with much colder winters operate windmills without problems.

    Sort of like how Texas vehicles CAN’T have slid off highways when tires lost traction, because (studded snow) tires in much colder regions and winters work just fine.

    1. A windfarm in Kansas was not operating last Friday for the same reason the ones in Texas were not working. Of course, ones idea of a region may vary. Then again, this blog deals with aerospace topics; so some planes do just fine in icing conditions and some will hopelessly crash if they dare attempt to fly in icing conditions. It depends on how efficient vs how reliable you want the wind farm to operate.

  2. It was a system failure and windmills were a part of it. But complacency and global warming hubris are also to blame because both prevent planning for an uncertain future.

    1. Windmills had nothing to do with.

      If you keep repeating that falsehood, Jack Dorsey fill find where you live and have a flash mob break all your windows.

  3. I can’t find the article now (probably been completely buried) but I read something yesterday or the day before that much of the problem was natural gas compressors going off line because of loss of electric power. And that they used to use natural gas powered compressors, but the greens pushed for replacing them with electric.

    Yes if it’s so cold the infrastructure needed to extract the gas isn’t working the loss of electricity isn’t going to make much difference, but the article stated that wasn’t the case in most areas. The big problem was the distribution of it. You need the compressors to do that. And if you’ve got gas powered compressors, or compressors powered locally with gas-powered generation, the loss of electricity isn’t as devastating, and you don’t get a catastrophic grid collapse.

    1. You bring up a great point.

      Whenever you interrelate two separate systems (such as using electrically powered compressors for natural gas) you magnify the consequences of failure of one system.

    2. It’s not uncommon in the Northeastern US for gas or oil fired furnaces to depend on electric pumps and ignition systems — that fail when the lines go down.

      1. Popular Mechanics was talking about plans to put a thermoelectric generator is a gas furnace.

        The efficiency might be only 5% , tops, but the power skimmed off as electricity would not be wasted but put to good use, and this would be enough power to run the furnace blower — maybe it would need a battery to start the furnace and then the furnace could power itself once it get’s going?

  4. Texas has been building heavily, supporting closures of legacy plants and an increasing population, with a unhealthy reliance on natural gas peaking units (gas turbines) rather than baseline boilers. When you read about thermal units going offline, these were far more likely to be peaking units. Not all thermal assets are the same. Another thing the political experts in the media likes to either avoid or doesn’t understand.

  5. Having the natural gas pumping stations run by the grid, which is powered by both wind and the natural gas powerplants, makes even less sense than having Russian nuclear plants depend on the grid to keep their cooling pumps running if the reactor scrams, though the result isn’t a meltdown.

    If you were charting the system dependencies, it forms a loop where an input process depends on some other downstream output process. If the loss of wind power can disable the areas of the grid that are needed to pump natural gas the peaking units, those units are not a backup to the wind, they’re more of a power-amplifier for it.

    To avoid that kind of mistake, Texas should set up some kind of reliability council.

    1. I both agree and disagree regarding a reliability council. I think it’s insane that one would be needed, yet, it appears that one is.

      Anyone with the brains God gave a banana should be able to see that needlessly creating failure modes is not a good idea. It’s very much akin to having things connected to the internet that do not need to be connected to the internet. One would think people could see the problem, but apparently far too many cannot.

      What I really think we need is an investigation into what caused the death of common sense.

    2. Texas should set up some kind of reliability council.

      They could do that and to be sure incestuous decisions are made, they can have a few board members from outside the state. It is the only way to make sure the best interest of Texans are taken into account.

    3. It isn’t just Russian nuclear power plants that depend on electricity from the grid to run their cooling pumps. The same situation existed at the Fukijima power plants in Japan, leading to disaster after tge earthquake and tsunami back in 2011. I’m not sure, but US nuclear power plants may be built the same way, but I’ve never heard why that would be the case.

  6. “Russian nuclear plants depend on the grid to keep their cooling pumps running if the reactor scrams,”

    The Japanese reactor that depended on the grid, getting fuel to the diesel back up generators AND keeping the seawater out of the emergency systems that were built below sea level, help to indicate that design has blind spots in every culture.

  7. Okay, I’ve done a quick analysis, and have a solution.

    As a start, Texas utilities need to buy 125 SpaceX SuperHeavy boosters for their 47 natural gas powerplants.

    The nameplate capacity of Texas is 125,117 MW, of which 53% is from natural gas. Most use combined cycle plants, which can hit 60% efficiency, but at 55% efficiency (given 47.1 MJ/kg for natural gas), they need 2,560 kg/sec of fuel.

