Distinguished Lecture: February Texas Blackouts and Grid Reliability, by Dr Jessica Bian

An IEEE PES Distinguished Lecturer Program (DLP) talk was delivered by Dr. Jessica Bian, the President-Elect of the IEEE PES, with a recent hotspot topic of “February Texas Blackouts and Grid Reliability”, on Thursday 26th August 2021 using Zoom meeting platform. The IEEE PES student branch chapter at University College Dublin and the IEEE PES student branch chapter at The University of Manchester hosted this DLP talk. This DLP talk attracted 258 registrations, including 135 IEEE members and 106 PES members. Due to the nature of online events, the exact number of attendees cannot be monitored while at least 90 people attended the event.

Figure 1. Event Flyer

Keeping the lights on is not only a technical issue but also about many factors, such as business models, laws, regulatory policies, politics, and cultures. As a pioneer of the electric industry’s reliability metrics and grid risk assessment, Dr. Jessica Bian shared her views on how the tragic Texas blackout happened, illustrated with the latest available data, and potential solutions in the future.

Dr. Jessica Bian briefed the history of the power industry from Thomas Edison’s 1st commercial plant to the interconnected “power pool” built by Samuel Insull then to the development of reliability concepts and regulations in the US through the blackout histories. She emphasized that to understand an event like the Texas blackout, it is very important to understand the development of the power industry, from science and technology advancement to a mature business model then to regulations restraining this profit-seeking industry.

Figure 2. Dr. Jessica Bian briefing the history of the power industry

Dr Jessica Bian then introduced an important legal definition to the audience—Adequate Level of Reliability (ALR). She addressed the counter-intuitive view that the Texas power system was actually reliable because there were no instability or cascading failures and the system performed “controlled separations” by operators rather than uncontrolled separations, although the system did not withstand the test of the low-probability winter storm in February.

Figure 3. Dr. Jessica Bian introducing the legal definition of Adequate Level of Reliability (ALR)

Through a post-mortem analysis, Dr. Jessica Bian showed data from operators on how the Texas blackout was initiated, and what the network operators have responded to the incidents. She indicated a few facts that deteriorate this blackout event:

  • About half of the fuel (mainly natural gas) was out because of low pipeline pressure caused by high fuel demand, which in turn derates generators.
  • Some equipment was freeze-off.
  • Load shedding is not rotating, and some critical loads are shed (e.g. water treatment plants, natural gas compressor/pump stations).
  • Smart meters are not “smart” enough to identify and rotate the non-critical loads. An example is that commercial buildings during nights are supplied while residential areas are curtailed.
  • The energy prices were abnormally low during first-day rolling outages, possibly due to a system flaw, and thus expensive backup energy sources were not incentivized to connect and generate.

Figure 4. Dr. Jessica Bian explaining the frequency data during the Texas Blackout

Dr. Jessica Bian encouraged the audience to make a change, not only through learning, teaching, and researching in academia but also by joining communities and organizations like PES, SBCs, and WiP.

Figure 5. Dr. Jessica Bian encouraging the audience to make a change

The organizing committees would like to express sincere gratitude to Dr. Jessica Bian for her informative talk.

Please visit the Manchester PES SBC YouTube Channel for the full recording.

For more information, including the biography of Dr. Jessica Bian and the abstract of her talk, please visit the Manchester PES SBC website.

Keyi Wang
Chair, IEEE PES SBC at The University of Manchester

Arash Beiranvand
Chair, IEEE PES SBC at University College Dublin