The Timeline and Events of the February 2021 Texas Electric Grid Blackouts
In February 2021, an extreme winter storm event caused a massive electricity generation failure in the state of Texas, which resulted in a loss of power for more than 4.5 million homes. This failure has resulted in at least 57 deaths across 25 Texas counties and over $195 billion in property damage, bringing attention to the energy system crisis and its potential causes. While much press has been dedicated to identifying the entities and individuals potentially at fault, determining exact causes and accurately assigning responsibility for an event this complex requires expert input and opinion. There is a strong public need for reliable information about the fundamental causes of the crisis and for identification of core market design, regulatory, and policy gaps that can be addressed to make the Texas energy system more robust and resilient to such massive shocks in the future.
To address these needs, The University of Texas at Austin Energy Institute convened a diverse expert committee, to offer an unbiased assessment of the data and events of the blackout. This report is not intended to comprehensively address all issues stemming from such a complex event, but may inform subsequent assessments and the public policy debate about how to best design and operate the ERCOT grid. This report does not recommend policies or solutions.
POWER Committee Leadership and Contact Information
The POWER Committee welcomes inquiries from the public and media. For inquiries on Committee deliverables and analysis, please contact a Committee Co-Chair. To contact a specific Committee member, follow the link in their bio to the corresponding department website.
Committee Co-Chair Contacts:
Dr. Carey King - Energy Institute
Dr. Carey W King performs interdisciplinary research related to how energy systems interact within the economy and environment as well as how our policy and social systems can make decisions and tradeoffs among these often-competing factors. The past performance of our energy systems is no guarantee of future returns, yet we must understand the development of past energy systems. Carey’s research goals center on rigorous interpretations of the past to determine the most probable future energy pathways. Carey is Research Scientist at The University of Texas at Austin and Assistant Director at the Energy Institute. He also has appointments with the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy within the Jackson School of Geosciences and the McCombs School of Business. He has both a B.S. with high honors and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. He has published technical articles in the academic journals Environmental Science and Technology, Environmental Research Letters, Nature Geoscience, Energy Policy, Sustainability, and Ecology and Society. He has also written commentary for American Scientist and Earth magazines as well as major newspapers such as the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, and Austin American-Statesman. Dr. King has several patents as former Director for Scientific Research of Uni-Pixel Displays, Inc.
Dr. Erhan Kutanoglu - Operations Research and Industrial Engineering
Dr. Erhan Kutanoglu earned his Ph.D. in industrial engineering from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania in 1999. He joined the faculty of The University of Texas at Austin in 2002. He received a Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation that same year. Dr. Kutanoglu specializes in applied operations research regarding manufacturing and service logistics and supply chain management. He develops solutions to service logistical problems where repairing, recycling and stocking of parts provides after-market service to geographically-dispersed customers. This research allows manufacturing companies and the U.S. military to achieve cost savings through better decision-making in warehousing and distribution, which increases overall service readiness and minimizes costs. He is also collaborating with other college professors to streamline semiconductor manufacturing. The manufacturing time (or “cycle time”) for semiconductor wafers is typically about 10 to 12 weeks, but they only require 2 weeks to actually process. Kutanoglu’s goal is to reduce disruptions of overall plant performance by developing models for them. To develop his models, he uses mathematical modeling as well as game theory. He hopes to develop a unifying theoretical framework that encompasses both fields and connect the system-level optimization with the distributed decision structure.
Dr. Benjamin D. Leibowicz - Operations Research and Industrial Engineering
Dr. Benjamin D. Leibowicz is an Assistant Professor in the Operations Research and Industrial Engineering in Department of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Leibowicz also holds a courtesy appointment in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. Dr. Leibowicz develops mathematical models and methods to improve decision making on energy and environmental policy and strategy issues from an interdisciplinary perspective. His primary research interests are energy systems, energy and climate policy analysis, integrated assessment modeling, sustainable cities, technological change, and innovation. Dr. Leibowicz’s research projects are funded by federal agencies, industrial corporations, private foundations, and national laboratories, among others. In 2020, Dr. Leibowicz received the Outstanding Young Investigator Award from the Energy Systems Division of the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE). He currently serves on the Editorial Board of Energy Sources, Part B: Economics, Planning, and Policy, and on the Steering Committee for the City of Austin’s 2020 revision of its Community Climate Plan. Dr. Leibowicz is also Cluster Chair at the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) Annual Meeting. Prior to joining UT Austin, Dr. Leibowicz received both PhD and MS degrees in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford, and earned a BA in Physics from Harvard.