    A Superheavy, which normally carries 3,400,000 kg of fuel and oxidizer, can hold 1,770,000 kg of LCH4 if you use both tanks for it. That’s enough to supply all the state’s natural gas plants for 11.5 minutes. 125 of them could keep those plants running for 24 hours. But not all the natural gas wells and pumps shut down, so the booster stages should be able to keep Texas up for several days.

    Best of all, each tank could be delivered and on site in probably six or seven minutes.

    We should start a pool on when Elon Musk tweets that he could provide backup natural gas storage for Texas.

  8. When how you feel is given priority over whether or not you can feel (frostbite), then this type of thing will happen. Wind and solar are intermittent. To pretend otherwise is both foolish, and deadly.

  9. Another major part of this failure is that Texas does not connect to the other two US national grids, the Eastern Interconnection and the Western Interconnection. Texas did this deliberately to avoid federal regulation by FDR’s Federal Power Commission, and maintain it to this day.

    There are actually five interconnections to other grids, three to Mexico and two to the Eastern Interconnection. They are there principally for emergencies, and designed to avoid triggering regulation by the feds.

    Evidently the drop in Texas domestic power production combined with the huge demand associated with electrical heating of homes overwhelmed the provisions of these interconnects.

      1. For the same reason that California does when they used to sit on a lake of oil. There are large parts of the state where heating is almost optional and electric is cheap compared to a gas furnace that might only come on a couple of times a year. I do wonder how much load was from heat pumps that were not set up properly to shut down the heat pump when the outside temperature was too low to actually produce heat. From talking to people at work, it is fairly common.

        Most gas pumping stations that have electrified continue to maintain the engines for backup. When the temperature in Galveston is in single digits, a lot of things aren’t going to work as expected. The big push to electrify the gas pipelines comes from emission limits on the big engines as well as reduced operating costs. Running the engines often triggers a fine from the EPA.

        I have a friend that’s a plumber in the Colorado mountains where it’s practically guaranteed to get below -30 every winter for a week or two. He spends a lot of time thawing out pipes that never froze before. An event like this will find all the pipes that weren’t buried deep enough or where the heat tracing has failed.

        A lot of the blame has to be for a system that pays a premium for unreliable and unpredictable power sources at the expense of reliable and predictable ones.

        Long story short, a whole lot of things went wrong.

        1. I once did a giant freezer job in Texas and as they cooled the building down to 20 F, we started tripping motor protectors left and right. It turned out that the hundreds of gearboxes shipped with the wrong gear oil, and although it was rated for 20 F, that rating was for a gas or diesel engine where it would quickly warm up. Otherwise it poured like molasses, taking a minute to even stretch a foot from the jug. So they had to take all the gearboxes off, and haul them into a room with a torpedo heater so the oil could be drained and replaced with 0 F gear oil. Needless to say, they don’t stock much 0 F degree gear oil in Texas, so that may have contributed to some of their electrical pumping woes.

        2. The big push to electrify the gas pipelines comes from emission limits on the big engines as well as reduced operating costs. Running the engines often triggers a fine from the EPA.

          That’s the real answer to Rand’s question. Federal regulation provided incentive to strategically cripple the gas pipelines. But to be fair, much of that regulation was signed by Presidents from Texas.

      2. Distribution. Running and maintaining small NG lines all over the place to individual customers is expensive and challenging, especially given a) the large amount of rural acreage, and b) the way the cities keep growing OUT rather than UP. Running power lines is something like orders of magnitude faster/cheaper/easier, and the home builders–whether A-frames or double-wides–prefer to not even give customers an option to be plumbed for gas. It’s just cheaper and easier to build everything all-electric, and let people who live out in the sticks either custom-build up-front or modify things after the fact for LPG (which is delivered on-site via truck, not by pipeline like NG, thus avoiding the massive expenses of running pipelines to every farmhouse).

        After this epic failure, I expect there to be a severe shortage of NG/LPG generators for a long time, because everybody who DOES have access to either natural gas OR (more commonly) a butane tank is going to be putting one in. Gasoline rapidly became scarce in the crisis, and diesel starts to gel at some point below 20F (there are rumors that a number of farmers tried and failed to use their tractors to generate small amounts of heat or power in attempts to do things like protect water pipes and pumps).

