Why Texas Suffered Power Disruptions During Winter Storm Uri

Severe weather from Winter Storm Uri during the week of February 14th led to an unprecedented loss of power across Texas with some blaming renewable energy for the problems. In this blog, we’ll review how power grids work, renewable energy’s role in power generation, and the causes of this unfortunate event.

How Does An Electrical Grid Work?

The electricity we use every day is generated at plants that may be hundreds of miles away. These plants can use natural gas, water, wind, sun, coal, and nuclear reactions to create electricity. It is then transmitted through high-voltage lines and substations and distributed through wires to homes, offices, shops, and factories for use.[1]

The Texas Grid

There are three major electrical grids in the lower 48 states—the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which covers most of the state.

Why does Texas have its own grid? In part, it has to do with the evolution of electric utilities in the early 20th century and Texans’ historical mistrust of federal regulators. Formed in 1970, ERCOT was tasked with managing grid reliability in accordance with national standards.

The ERCOT grid remains beyond the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates interstate electric transmission. By operating solely within state lines, Texas utilities have avoided being subject to federal rules.[2]

It’s important to note that Texas’ independent grid was not a direct cause of the power outages.

Why Did The Texas Grid Fail?

During the storm, several public officials claimed that frozen wind turbines were to blame for the power outages. There are several points that make it clear that renewables were not a major source of the problem:

  1. When properly winterized, wind turbines are capable of operating in temperatures as low as -22 degrees Fahrenheit.[3]
  2. Because they weren’t equipped with cold weather packages that heat and lubricate components in frigid temperatures, the turbines froze.
  3. Thermal energy sources like gas, coal, and nuclear energy were also impacted by the low temperatures.[4] Specifically, natural gas pipelines, which provide 46% of ERCOT’s fuel, froze due to a lack of cold insulation.[5]
  4. Of the grid’s total winter capacity, ERCOT forecasted that 80 percent would be generated by natural gas, coal, and nuclear power.
  5. Only seven percent of ERCOT’s forecasted winter capacity was expected to come from various wind power sources across the state.[6]
  6. According to Dan Woodfin, a senior director at ERCOT, wind power only accounted for 13 percent of the state’s power outages.[7]

Solar Energy in Texas

What about solar? With abundant sunlight, Texas has some of the greatest solar power potential in the nation. As of Q3 2020, the state had almost seven gigawatts of solar installed, enough to power 780,000 homes. Between 2017 and 2019, installed solar capacity doubled in Texas, with customer-sited, small-scale (less than one megawatt) facilities providing almost 20 percent of solar generation in 2019. The future looks bright for solar as an additional four gigawatts of capacity are expected to be installed over the next five years.[8][9]

How Do Solar Panels Perform in Winter?

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy:[10]

  • Research has shown that solar panels are capable of generating electricity in snowy areas and other harsh environments.
  • Even in below-freezing weather, solar panels turn sunlight into electricity. Cold climates are actually optimal for solar panel efficiency.
  • Light snow has little impact on solar panels because it easily slides off.
  • Heavy snow can limit the amount of energy produced by solar panels, but forward scattering brings more light to the solar cells than one might expect.
  • Even when solar panels are completely covered by snow, they can still generate electricity.


While wind turbines in Texas froze during the state’s coldest temperatures in over 30 years, the cause of the power outages appears to be a general lack of investment in winterizing equipment for gas pipelines because the state rarely experiences extreme winter storms and low temperatures.[11]

Next Steps

There are many things to consider when thinking about solar power installations. We can help you make sense of the entire picture.

To learn if solar is the right move for your organization, contact us for a free solar feasibility report.

[1] “Understanding the Grid,” Energy.gov, Last accessed 3/4/21, https://www.energy.gov/articles/infographic-understanding-grid

[2] “Texplainer: Why does Texas have its own power grid?” Texas Tribune, Last accessed 3/4/21, https://www.texastribune.org/2011/02/08/texplainer-why-does-texas-have-its-own-power-grid/

[3] “Why Wind Turbines In Cold Climates Don’t Freeze,” Forbes, Last accessed 3/4/21, https://www.forbes.com/sites/scottcarpenter/2021/02/16/why-wind-turbines-in-cold-climates-dont-freeze-de-icing-and-carbon-fiber/

[4] “Why Did Wind Turbines Freeze in Texas When They Work in the Arctic?” Newsweek, Last accessed 3/10/21, https://www.newsweek.com/texas-wind-turbines-frozen-power-why-arctic-1570173

[5] “No, frozen wind turbines aren’t the main culprit for Texas’ power outages,” Texas Tribune, Last accessed 3/10/21, https://www.texastribune.org/2021/02/16/texas-wind-turbines-frozen/

[6] “No, frozen wind turbines aren’t the main culprit for Texas’ power outages,” Texas Tribune, Last accessed 3/10/21, https://www.texastribune.org/2021/02/16/texas-wind-turbines-frozen/

[7] “Don’t Blame the Texas Blackouts on Renewable Energy,” Outside, Last accessed 3/10/21, https://www.outsideonline.com/2421024/texas-blackouts-winter-storm-frozen-wind-turbines

[8] “Texas Solar,” SEIA, Last accessed 3/10/21, https://www.seia.org/state-solar-policy/texas-solar

[9] “Texas State Profile and Energy Estimates,” EIA, Last accessed 3/10/21, https://www.eia.gov/state/analysis.php?sid=TX

[10] “How Solar Panels Can Thrive in Winter Weather,” Energy.gov, Last accessed 3/10/21, https://www.energy.gov/eere/articles/let-it-snow-how-solar-panels-can-thrive-winter-weather

[11] “No, frozen wind turbines aren’t the main culprit for Texas’ power outages,” Texas Tribune, Last accessed 3/10/21, https://www.texastribune.org/2021/02/16/texas-wind-turbines-frozen/