A Glimpse of the Future in Texas: Climate Change Means Trouble for Power Grids


In principle, consultants mentioned, there are technical options that may avert such issues. But they are often pricey to put in, and the issue is in anticipating precisely when and the place such options shall be wanted.

Wind generators, for occasion, will be geared up with heaters and different gadgets in order that they’ll function in icy situations — as is commonly finished in the higher Midwest, the place chilly climate is extra frequent. Gas crops will be constructed to retailer oil on-site and burn the gasoline if wanted, as is commonly finished in the Northeast, the place pure fuel shortages are extra frequent. Grid regulators can design markets that pay additional to maintain a fleet of backup energy crops in reserve in case of emergencies, as is commonly finished in the Mid-Atlantic.

But all of these options value money, and grid operators are sometimes cautious of forcing customers to pay additional for safeguards in the event that they don’t suppose they are going to be wanted.

“Building in resilience often comes at a cost, and there’s a risk of both underpaying but also of overpaying,” mentioned Daniel Cohan, an affiliate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University. “It’s a difficult balancing act.”

In the months forward, as Texas grid operators and policymakers examine this week’s winter storm, they could begin to ask how and whether or not the grid is likely to be bolstered to deal with extraordinarily chilly temperatures. Is there getting old infrastructure in dire want of restore? Would it make sense to build extra connections between Texas’ energy grid and different components of the nation to steadiness out electrical energy provides — a transfer the state has lengthy resisted? Should owners be inspired to put in pricey backup battery storage models or extra environment friendly warmth pumps that use much less electrical energy? Should the state’s electrical energy markets be tweaked to maintain extra energy crops in reserve?

One issue is that local weather change is making it tougher to organize. Overall, the state is getting hotter as international temperatures rise, and cold-weather extremes are, on common, changing into much less frequent over time.