        1. Storing diesel for any length of time is problematic and I’m talking 30-90 days. The big problem is microbial contamination. Those little critters love that diesel which is magnified by blending bio-diesel that provides traces of fatty acids that they really like. Bio-diesel blending also makes the fuel gel at a higher temperature. There are treatments and additives that can control both if used properly bla, bla, bla. Guess how often that happens. There’s a good reason that jet fuel is limited to 5 PPM bio content.

          I expect Ice loading on a spinning wind turbine will be a lot like icing on airplanes. It only occurs at temperatures a little above freezing, usually 30-40°F when free water condenses on the surface and the then is subjected to low pressure from air flow. After surviving more ice storms than I care for, that sort of condition happens with great regularity in Texas. I suspect most of the wind turbines were just sitting there looking stupid and still as always when the snow stuck and rendered them useless. We are informed that the Swedes coat the blades with a layer of graphite that can act a resistance heater. I’ll bet that takes a lot of power, not from wind mills.

          1. You can stick a diesel generator down at the base of the tower to generate the electricity to heat the blades. Thus a diesel powered wind turbine! Then eventually place to replace the diesel with a solar array! Then provide a propane powered generator to heat and melt the snow off the solar array in order to provide the electricity to heat the turbine blades. But that only works in the daytime in the summer. So you need to add a LiPo battery farm to supplement the power from the solar arrays. But then you’ll need a diesel powered generator to make sure the LiPO battery array stays charged! Voila! Fixed.

      3. When we lived in Texas, we had a total electric house – for reasons unfathomable to me, large portions of the large metro area we lived in had no natural gas for housing. Heat pump for HVAC, electric water heater, electric clothes dryer, etc.

        Here in coastal SoCal, we have gas heat (no AC), gas water heater, gas dryer, etc. Although the watermelons want everybody to go total electric here too; I say fuck’em.

        1. Yes, we were all electric in Florida. I hate electric ranges. But in Manhattan Beach, we’re all gas (also with no A/C–we rarely need it), but some of our neighbors are installing it.

          1. Just get a 5K-8K BTU window unit and put it in the bedroom. No need to AC your whole house. That will cost less than 300 bucks and you have a place to retreat or at lest sleep comfortably.

          2. Our house is plumbed and wired for central A/C – code requirement in our municipality. We’ve managed reasonably well without for 20 years, but are thinking about taking the plunge this year – last year’s very hot weather, plus the furnace being 20 years old and due for replacement sometime in the not-too-distant future, make central A/C a distinct possibility soon.

            And I would never put minisplits in a house that’s already set up for A/C – too expensive.

        2. To be honest, I’d argue Socal does have a good non green argument to go electric. Gas lines have a tendency to rupture during earthquakes, and we all know how common those are in Socal.

    1. That would be a horrible idea, unfortunately. I expect to see a push (a putsch?) to absorb ERCOT into EAST out of this, but having independent grids is what protects regions from things like grid cascades (remember the Great Northeast Blackout?).

      The one thing I’d like everybody to take away from this incident is that this was a) entirely predictable and b) entirely avoidable. The deaths, the economic impact, all of it. Weather forecasters may be bunk a year out (much less a century or more), but they’ve gotten really, really good at forecasting out to 7-14 days, and when they make 10-day forecasts, they generally have an idea as to how solid their predictions are (and the good ones will tell you when their models are producing split decisions or large margins of error). In this case, they were almost dead-on with their temperature predictions at least 10 days in advance–most were only off by a degree or two in most counties. Everybody had plenty of warning that this was coming–but it seems that nobody, especially nobody in positions of responsibility, did anything. That’s what the investigations need to focus on–WHY were the gas turbines not winterized, given that a number of them had failed for exactly the same reason a few winters ago? WHY was a quarter of ERCOT’s generating capacity given over not just to windmills, but to windmills that weren’t capable of operating at freezing temperatures? There was also a single failure of a cooling system at a reactor that forced operators to reduce output at the worst time–it wasn’t enough to make a significant difference (ERCOT only has 4 reactors), and is being overblown in order to reduce the obvious culpability of the wind farms and peaker plants, but it’s still unacceptable for a baseline power plant, and heads should roll.

