Energy Politics

Recent Power Outages in Texas point to the need for improvement in the renewable Energy Sector

Towards the end of February, Texas was caught between a power outage hiccup that saw households go without electricity and heat for days. Texas electricity grid relies largely on natural gas and onshore wind. When an ice-storm struck, depositing chunks of ice on the turbines, the US state was thrown in a pool of cold and darkness. Critics have blamed renewable energy for Texas’ woes. Politicians inclined to fossil fuels dismissed renewable energy claiming that just like solar energy, wind energy requires planning for days when the wind is unreliable. They argued that wind energy is not a reliable source of electricity, especially in extreme weather, and states should not phase out fossil fuels completely before laying a good network of renewable energy.

However, reports by Texas Utility officials state otherwise. “The dangerous situations in Texas and Oklahoma underscore the urgency of the climate crisis and the need to make transformational investments in our country’s infrastructure, including the electricity grid,” said Lori Lodes, director of Climate Power, a policy powerhouse. In the future, federal governments might need to feature natural gas sources alongside wind, solar and nuclear energy. Experts have said the electricity supply might face similar predicaments if natural gas is phased out entirely. For example, in California, power outages last summer were attributed to the state’s hastened gas plants phase-out.

According to Wood Mackenzie, an energy research company, the Texas menace was attributed to the gas plants’ underperformance. “The crisis in Texas was not caused by the state’s renewable energy industry. The largest loss of generation came from gas-fired power plants, with the drop-off from wind farms a long way behind,” said Wood Mackenzie’s Ed Crooks. Wind power met its expected targets during the winter storm. According to officials, the power outages were prevalent in natural gas, coal, and nuclear sources-reliant regions. The three sources account for two-thirds of the total electricity generated during winter in Texas. According to the American Gas Association (AGA), states should re-evaluate how their electricity grids sustain them during cold days of the year and identify areas that need improvement.

“Coming days, weeks, and months should include how we utilize and value the role the system plays in the coldest days of the year and accounting for disruption and events of severe weather,” said AGA’s managing director of energy markets, analysis, and standards, Richard Meyer. The generation and transmission of renewable energy need to be reconsidered. “Distributed resources including storage and demand response will also have to play a greater role. Texas renewable capacity would need to increase more than 10-fold to provide the same amount of energy produced by the fossil fuel fleet on Monday, even at reduced levels,” said an analyst at Wood Mackenzie.

Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas, Austin, in a commentary, said states have to rethink the design of residential and commercial designs to accommodate both warm and extremely cold weather. “States that model their structures and facilities for hot weather will need to prepare for more severe cold spells, while cold-weather states may anticipate more heat waves.” As the current climatic conditions in Texas demonstrate, there is no time to waste in being more weather-ready,” Webber stated.