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Why Texas' Wind Turbines Froze

By Cje95 | Texas Living | 21 Feb 2021


Growing up with frequent trips to the Rio Grande Valley on the way to South Padre Island I grew accustomed to driving past wind farms and I remember watching them always going unless there was maintenance being done. It was a little bizarre to me that somehow they had managed to freeze solid as wind energy is produced much further north and it does not seem to have a problem. These things also have managed to get hit by Category 5 Hurricanes and were down just when the wind speeds were too high to allow for safe operation. 

 

I had an idea though of why it could have happened and it's really the issues that permeated across the whole electrical grid. The grid was built for wind, rain, or shine but and this is a big but Texas has another huge weather issue. Like most of yall know Texas is located along the Gulf of Mexico and this causes warm tropical air to blow in on the state. This is something that does not happen to other states further north like in the midwest. 

 

This causes a unique issue that led to the blades to freezing. This warm most air did not freeze in a normal sheet evenly on the turbine blades. From what I later learned it actually froze in a "wet" way that bogged down the turbine and threatened to break them. When faced with dry air the edge of the blades freeze allowing for wind to still pass in a somewhat normal manor but this "wet" ice prevents this from occurring. The vibrations and stress this puts on the blades will either break them, freeze them, or have operators to shut them down leading to the last two options to occur. 

 

Because of how different regions rely on different power methods West Texas and the Rio Valley where hit hard because this is their primary way of generating power. The overall percentage of wind power is 13% but from these areas it is much much higher closer to 75-90% so when they had to try and get power from other stations that were maxed out in different regions it helped lead to the overloading of the grid and shut down of the whole thing. These turbines also were probably not "winterized" especially in the valley where the temps this time of year might.... and big might hit the 20 degree range and very briefly at that. Not 6 degrees as it did odds are components where not made for that they were made with humidity in mind not cold. Just like it would be ill conceived that you could take a wind turbine from Iowa and stick it in Texas. The humidity would destroy it rapidly. 

 

We had an event that was never imagined/predicted. Now that we have I hope that Texas and really the entire US looks at their grids and chooses to update both the technology and the grid itself. Honestly the entire US was lucky that Texas has an independent grid because if Texas had tried to pull from say California or even Georgia/Flordia an even larger swath of the grid could have gone down and most likely would have. With the US looking to spend over a trillion dollars in infrastructure my hope is that both sides of the aisle will realize that this is vital and put money towards updating this.

 

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Cje95
Cje95

Graduated from Texas A&M in May of 2020 had dabbled in crypto since 2017 but dove in at the end of 2019. December of 2020 packed up and moved to D.C.! Huge sports fan, space nerd, and international newsreader! Follow me on Twitter @Cje95_


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