Family | Power Outage | Texas
“Honey, Do We Have Matchsticks?” An Inside Story From Houston, Texas During The Power Outage.
Late last week, the weather forecast was ominous — Alaskan cold in Texas that could last 5 days. My wife asked me in all seriousness, “will we be ok?”
I was confident. We have a diversified fuel for home. We had gas for cooking balanced by electricity for rest. We double checked the stove. Charged our battery devices and backup batteries.
Cold icy days [interspersed with snow] arrived as expected, we lost electricity in the night. Torches worked. The house was still warm in the morning. Felt a morning tea/coffee would be nice.
Natural gas was available. Great. The default around here — the convenient electric spark.
I tapped my wife and asked her in all seriousness — “Honey, do we have matchsticks?”
And that sums up the essence of what happened in Texas.
Frozen water had the last laugh. It doused the matchsticks. Fuel diversity be damned.
You can complain or laugh it off. I choose the latter.
Here are the real reasons imagined (life is too short to be serious, take it easy).
Damn the circular loop
- If the gas in the pipe to the house is at abysmal low pressure, I could have pumped it up from the back fence to the house. Guess what; the pumps need electricity to run. Damn the circular loop. (My water supply has lost pressure too. We needed to boil the water; damn the circular loop)
- Forget the pump, can you use a better stove that can work with low pressure? Yes, I am actually using one. The new burners can work with ultra low flames that can even melt chocolate gently. Unfortunately, they are designed to only work with electric spark and shutdown during a power outage. I scorched through the stacks of manual and pulled up the right one. There was one fine line that informs me that. Not to be deterred, the remaining 80% of burners are old fashioned. I can light them with a match stick. Oof, this circular loop was a close shave.
- And Elon Musk is moving the iceberg for cars — from guzzlers to electric ones. The unintended consequence — more loops at our doorsteps.
Damn the frozen water
- The gas in the pipe was at good pressure, the place were the state drills for gas, the water froze at the wrong places. We can’t drill/frack when we need gas. Damn the frozen water.
- I heard there are nuclear assets in Texas backwaters, why don’t you ask them to provide heat for your stove? Ho, they use water too in their process and it’s frozen. Damn the frozen water again.
- Can you use a wind based stove? Yes, I tried — there was unexpected ice on the blades. Damn the frozen water.
Damn the clouds and the cold
- Can you use another stove? Yes, I tried a solar stove — sorry, today it was cloudy.
- Yes, some of the matchsticks were weatherized with antifreeze etc. But not for an Alaskan cold. Damn the cold.
- Can your stove use oil, like some homes in cold climates that use oil tanks? Sorry, this is hot climate and who is going to pay for oil storage tanks for once in a 100 year emergency.
Ok, I tried. Do you really have to cook today?
I believe in Texas resilience. I can get by. Looks like my neighbor is in the same boat and about a million more. The Governor is involved. All gas that we have left goes to Texas homes and Texas power plants that covert it and send it as electricity. That electricity will give the electric spark to the gas heater and we can use the gas that comes home to warm ourselves. Damn that circular loop again! The irony — 40+% of Texans have dual fuel — gas for heating and electric for cooling.
Frozen water messed with Texas and Texas got lucky. Here is why. My upbeat version.
Texas is a blessed state with natural resources and entrepreneurial spirit. When oil was screeching expensive — Texas doubled up on natural gas and wind. When the world talks, Texas does. Sometimes, it’s not enough.
It would rather be an act of god rather than an act of an enemy to expose the weakness in the underbelly.
Fuel diversity is there. Renewables are prioritized. Texas produces the most wind in the USA and spent the money to build transmission from West Texas to the customer pockets.
Yet, the artic freeze exposed the interlocks of energy. I see three.
- At the home level, true fuel switch needs to be examined with greater scrutiny and prioritize the points of failure especially those circular loops.
- At the power plant level, currently — weatherizing the power plants for extreme weather is recommended as a best practice. The non-profit agency tasked with ensuring reliability (ERCOT) can recommend — not mandate. Change weathering into a mandate with the state share as an insurance cost for such extreme events. Likely legislation in the offing.
- And the one that very few talk about — sh*t happens, things fail, how can we rotate the blackouts better in this modern technology age! 70% of the generation was available. Yet, it felt like 0% was available to rotate. A good rotation can save the water pipes too! [ I do believe that the silent heroes, the grid operators did a phenomenal job of averting a major grid collapse. My question is: what can be done better in future to take it to the next level of true rotation?]
My Story, What Happened?
On the personal front, for those who are left wanting to know about matchsticks in my home — my family had warm lunches. Thank you very much for being curious.
I stand tall on my wife’s thoughtfulness.
Water is back and I did have a warm shower before wrapping up this blog. Ho, the simple things in life give me joy — gushing water and a warm floor.
The bright sun is having the last laugh — “did you miss me?” I sure did.
Although, my kids played in snow in the backyard. Never thought a snowman was ever possible in a backyard in Houston, Texas. Good memories.
Every year I live in Houston, my respect for water elevates a notch. Hurricane Harvey taught me about the power of gushing water. This time, frozen water ripped through the underbelly of Texas and opened my eyes to the circular loops.
And like last time, Texas will prevail.
And a special kudos to the first responders — I salute you all for giving me and my family the essentials of life which we often take for granted. Thank you for braving the weather and leaving your families in the cold to service the rest of us. Your service defines the spirit of Texas — large heart, bright belief in self and resilience to raise again.