      One final point, and a warning to all. This was also the first real test of the state’s smart meters. These had been forced on pretty much everybody over the course of the last two decades. They were supposed to make everything “better”. They utterly failed. There are reports that some customers called in to complain that their power had been down for hours, only to have the person on the other end of the line argue with them, insisting that they had power at their meter (they didn’t–there was a mismatch in the monitoring software that had the wrong meter number recorded for that address). The “phased blackouts” took 3 days to get working right, and although little reporting has been done so far, the circumstances of the outages appear to reflect software issues (for example, the system would try to energize an area, fail, and blindly repeat the process 4 more times before giving up–that’s not a human doing that, that’s code). The result was that a massive number of people had pipes freeze and burst because their power was down 6-8 hours instead of 1-2 hours. Some people were without power for 3-4 days–and remember, there were few if any lines that were physically damaged by the storm, which dropped mostly snow rather than ice. The damage was caused entirely by the improper control of generation and distribution.

      If your power is controlled by a smart meter, not only can you be “sacrificed” for your betters, the odds are fair that the controllers’ incompetence will prevent them from giving you even the little power they had intended to. Plan accordingly.

      1. A few things to add:

        One final point, and a warning to all. This was also the first real test of the state’s smart meters. These had been forced on pretty much everybody over the course of the last two decades. They were supposed to make everything “better”. They utterly failed.

        I remember checking the CenterPointEnergy outtage map, and according to the smart meters populating the map: my home had power when it did not, and the location that allowed me power and internet to check supposedly didn’t have power (which became true a few hours later, although my home wouldn’t regain power for at least another 12 hours).

        The “phased blackouts” took 3 days to get working right

        The PUCT issued this statement yesterday: “to rotate customers that are properly subject to electricity curtailment under the current ERCOT energy emergency alert level (EEA3) in a manner that to such customer is subjected to an outage of more than 12 hours.

        They had to issue this because ERCOT was just cutting power at sundown and then turning it back on when they got to it the next morning after sun rise. This is why people died. And the criminally pathetic aspect is now that the PUCT has limited ERCOT; that limit is bullshit too. 12 hours is too long.

        We were told 2 days before the cold weather hit to expect rolling blackouts of 15 min to 1 hour per ERCOT policy. Battery backup systems are designed to handle 15 min to 1 hour. This is critical for those using life saving equipment that needs constant power. In 12 hours, those people are dead.

        Those who haven’t died have lost perishable food in an environment when obtaining more food is difficult. Sure they could take the food out of the fridge and store it outside, but they were told the power outtage would be less than 1 hour.

        For the same reason, people didn’t store water in bathtubs, but again, the water treatment plants (by law, they have to have backup generators) can only operate on emergency power for so long, and when 1 hour becomes 12 hours becomes 30 to 40 hours; those systems fail too.

        When our house lost power Monday afternoon, I had the option, while there was still a little bit of daylight, to evacuate to my daughter’s house, that had just regained power. We didn’t go, because we figured the power would be back in an hour. Even news reports discussing the blackouts were lasting longer suggested about 3 hours. We did evacuate the next morning, which was a good thing since power wasn’t restored for over 40 hours.

        We just got back from the grocery store an hour ago. There is no bread anywhere. Water is gone (but we got plenty before the storm, and my neighborhood has its own well that is still operating). Since the stores lost power for over a day, there is no dairy products available anywhere. Meat is in short supply. If a restaurant is open, there are lines to get food from emergency shortened menus. The good news is the logistics infrastructure is starting back up, so supplies should recover over the next week.

        1. Obviously fixing the electric grid is the solution, but I’m wondering if this would be an incentive for Texas to encourage homeowners to install alternate heating systems to reduce the load during extreme cold spikes.

          For example, the average Texas house is 2000 square feet. They’re in zone 1 or 2, which usually calls for 30-40 BTU/hr per square foot. The northern parts of zone 5, such as the Dakotas and other parts bordering Canada, recommend 60 BTU/hr per square foot. So the average home needs to upgrade from 60,000 BTU to 120,000 BTU. In resistive electric heating, that’s the same as going from 150 Amps to 300 Amps, single phase. But if most homes installed about 30 BTU/sq foot of extra non-grid emergency heat, there wouldn’t be such a spike in demand.

          Since it’s Texas, one quick route might be oil heat. A Comfort-Aire 110,000 BTU oil furnace costs $1,700 and burns about 0.6 to 0.75 gallons of oil per hour, at an oil cost of $2.50 to $4.00 per gallon. A 55-gallon drum should last about three days of continuous full output.

          Of course the heater requires 120 VAC to run the ignitor and blowers, so a backup generator to run it would be wise.