Dr. Ning Lin - Bureau of Economic Geology
Dr. Ning Lin joined the Bureau of Economic Geology at The University of Texas at Austin in 2019 as the chief economist at its Center for Energy Economics. Her keen business acumen and leadership have allowed her to provide a unique perspective and multifaceted skills in her current role at the Bureau, where economics underpins all energy and environmental research. At the Bureau, Dr. Lin works with research teams leveraging expertise in geoscience and environmental resources to address energy and environmental challenges. In her former roles, Dr. Lin managed global market analysis capabilities for Shell Trading, Koch Industries, and Tenaska. Her experience in both the chemical and energy industries includes natural gas and power; petrochemical derivatives; intermediate chemicals; and polymer, fiber, and engineering plastics. She has successfully executed a variety of commercial development projects, established local partnerships in overseas regions, and managed capital investment, technology licensing, market development, and product innovation efforts.
Dr. Dev Niyogi - Jackson School of Geosciences
Dr. Niyogi was the most recent chair of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) Board of Urban Environment and elected advisory board member of the International Association of Urban Climate. He is currently serving on the AMS Committee on Applied Climatology, and has previously served on AMS Committee on Agriculture and Forest Meteorology, invited member FGDC Spatial Climate Working Group, Member of the Weather Research and Forecast (WRF) model WG-14 (land surface models), and Member of the AGU Biogeochemistry meetings group / spring meeting student awards chair. He has provided invited testimonies to the National Academy study group, planning summer meetings, and Senate Working groups.
Dr. Varun Rai - Energy Institute
Dr. Varun Rai is Elspeth Rostow Centennial Professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he directs the Energy Systems Transformation Research Group (aka “Rai Group”) and serves as Associate Dean for Research since September 2017. His interdisciplinary research focuses on studying how the interactions between the social, behavioral, economic, technological, and institutional components of the energy system impact the diffusion of energy technologies. His research has discussed technologies and policies in carbon capture and storage (CCS), fuels cells, oil & gas, plug-in hybrid vehicles (PEVs), and solar photovoltaics (PV). He has presented in forums including the United States Senate Briefings, Global Intelligent Utility Network Coalition, and Global Economic Symposium, and his research group’s work has been discussed in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Bloomberg News. He was a Global Economic Fellow in 2009. During 2013-2015 he was a Commissioner for Austin Energy. In 2016 the Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management (APPAM) awarded him the David N. Kershaw Award and Prize. He also received The Eyes of Texas Excellence Award in 2016. He received his Ph.D. and MS in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University and a bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur.
Dr. Joshua D. Rhodes - Department of Mechanical Engineering
Joshua D. Rhodes, Ph.D. is a Research Associate at The University of Texas at Austin, and a Founding partner of IdeaSmiths LLC. His current work is in the area of smart grid and the bulk electricity system, including spatial system-level applications and impacts of energy efficiency, resource planning, distributed generation, and storage. He is also interested in policy and the impacts that good policy can have on the efficiency of the micro and macro economy. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes and is an AXIOS Expert Voice. He sits on the boards of the Texas Solar Energy Society and Pecan Street Inc. (Data Advisory Board). He holds a double bachelors in Mathematics and Economics from Stephen F. Austin State University, a masters in Computational Mathematics from Texas A&M University, a masters in Architectural Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin and a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin. He enjoys mountain biking, rock climbing, and a good cup of coffee.
