India’s electrical system produces largest power blackout ever

Michael Giberson

From the New York Times2nd Day of Power Failures Cripple Wide Swath of India

It had all the makings of a disaster movie: More than half a billion people without power. Trains motionless on the tracks. Miners trapped underground. Subway lines paralyzed. Traffic snarled in much of the national capital.

On Tuesday, India suffered the largest electrical blackout in history, affecting an area encompassing about 670 million people, or roughly 10 percent of the world’s population. Three of the country’s interconnected northern power grids collapsed for several hours, as blackouts extended almost 2,000 miles, from India’s eastern border with Myanmar to its western border with Pakistan.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, India’s largest electrical blackout in history shows how much it has grown. Such a widespread outage means the Indian electrical system has grown large and has become thoroughly interconnected. Not so many years ago the system had too many locally unreliable parts to have brought about such a widespread failure. (And even now, as the article pointed out, “many people in major cities barely noticed the disruption because localized blackouts are so common that many businesses, hospitals, offices and middle-class homes have backup diesel fuel generators.”)

The article highlights some of problems that emerge with local political involvement in interconnected power system operations. Regional dispatch areas may have been able to avoid the blackout through coordinated use of rolling blackouts, but regional power system managers are appointed by local political authorities and are loathe to cut off their area’s customers for the benefit of power consumers elsewhere.

It is easy to say that they should have better procedures in place, but the United States power system has had its share of large-scale blackouts. Here, as elsewhere, experience provides the lesson and motivates improvements.


Does EPSA support capacity markets? For power markets, yes; for gas pipeline markets…

Michael Giberson

The Electric Power Supply Association, “the national trade association representing competitive power suppliers,” supports the use of electric power capacity markets to ensure sufficient generation capacity is available to reliably serve peak consumer load. See, for example, EPSA’s policy paper on the topic:

Well-functioning forward capacity markets are a critical component of organized wholesale competitive electricity markets in many parts of the country. These markets provide the capacity needed for the continued reliable operation of the grid through the commitment of existing supply, investment in new generation when needed and participation by consumers to manage their demand (demand response).

So you might expect that when the issue is securing sufficient natural gas pipeline capacity to ensure continued reliable operation of gas delivery at peak times, EPSA would favor a capacity market-style solution.

If you expected that, you would be wrong.

In EnergyWire Peter Behr reports industry viewpoints on coordination between natural gas and electric power markets. From the gas pipeline side of the business:

Generally, across the board, the electricity market is not stepping up … to contract for the reliability that they seek from the gas-fired generators,” said Richard Kruse, vice president of regulatory affairs for Spectra Energy Corp., which operates 19,000 miles of natural gas pipelines….

“We hear all the time from gas-fired generation in New England, ‘We cannot afford pipeline capacity if we don’t get paid to hold that capacity,'” Kruse told reporters at a press briefing Friday sponsored by the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA).

“When people step up and say they want to sign up for contracts, that’s when we’ll start working on the infrastructure that they need,” Kruse said.

EPSA’s John Shelk offers the power generators viewpoint, stating they don’t need firm capacity rights on gas pipelines all of the time, just those times the power plant will be dispatched in the power market. He adds that a power generator that pays for firm capacity it can’t use will not be competitive in the power market.

I can see his point, which mirrors in a way, how many power consumers feel about electric power capacity markets. Power consumers don’t want to pay for a lot of extra generation all of the time since they only actually need those extra bits of generating capacity for, typically, just a few hours out of a year.

NOTE: In August the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will be holding five regional technical conference to explore interactions between natural gas markets and electric power markets.

FERC, NERC conclude “weather-related causes” explain most electric power and gas supply problems during February’s extreme cold in Southwest U.S.

Michael Giberson

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) have issued their report on the events surrounding electric power and natural gas supply interruptions around the Southwest United States in early February, 2001. The culprit? According to the press release: “the task force found a majority of the electric outages and gas shortages were due to weather-related causes.”

My initial snarky response was, “It took you six months to figure this out? I think ERCOT power system operators had reached the same conclusion by about 6 AM on February 2.” But, of course, at the time there was some uncertainty about contributing factors and it is useful to go back over the event carefully in order to see what can be learned from the experience.

In the case of this report, “go back over the event carefully” seems to dramatically underestimate the effort. The resulting document totals 357 pages from cover to cover, including eleven appendices on topics ranging from “Electricity: How it is generated and distributed” to “Impact of cold weather on gas production.”