          1. Homes in Houston used to have gas heating systems. It was common in homes made before 1960. I have a gas furnace but it requires an electrically driven fan to circulate in the house. The more common solution is a whole home generator running on natural gas. We almost installed one two years ago, but we never lost power during Harvey and it just wasn’t the priority. And that’s the reason a generator is better than heating, because you are more likely to lose power in the summer because of a hurricane.

            As bad as the week was, I’m not sure the damage done is greater than the annual cost of maintaining a generator. That means the generator is more a luxury than a necessity. As I’m able to work from home, it becomes a bit more than a luxury. It is mostly “peace of mind” knowing you won’t have to evacuate. Previous quotes for my home were about $12k.

          2. It is crazy how many people think it is a good idea to go all electric. I grew up learning you want various appliances to be gas powered. I failed to teach my daughter. She’s in an all electric apartment that ended up with a boil water notice. She’s fine now but it was a problem for over 48 hours.

          3. Here in ‘Sconsin, I have an 1800 sq-ft house and a 58,000 BTU furnace.

            Actually, the furnace is rated at 78,000 BTU/Hr, but I flipped a DIP switch on the processor board so it stays in the low-fire 58,000 mode. This allows it to use the 600 CFM blower setting that with the variable-speed permanent magnet motor, saves a lot of electricity (sure the electric use contributes to heating the house, but it is much more expensive than natural gas to this purpose). The “rig” is almost silent through most of the house.

            So that works to about 30 BTU/sq ft? From regression analysis of the utility bill, I calculate the house at about 520 BTU/deg-hr. That means the furnace is good for a 110-deg temperature differential — it can be 70 in the house and -40 deg-F outside.

            I went through the last two weeks of Polar Vortex, just fine. Just the furnace, not fireplace or other supplemental heating. On the other hand, if the electricity goes out, I freeze.

        2. “We just got back from the grocery store an hour ago. There is no bread anywhere.”

          After the last year, how do people not have a stockpile of food?

      2. And just remember, you get billed on what the meter says you use, when it says you use it.

        Those stimulus checks everyone thought they were going to get? Yeah, about that…

  10. Thanks for helping the grid during this very difficult time.

    It’s not like we had a choice in the matter. They just shutoff power for over 12 hours to protect the grid, and we are still learning the results. A few dozen deaths for certain due to monoxide poisoning or burned to death in their homes. A couple of cases of people found dead in homes that had no heating at all. I know of at least one hospital that had to evacuate in Houston because of no water after days with no power to the water treatment plants.

    1. I mostly agree with his comments, but the timing was dumb. I don’t agree that the government owes you nothing. In this case, the government collects taxes and fees that pay for the PUCT and ERCOT that supposedly are responsible for preventing these situations. The mayor is right about his office.

      Btw, I’m on the board of my neighborhood municipal district. We are responsible for providing water, sewer, and trash. This includes having backup generators with fuel to run 60 hours. It was close, but we never had to issue boil water notices or lose sewer. I think trash didn’t run Tuesday, but it is running today. It was annoying answering calls regarding sanding roads as that is the responsibility of the county, but I knew who to call. If you don’t want to answer calls from constituents, then you should not represent them.

  11. The issues here are so multi-faceted it’s easy to get bogged down in one thing or another, but allow me to highlight yet another source of the grid load problem – lazy companies not turning off their lights at night. Lots of folks saw the brightly lit but empty downtown Houston and dark but populated neighborhoods around it. When I went into the closed mall here in East Texas to check on my store one thing that struck me was how many of the stores were fully lit even though there was quite literally no one there. I turn my lights off as soon as we close because I was raised right and I love my planet. I did turn the thermostat down to 60 like at home, but the mall was probably 70-72. Could have been a warm center for folks who did lose power.

    Now find a photo of Earth at Night. Look at all the light being shone up into the sky doing no one not a consarned bit of good. We pay for that, all of us.

    A lot of trouble could have been saved if businesses, and the citizens who run them, were smarter about their electrical use and turned off the lights when no one is there.

    1. “shone up into the sky doing no one not a consarned bit of good.”

      I don’t disagree but we shouldn’t turn off all lights. Lighting provides safety at night. So yeah, don’t need to light up your whole building but keep enough on to keep crime at bay and help people drive.

      We are in a really bad state of affairs if we don’t have electricity to keep lights on at night. Turning them off isn’t a virtue but a symptom of a problem that needs fixed.

      Maybe someplace like San Francisco could run a sociology experiment and turn off all their lights at night for five years and then we could study the effects.