Dr. Surya Santoso - Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Dr. Surya Santoso is Engineering Foundation Centennial Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. Before joining UT in 2003, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Electric Power Research Institute in 1997, and worked as Senior Power Systems and Consulting Engineer with Electrotek Concepts between 1997 and 2003. His research interests include transmission and distribution systems, modeling and simulation, and automated root-cause analysis of power quality disturbances. He and his students have published over 40 journal and 100 conference papers, which have been cited over 8,800 times. In addition, he has supervised over 15 doctoral and 30 M.S students. He co-authored Electrical Power Systems Quality and solo-authored of Fundamental of Electric Power Quality. He is an editor of Handbook of Electric Power Calculations. He is the lead editor of Standard Handbook for Electrical Engineers. He has been served as IEEE PES Distinguished Lecturer, Editor of IEEE Transactions on Power Systems, Technical Committee Program Chair and Secretary of the IEEE PES Transmission and Distribution Committee. He is an IEEE Fellow. He earned B.S in Electrical Engineering from Satya Wacana Christian University, Indonesia in 1992 and M.S.E and Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from UT in 1994 and 1996.
Dr. David Spence - School of Law
David Spence is Baker Botts Chair in Law at the University of Texas School of Law, and Professor of Business Government & Society at the McCombs School of Business. Professor Spence is co-author of the leading energy law casebook, Energy, Economics and the Environment (Foundation Press), and has published numerous scholarly articles on subjects relating to energy policy, regulation and the regulatory process. Professor Spence’s research focuses on the law and politics of energy regulation, broadly defined. His scholarly writings address the environmental regulation of the oil and gas industry and the electric utility industry, as well as economic regulation (regulation of price and competition) in the public utility industry. He has Ph.D in political science from Duke University and a J.D. from the University of North Carolina.
Dr. Stathis Tompaidis - Department of Information, Risk and Operations Management
Stathis Tompaidis is the Capitol City Savings Regents Professor at the Information, Risk and Operations Management department, and, by courtesy appointment, a Professor at the department of Finance at the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin. After finishing his undergraduate studies at Aristotle’s University of Thessaloniki in Greece, he received his Ph.D. in Physics from The University of Texas at Austin in 1994. He has also held visiting positions at Columbia University, Duke University, the Instituto Tecnologico Autonomo de Mexico (ITAM), and Northwestern University. From 2015 to 2017 he was the Associate Director for the Financial Markets group and the acting Associate Director for the Financial Institutions and Risk Management group at the Office of Financial Research.
His research focuses on the development of quantitative methods for solving complex problems in finance and economics. His interests include risk management, derivatives markets, asset allocation and asset management, central clearing, the structure and evolution of financial markets, energy finance, and real estate finance. He is currently an Associate Editor in the Finance area for Management Science, and an Associate Editor in the area of Financial Engineering for IISE Transactions, Operations Engineering & Analytics. His research has appeared in the Journal of Finance, Journal of Financial Economics, Operations Research, and Management Science.
Dr. Jay Zarnikau - LBJ School of Public Affairs
Jay Zarnikau teaches graduate-level courses in applied statistics, research methods and energy economics at UT. As the former president of Frontier Associates LLC (which merged into Frontier Energy) Zarnikau provided consulting assistance to utilities, retail electric providers and energy consumers in the design and evaluation of energy efficiency programs, retail market strategies, electricity pricing, demand forecasting and energy policy. Zarnikau formerly served as a program manager at the University of Texas at Austin Center for Energy Studies, and was the director of electric utility regulation at the Public Utility Commission of Texas. He has written or co-written over 75 articles in academic and trade journals. His research interests center on energy pricing, electricity resource planning, renewable energy, energy market design and the application of modeling techniques to problems in resource economics. He has provided expert witness testimony in over 40 regulatory proceedings. Zarnikau has a Ph.D. in economics from The University of Texas at Austin.
Dr. Hao Zhu - Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Hao Zhu is currently an Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at The University of Texas at Austin. She received the B.S. degree from Tsinghua University in 2006, and the M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Minnesota in 2009 and 2012, all in electrical engineering. From 2012 to 2017, she was a Postdoctoral Research Associate and then an Assistant Professor of ECE at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Zhu’s research focus is on developing innovative algorithmic solutions for problems related to learning and optimization for future energy systems. Her current interests include physics-aware and risk-aware machine learning for power systems, and energy management accounting for the cyber-physical coupling. She is a recipient of the NSF CAREER Award and the faculty advisor for three Best Student Papers awarded at the North American Power Symposium. She is currently a member of the IEEE Power & Energy Society (PES) Long Range Planning (LRP) Committee and an Associate Editor for the IEEE Transactions on Smart Grid.