As temperatures rise to unusually warm levels in Texas this week, its citizens are being asked to use less energy on basics like cooking and laundry to ease strain on the state’s power grid that is struggling to generate enough electricity. to cope with high temperatures.
The move triggers memories for many Texans of the winter cold snap that disabled much of the state’s electrical infrastructure and raises fears that Texas, and other U.S. states, may not be prepared to deal with the events. extreme weather conditions accompanying the global climate crisis. .
The Texas power grid authority has asked Texans to set thermostats to 78 ° F (25.5 ° C) or higher, turn off lights and pool pumps, and avoid the use of large appliances such as ovens. , washing machines and drying machines.
This is the second time the Texas Electrical Reliability Council (Ercot) has called for conservation since February’s winter storms left more than 4.8 million homes and businesses without power for days. The crisis was blamed for more than 100 deaths and $ 130 billion in costs.
In addition to the plant outages, demand is high this week as Texas cities expect 90-degree temperatures. The state broke its electricity demand record for June on Monday.
Summer hasn’t even officially started, and early calls for conservation raise questions about what will happen in the coming months and years as global temperatures continue to rise.
“We are heading into a future climate that is likely to have more extreme droughts and more powerful hurricanes, putting their own pressure on the system,” said Dan Cohan, a professor of civil engineering at Rice University. “This week we saw that the Texas power grid barely prepared for the hot weather in June, but it is nowhere near as hot as it can get in July and August.”
Cohan says Ercot has not been transparent about which coal and gas plants are idle and causing grid strain, and why: It could be from maintenance or repairs from February’s knockouts or preparing for a potential summer lawsuit.
“Ercot has really left us wondering which coal and gas power plants are down and why,” he said. “They offered a belated recognition that there are more than twice as many power plants down than they expected, but no real clarity on why this is happening. Many of us are left guessing. “
The network is only prepared to handle one crisis at a time, but problems often overlap; for example, in very hot weather, winds often do not blow as they normally would, or a spike in demand while power plants are offline.
“We need to be prepared for it, not just because of chance, but because these challenges can be correlated,” Cohan said. “Often when we have extreme weather events, they can stretch both supply and demand at the same time.”
Solar generation is growing rapidly in Texas, and that has saved the lights this week.
“We could be in the middle of a two-year growth streak that is faster than any state has ever experienced in solar generation,” Cohan said. “We have more than five times more solar energy than a few years ago and that made the difference by having these afternoons in which we have had calls for conservation. There would probably have been continuous blackouts if we didn’t have solar farms online. “
Still, much more needs to be done: The network must be heated, transmission from sunny, windy areas must be extended to fast-growing cities, and the Texas network must be integrated into other states, he says.
In this year’s Texas legislative session, lawmakers passed a series of reforms designed to protect the state against blackouts. At a signing ceremony last week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said “everything was done to fix the electrical grid in Texas.”
Kyri Baker, a building systems engineer at the University of Colorado Boulder who studies power grids, said there needed to be better systems to persuade consumers to use less energy, something known as demand response.
“It is 2021 and we are requesting a demand response through Twitter,” he says. “We can’t just ask people not to use their oven, because there is no guarantee that people will participate.”
Many people do not know which devices in their homes consume the most energy; These are usually not lights, but heating and cooling systems and water heaters. She says paying people to install smart meters and smart thermostats would go a long way in enabling utilities to enact granular power outages, rather than cutting off entire swaths of a city.
He adds that connecting Texas to other states seems like an easy fix, but it’s not a panacea: When large-scale heat waves increase demand, they affect other states as well. “It is more complicated than just installing more electrical cables.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism