Efficiency and Effectiveness

Efficiency and Effectiveness

Even before hearing the term "antifragile" I was prone to point out that it didn't matter how efficient or inexpensive something was, if it wasn't capable of doing the job when you need it. Resiliency, plans for the worst case, etc.

So. Texas.

There's a lot to unpack here. Shockingly, Ars Technica actually had a decent article on the issues above and beyond the wind turbines getting locked up - about which they point out that, yes, it's possible to build heating elements into the blades and mechanisms (guess what powers that?), and Texas hadn't. Then they go into some details of why gas froze up, and so on, all reasonably balanced.

On the one hand, the people defending the wind turbines have a point - the fossil fuel systems also went down. The answer to both would be building for multi-decade extremes of weather and not just the recent climate, with equipment and procedures to handle that - something that could be expected to be done if corners weren't being cut in the name of efficiency and "what are the odds?"

I do find the excuses of "even if they had prepared for the previous cold snap" hollow - this might last longer and deeper, but they hadn't even met the threshold of the previous storms and freezing a decade or two back.

In the end, it cane down to two issues. Pursuit of efficiency, to all appearances to chase the quarterly profit margin, over effectiveness, resilience, and antifragility.

And yes, "global warming."

Not quite in the sense the "ha- ha " windmills crowd means though, even if that is a symptom.

There's a reason that wind/etc. are pushed as "renewable" vice "free" - it acknowledges limits in how much can be pulled out at a time, yet promises there will always be more tomorrow. Just overlook dark seasons and lack of wind for the solar panels and bird blenders. Nevertheless, you need standby baseline-capable power up to your expected demands completely independent of "renewables" - and those standby units have to be able to run in environments that would knock out your "free" energy.

From at least one report, the pumps that kept gas flowing (and incidentally, helped warm the pipes) were electrically driven, vice tapping off the very resource they were moving. Regardless of how they were powered, the system to transport it was never built to handle, nor upgraded to handle, the kind of weather that is regularly seen much further north. This would have required material, new procedures, and  more manpower. It would have cut into efficiency, which relies on predictability.

So - why did the power grid operators think they could get away with cutting those corners,  both in the wind turbine construction/design, and in the backup/baseline power and fuel delivery?

Because no-one seriously took to heart that cutting those corners would turn around and bite them in the ass.

We have global warming, donchaknow. It never gets that cold in Texas! It certainly never will again!

It's not just a power system issue - you can see it in the building code assumptions there - pipes frozen that never would up north because in places it actually gets cold, you wouldn't run pipes through outer walls, you'd get cutoffs in place where the water can't freeze, and so on. Things that don't cost much or even any extra to do right

Everything about what is happening to Texas, and their fundamental unpreparedness for something like this, is a result of believing "it never gets cold, and it certainly won't get colder in the future either."

About Last Redoubt

Ex nuke mechanic, jack of all trades.