Texans lived through the unprecedented last week: a winter storm like they had never seen. It was America’s worst weather-induced energy crisis since wildfires in California, just seven months ago. Climate change promises more and more “unprecedented” events that will hit the core of our infrastructure globally.
Maintenance professionals, like those that 60Hertz CMMS supports, note that it’s the “invisible” investment in personnel, Standard Operating Procedures, redundant infrastructure, frequency of preventative maintenance, and weatherization that make the critical difference in reliability.
What happened to our relatives and friends in Texas is a story of avoided maintenance. No, it wasn’t turbine icing, as I’ll explain later. Rather, the discipline of preventative maintenance checks, exercising back-up assets, testing components’ resiliency, and measuring small changes in asset performance that are all critical to maintenance culture. 60Hertz’s software supports numerous small field actions that yield reliability and uptime. Similarly, microgrids will doubtless compose a core component of future reliability. 60Hertz is ready to support exceptional maintenance for these new neighborhood or community-wide microgrids.
But a culture of maintenance costs money. Cheap and cheerful works if you are buying a T-shirt at Target. But billions of dollars of infrastructure investment will be wasted — and ratepayers will bear the cost if maintenance isn’t prioritized.
60Hertz CMMS was born in the extreme climate of Alaska. Our colleagues and customers on the North Slope are steeped in a philosophy of redundancy, safety, and mechanisms for weatherization. Their maintenance protocols are best-in-class. Sure, the cold weather encourages a percent of this. But the oil majors and energy service companies who serve them know that it is prudent business to protect their capital expenditure. The balance sheets of a state-wide or national transmission operator are not so many zeros different: it’s a question of our collective willingness to pay for resiliency (and maintenance!) that coming decades of climate disruption will demand.
But let’s not miss the lesson. Maintenance contributes to resiliency. The last 10 days proved what happens when a grid is cheaply run. And about the wind turbine icing: it was later revealed that this was anti-renewable propaganda wielded by Governor Greg Abott, a Republican, who later recanted. It was the natural gas lines which froze thus choking off generation fuel.
Millions have recently googled, “What does ERCOT stand for?” probably to understand the acronym. But the question works as a metaphor too: does ERCOT stand for best-in-class maintenance practices? Or those that are “good enough’? Does ERCOT stand for cutting-edge resiliency like microgrids or simply cheap energy? While ERCOT is the most visible player to blame, the responsibility extends broadly.Texas ratepayers, and many of us should ask: do we want the most unregulated, cheapest kilowatt? Or the most reliable kilowatt? In times of climate stability or economic plenty a state can gamble with these variables. But we are not living in predictable times. Some may call the event an “historic, just about unprecedented storm at the heart of the problem,” as Bill Magness, the CEO of ERCOT described it. But this rationale reflects thinking that is too small to grasp the times in which we live, or craft the resiliency solutions necessary to survive what may be coming to an electric grid near you.