Peak energy demand has reached an all-time high in Texas, where temperatures have been hotter than 99% of the world over the last few weeks. The prolonged heat wave is shattering records now but is likely just the beginning of what scientists predict will be a pattern of increasing and increasingly extreme weather events associated with climate change.
In Texas, the expectation that summer heat waves as well as winter storms will continue to get more and more intense has been of particular concern, due to the fragility and isolated nature of the state’s power grid. That fragility was made infamous in 2021, when the grid collapsed under the strain of increased heating demand during the disastrous Winter Storm Uri. Tragically, at least 246 people died from the storm and the related grid failure, with stated causes of death ranging from hypothermia to carbon monoxide poisoning according to the state’s official death toll. However, a BuzzFeed News analysis says that the official count is far lower than the real death toll, which they calculate to be around 700 lives lost.
The issue was not just the severity of the storm, but also the uniquely deregulated and isolated nature of the Texas electric grid. Texas found itself in serious trouble when it ran out of energy to supply its own grid in the February storm because, unlike other states, it wasn’t able to import electricity from interconnected grids in other states. This is because Texas has slowly and completely isolated its power grid in order to avoid federal regulation and the objectively flawed traditional utility model, which also led to a lack of adequate weatherization and failsafe mechanisms. In the colorful words of United States Circuit Judge Richard D. Cudahy, Texas’ secession from the national power grid has converted the state into an “electric Alamo.”
The New York Times has called the Texas grid “the nation’s most extensive experiment in electrical deregulation,” and experts have been nervous that that experiment could go terribly wrong all over again under the strain of an extreme weather event such as the one Texas is experiencing now. But so far, the grid has held up, even with peak energy demand reaching a record-breaking 81,000 megawatts (MW), a significant uptick from the 69,000 MW peak demand that left the grid in ruins during Winter Storm Uri.
How is this possible? The Lone Star state has quietly been building out its renewable energy industry at a breakneck clip. “It’s all thanks to the rapid additions of solar, wind, and grid-scale battery storage in the last two years,” reports Forbes. The state has added almost 3,000 MW of wind since 2021 and 10,000 MW of solar since 2020, with utility-scale solar doubling every year since then. Its solar energy installment rate has surpassed that of California, and its new grid battery installations are a very close second to the Golden State. “During this historic heat wave, it’s been all these new, low-cost wind, solar and batteries that have kept the grid afloat and Texans cool – in many cases saving lives,” Forbes writes.
All of this added renewable energy production capacity has made the Texas energy grif much more resilient. Not only does it give the grid a greater diversity of energy sources to fall back on in case of disaster, it’s also easing the state’s reliance on fossil fuels for energy security. Past grid failures in Texas have shown that coal and gas plants are much more vulnerable than renewable ones to extreme weather events in both hot and cold conditions. In fact, when the state lost 9,600 MW of electricity capacity last week due to the failure of several natural gas and coal plants, solar and wind provided that lost energy and then some, generating a record 31,500 MW on Wednesday.
Texas is still synonymous with oil and gas, and ideologically aligned with those industries. But underneath that allegiance lies a much different reality. Much to its own chagrin, Texas is leading the charge in the domestic clean energy transition, and is proving to the rest of the country that not only are renewables reliable, they’re the best option yet.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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