Much of the report, appendices included, is more or less a primer on current electric power and natural gas systems, focusing on the Texas, New Mexico and Arizona systems, and with an emphasis on reliability and weatherization issues. The report adds to that primer an account of what went wrong during the cold snap lasting February 1-5 and then reaches some conclusions and offers recommendations. The report appears to be a “one stop shop” for policymakers, power systems operators, and others interested in what went wrong.

The FERC press release highlighted a recommendation to Southwest states to consider whether to require winterization plans. In addition, the press release noted the following (from among the total of 26 electric power and 6 natural gas system recommendations):

  • Generation owners and operators should ensure adequate construction, maintenance and inspection of freeze protection elements such as insulation, heat tracing and wind breaks.
  • Reliability coordinators and balancing authorities should require generators to provide accurate data about the temperature limits of units so they know whether they can rely on those units during extreme weather.
  • Balancing authorities should review the distribution of reserves to ensure that they are useable and deliverable during contingencies.
  • State lawmakers and regulators in Texas and New Mexico, working with industry, should determine if weather-related production shortages can be mitigated through the adoption of minimum winterization standards for natural gas production and processing facilities.

Also of interest in the report, FERC/NERC reviewed the ERCOT Independent Market Monitor’s report on the rolling blackouts (which concluded no market manipulation was involved) and similarly found that there was no evidence of market manipulation.

While there is a great deal of additional detail in this report, the overall conclusions are more or less the same as reached in earlier reviews. This information, along with the economic incentives to put it to work, will likely keep the energy industry in the Southwest from experiencing rolling blackouts next winter.

RELATED: Tom Fowler offers a summary at The rolling blackouts in ERCOT were the topic of many posts earlier this year at Knowledge Problem, the interested reader can start with this KP search: ERCOT+blackout.

Power outages hot and cold

Michael Giberson

A FuelFix post by Tom Fowler relays ERCOT’s report that the Texas grid operator expects to have enough power to serve customers reliably this summer. At the end of Fowler’s post he casually mentioned, in connection with the rolling blackout in ERCOT last winter, “a report by federal reliability officials concluded power plant operators could have done more to prepare for the cold.”

Somehow I’d missed the release of the fed’s report. Since FERC and NERC were cooperating on the report, I headed to the FERC website to see if it had been posted. At, however, I find a notice saying that FERC would be closed on Wednesday “due to a power outage in the vicinity where FERC Headquarters is located.”

A Washington DC-area news report indicated that the power had been out in the area since around 4 PM, likely due to high summer temperatures. (98 F was nearly 20 degrees warmer than average for May 31 and just 1 degree short of the record.)

NERC – the nation’s FERC-certified electric reliability organization – also just issued its summer reliability assessment for the nation. NERC’s CEO said, “We expect the bulk power system will be able to meet the electricity demands this summer, though we are closely monitoring the effects of storms in the Midwest and Southeast, as well as potential drought conditions.” No mention of possible trouble in DC.

The coincidence of the DC power outage and the confident NERC summer report is mildly amusing (to those of us not sweating through DC’s unseasonably warm, humid night without power), but it appears the outage was a local distribution problem and not a resource adequacy or regional transmission system issue.

Still, maybe federal reliability officials and the local power distributor should have done more to prepare for the heat in the nation’s capital?

ERCOT reliability monitor issues report on the February 2 rolling blackouts

Michael Giberson

The Texas Reliability Entity has issued its report on the ERCOT extreme cold weather events and rolling blackouts of February 2, 2011. Texas RE is the NERC regional entity for the ERCOT power system and contracted to the Public Utility Commission of Texas to serve as ERCOT reliability monitor for the state agency. In this latter role it was asked by the PUCT to report on compliance with ERCOT reliability rules during the cold weather event. (The ERCOT independent market monitor has already issued its report on market issues surrounding the February 2 event. See link to report, related KP post.)

In brief, Texas RE finds that ERCOT and ERCOT market participants took steps to prepare for the extreme cold, but the preparations were  not always adequate. For the most part it appears that parties complied with ERCOT protocols. In some cases, rules may have been violated and Texas RE is continuing to investigate. Texas RE notes it is working with NERC on further analyses of the events surrounding the rolling blackouts.

The report indicates that market participants were quick to learn from the failures of February 2. From the report at page 11:

Similar weather conditions occurred in the ERCOT Region on February 9-10; however, freezing equipment issues did not have the same impact as on February 2. ERCOT and many generation facilities implemented lessons learned from the February 2 event and prevented similar issues during the cold weather that followed on February 9-10. These lessons learned include improving winterization of the power plant equipment, starting combustion turbines further ahead in advance of severe temperatures to keep lube oil warm, and exercising moving equipment to ensure that the units will be available.