  12. There are so many lessons to be learned by this event, the pandemic, and many similar events over the last few years but I don’t think too many people are learning and would rather assume they can rely on the magic of modern times to deal with the unexpected. The magic of modern times certainly allows us to deal with things better than humans in the past but only if it is used deliberately and with some forethought and remember, you are always the one most responsible for yourself.

    When things get bad, you have to help yourself because no one else will, then you might be in a position to help others. This is true for individuals and for groups. Is government going to help you? Not until after they help themselves and who knows where you land on their priority list after that.

    Where I live and because of the activities I engage in for fun, there are a lot of dual use items I have stored up over the years to mitigate problems like power outages and food shortages. A generator wouldn’t be dual use for me and is something I’d like to add but a solar generator is dual use and is much cheaper. There are so many devices, like a cpap machine, that rely on electricity, that having something like a jackery makes a lot of sense. There are any number of small steps people can take to be better prepared.

    1. “A generator wouldn’t be dual use for me and is something I’d like to add but a solar generator is dual use and is much cheaper.”

      I’m in a similar boat. Our house has a socket for an interconnect and a manual transfer switch, which came in handy during our 11-day grid outage back in the August, 2020 derecho here in Iowa. I purchased a dual-fuel generator (gas and propane) because I knew the gas pumps weren’t running. Turned out I got the wrong unit (suitable for an RV, but only a 3-wire interconnect instead of 4), but a friend of ours had a 220V unit that he wasn’t using because he hadn’t lost grid power.

      It was an unusually dry and temperate August for Iowa, so I didn’t bother borrowing or hooking up the generator until 6 days into the outage, and by then enough gas stations were back online that there weren’t long lines anymore.

      But I haven’t been able to justify purchasing our own generator, pretty much for the same reasons you cited, Wodun; I would only ever use it for outages, and even though we still have them occasionally, we lost more than enough trees and the power company is under-grounding most of the lines so that it won’t be as much of a concern going forward.

      I’m looking at solar, and hopefully can re-use the transfer switch to power the fridge and (gas) furnace and other outlets if we lose the grid again, but I don’t know how well that would work out in practice without additional battery storage for nighttime use.

      Another benefit to having a slightly older house: our gas-fired water heater was still a chimney-vented unit, so we had hot water the entire time. Our friends with high-efficiency units with fan-driven exhaust were out of hot water pretty quickly and for many days.

    1. The article I linked at Judith Curry’s blog was interesting, in that the wind power in Texas is also highly related to their lack of reserve capacity. Unlike all other systems in the US, Texas has no capacity market, just an energy market. The wind turbine folks get paid for the electricity they put on the grid (and even get paid when the grid doesn’t need it), but nobody gets paid for providing a backup to those turbines, or to any other power source. Since nobody in Texas got paid to ensure the grid had sufficient capacity, nobody ensured it had sufficient capacity.

      This also made it much cheaper than other places to install wind turbines, because not having to provide any backup to them reduced their cost.

  13. Same in Australia. Keep your eyes on us, folks. We’ll be your crash test dummies.
    Way to fix it is to require the wind/solar folks to guarantee their power to the grid on demand. That way they get to pay the backup guys.

  14. I assume most of you folks are aerospace, given the nature and host of the blog. I worked in the chemical industry for nearly 40 years, and learned a bit during that time.

    1. True reliability is not cheap. The costs of redundancy, maintenance, testing, diverse systems, etc. add up, and when everything works for long periods of time it’s easy to question why those costs continue.
    2. True redundancy is not easy. It’s not enough to have two (or three or four) of something, when they all share a common failure mode. Diversity (no, not that kind) is a key factor in real reliability.
    3. True independence between functions also plays a role in reliability. As noted above, older gas compression stations used combination engine/compressors, where the fuel was already there. Site specific battery or generator power could easily keep these stations running for days.
    4. Over time, people will, as people have, conflate luck (or lack of a serious test of a system) for success. And after that time complacency sets in and whatever lessons were learned from the past will be deemed irrelevant and too expensive. It happened with Challenger, it happened again with Columbia, and I’ve seen it happen in my work experience. Personal anecdote – after a plant startup where random factor operated in our favor, our (new to us but very experienced) plant leader called us into the conference room and chewed out our collective rear ends. His speech was short but to the point – “You’re all too busy patting yourselves on the back to realize that you weren’t successful today, you were just lucky. And someday, your luck will run out. Now, go figure out how to really do your jobs.”

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