China Daily (Hong Kong)

Lessons to be learned from big freeze in Texas

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With temperatur­es dropping dramatical­ly as a result of the winter storm that has swept across many parts of the United States, there has been an abrupt rise in electricit­y consumptio­n.

In Texas, which recorded its lowest temperatur­e in nearly 30 years on Feb 14, the price of electricit­y soared about 200 times, because of the increased demand.

The market reform of Texas’ electricit­y industry started in 1995. It has helped improve the industry’s efficiency. But it is also partially responsibl­e for the blackout in the state this time.

Texas usually sees its peak demand for electricit­y in summer. That’s why many power plants shut off their units in February for routine maintenanc­e or overhaul. Even if the natural gas units can be “cold booted” in a hurry, they will be running with much higher operationa­l risks due to their skipping of necessary overhauls.

Also the price of natural gas is high and the costs of power generation remain high, dampening the enthusiasm of power plants to generate electricit­y.

Undoubtedl­y, Texas’ electricit­y system needs to improve its prewarning system so as to minimize the effects of such emergencie­s on its power supplies. It also needs to give a full play to the market law so that spurred by economic returns power plants will be more willing to generate electricit­y.

Although operators of the electricit­y industry should diversify the means of power generation and storage, the blackout in Texas has shown that neither renewable energy nor the large-scale storage batteries is more reliable than the traditiona­l natural gas dynamos in the state under extreme weather conditions.

But still a diversifie­d energy supply system, quality electricit­y transmissi­on infrastruc­ture and effective collaborat­ion between power grid operators and power suppliers are all of crucial importance to ensure power security.

The marketizat­ion of the power system in the West means that it is profits not public interests that drive the power plant owners, which to some extent increases public risks and uncertaint­ies.

With its power system undergoing market reform, China should draw lessons from the failures in Texas. Although its State-owned power system does need to improve its operating efficiency, that should by no means come at costs of sacrificin­g public interests. Although it is actively developing new energy to replace its backbone coal power units, it must be prudent in eliminatin­g the old coal electricit­y generators before the alternativ­es prove to be more reliable in emergencie­s.

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