As previously noted here, powerful economic forces are already at work that will help avoid a repeat of February 2’s system emergency. Generator companies that did not deliver to the market the power they had committed day ahead suffered significant financial consequences (and similarly for retailers that had not contracted sufficient power in the day-ahead market to cover their customer loads, so ended up topping off at the extreme real-time market rate).

Here is the conclusion of the Texas RE report:

Texas RE’s investigation has revealed that, for the most part, ERCOT’s and Market Participants’ conduct during the Energy Emergency Alert that occurred on February 2, 2011, was consistent with requirements set out in the Protocols and Operating Guides. Loss of scheduled generation due to freezing pipes, valves, and instrumentation, and to a lesser extent issues associated with natural gas supplies, caused a shortage of generation reserves which ultimately required ERCOT to direct firm load shed in order to restore system reliability. Although ERCOT and Market Participants took steps to prepare for the expected cold weather, the actions taken proved to be inadequate or ineffective for the prolonged freezing weather which occurred February 1-4, 2011. However, ERCOT and many generation operators implemented lessons learned from the February 2 event and prevented similar issues during the cold weather that followed on February 9-10.

During the February 2 EEA Event, ERCOT Market Participants committed potential violations of the ERCOT Protocols and Operating Guides in connection with failures to meet Ancillary Services obligations, failures to meet Emergency Interruptible Load Service obligations, failures to execute manual load shed in accordance with requirements, and possibly with the performance of Black Start units. Texas RE will conduct additional investigations as necessary to determine the full extent and implications of non-compliance with the Protocols and Operating Guides, and will forward information to the PUCT for further action, as appropriate. Issues of possible noncompliance with NERC standards are being examined as part of Texas RE’s analysis in its capacity as the NERC Regional Entity for the Texas Region.

Independent monitor finds no market abuse during ERCOT rolling blackouts on February 2

Michael Giberson

The ERCOT independent market monitor (IMM) has released its report on the February 2, 2011 rolling blackouts. Excerpts from the report introduction are below, but let’s get to the meat of the matter. The IMM was asked (1) whether there was any evidence that market participants tried to manipulate the market for financial gains during the period, and (2) whether markets operated efficiently and as expected during the period.

The short answers are (1) no evidence of manipulation was found, and (2) the markets operated efficiently and outcomes were consistent with the market design.

While these may seem like excessively upbeat conclusions given the failings in the ERCOT region that day, the key is to distinguish between the physical systems – which did fail and created significant hardships that day – and the market systems – which appeared to work as intended. The market review concluded market participants faced increasing incentives to have generation available before the event, companies responded to incentives by taking many preparatory steps (nonetheless, inadequate as we see in hindsight), during the emergency companies faced substantial incentives to bring generation to the market, and companies responded to those substantial incentives by engaging in extraordinary efforts to bring offline generators back online.

A key image on the manipulation question is Figure 5, which shows the relationship between generation outages and net market position for February 2. In brief, every generation company that was able to keep their forced outages below 10 percent (i.e. 90 percent or higher generator availability) netted a positive revenue flow from the market that day. Those generation companies with forced outages of 20 percent or higher ended up owing money to the market for February 2. It is highly unlikely that a firm profited by withholding generation capability from the market that day. (See the report, pp. 12-14, for additional details on the figure.)

Figure 5: Generation Availability and Net Financial Position on Feb. 2, 2011

Figure 5: Generation Availability and Net Financial Position on Feb. 2, 2011

The Texas Reliability Entity, reliability monitor for ERCOT, will also be issuing a report on the event directed at generator compliance with ERCOT reliability protocols and related rules. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) are also investigating outages in Texas and elsewhere in the Southwest and may publish reports.

For background, here is the introductory section of the IMM’s “Investigation of the ERCOT Energy Emergency Alert Level 3 on February 2, 2011“:

In the early morning hours of February 2, 2011, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (“ERCOT”) region experienced extreme cold weather conditions, record electricity demand levels, and the loss of numerous electric generating facilities across the ERCOT region. These events combined to result in the declaration of Energy Emergency Alert (“EEA”) Level 3 at 5:43 a.m., with the initial interruption of 1,000 MW of firm load at that time, and reaching 4,000 MW of firm load shed by 6:30 a.m. Subsequently, firm load was restored in 500 MW increments beginning shortly prior to 8:00 a.m., with all firm load restored shortly after 1:00 p.m. on February 2nd . Prior to the declaration of EEA Level 3, load resources contracted to provide responsive reserve service were deployed at approximately 5:20 a.m., and Emergency Interruptible Load Service (“EILS”), another contractual demand response service, was deployed concurrent with the declaration of EEA Level 3, at approximately 5:46 a.m.

On February 4, 2011, the Executive Director of the Public Utility Commission of Texas (“PUCT” or “Commission”) directed Potomac Economics as the Commission’s Independent Market Monitor (“IMM”), and the Texas Reliability Entity (“TRE”) as the Commission’s Reliability Monitor, to investigate the ERCOT EEA Level 3 that occurred on February 2, 2011, and subsequent related events and developments on February 3-4, 2011, including all preparations leading to the emergency event, as well as action taken once the event occurred, and focusing on the actions of ERCOT and the ERCOT market participants to determine whether all appropriate laws, rules, requirements and processes were followed.

The primary role of the IMM as the Commission’s market monitor is to: (1) detect and prevent market manipulation strategies and market power abuses; and (2) evaluate the operations of the wholesale market and the current market rules and proposed changes to the market rules, and recommend measures to enhance market efficiency.

The primary role of the TRE as the Commission’s reliability monitor is to monitor and investigate material occurrences of non-compliance with ERCOT procedures that have the potential to impede ERCOT operations, or represent a risk to system reliability.

Given this division of responsibilities, this IMM report addresses the following two issues related to the ERCOT EEA Level 3 on February 2, 2011 and subsequent related events and developments on February 3-4, 2011: (1) whether market manipulation strategies or market power abuses were a cause or played a role in these events; and (2) whether the operations of the wholesale market and the existing market rules produced efficient market outcomes.

The review and analysis performed by the IMM and described in this report yields the following findings related to the events in the ERCOT wholesale market on and around February 2, 2011:

  • Based on our review of the cause of each generating unit outage and/or capacity de-ration, as well as the financial positions of market participants, we do not find any evidence of market manipulation or market power abuse in relation to the widespread generating unit outages that resulted in the EEA3 event on February 2nd .
  • Given the system conditions that materialized on February 2nd and 3rd, we find that the ERCOT real-time and day-ahead wholesale markets operated efficiently and the outcomes are consistent with the ERCOT energy-only wholesale market design.

Finally, because the review of the EEA3 event on February 2, 2011 is the subject of review by multiple entities and the IMM report is but one facet of this review, we have not at this time provided recommendations that may be beneficial in preventing a reoccurrence of the events experienced on and around February 2nd . We anticipate and are looking forward to participating in the development of a comprehensive set of actions that will serve to significantly improve the future reliable operation of the ERCOT grid in manners consistent with the competitive ERCOT market structure.

Previous Knowledge Problem posts on the ERCOT’s rolling blackout:

Cold snap brings rolling power outages to Texas; is ERCOT policy of isolation at fault? (February 4, 2011)

Texas Observer: Some Companies Made Millions Off the Texas Blackouts (February 4, 2011)

The natural gas that didn’t come in from the cold (February 7, 2011)

Transmitting power from Mexico to Texas (February 8, 2011)

More cold for Texas and a test of my conjecture on preparedness (February 9, 2011)

Roundup of news and commentary on the Texas rolling blackouts (February 11, 2011)

Good news and bad news from price-spike induced failure of retail power company in Texas (February 12, 2011)

ERCOT blackout hearings underway in Texas State Senate (February 15, 2011)

ERCOT rolling blackout news: Powerful market forces already at work (February 16, 2011)

ERCOT rolling blackout news: Powerful market forces already at work

Michael Giberson

A regulatory filing by Energy Futures Holdings Corp., the parent company of Luminant, a major power generator in the Texas market, provides a small peak behind the curtain of confidentiality that has limited the public’s view of what all went wrong on February 2. A small peak, but a significant story:

In an 8-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, EFH reported that it lost about $30 million on February 2 because of weather-related outages at several of its power plants. The outages kept the company from delivering power it had contracted to sell, so the company was responsible for purchasing power at the real-time market price to cover for its shortfall. Real-time prices spiked to the market’s $3,000 cap during the emergency.

Add that supply-side news to last Friday’s announcement that under-prepared power retailer Abacus Resources Energy has been forced from the market. As one of the participants in yesterday’s Texas senate hearings said, there are already powerful economic incentives at work to help the market avoid a repeat of the Groundhog Day blackouts.

More news reports:

And this commentary by Ken Herman in the Austin American-Statesman: “If they could give us warm, fuzzy feelings, we wouldn’t be here“:

On public display Tuesday in the Texas Senate chamber was a reminder of the main reason humans form governments. It is, scholars tell us, primarily for the pleasure of convening committee hearings at which we can watch well-heeled witnesses squirm….