Climate change is already fueling extreme heat, hurricanes, wildfires, and droughts. In most parts of the US, it is making rare heat waves 3 to 5 degrees F warmer, and in the future, it will continue to get hotter. The toll these climate events are imposing on the power grid is unfortunate. This will get worse as climate impacts become more prevalent. Data from the Energy Information Association shows that the average power outage for the US has been increasing due to significant weather events.
With recent utility outages, there are two reasons. 1st are the phenomena of extreme weather events. People are used to power outages caused by winter weather. But now utilities are facing a more active tropical storm season, more frequent and intense wildfires, increased flooding events, battling extreme temperatures.
From failures in electricity distribution systems, more than 90% of power outages result. The major blackouts in Texas in February 2021 and California in August 2020, and in June 2021, close calls in both of those states showed that climate impacts are significant in the power grid’s ability to maintain supply adequacy. In California, the blackouts in 2020 were due to was poor planning and climate change.
Blackouts in Texas in February 2021 were due to the failure of gas infrastructure and power plants that were not adequately weatherized. Throughout the West, the power grids passed their 1st extensive tests during the summer season of 2021. For most of June, recording-breaking heat was seen in the western US. These events indicate how climate impacts are taxing the grid in new ways.
The coming months would be challenging because California and the Pacific Northwest are more hydropower reliant than any other state. This year mega-drought will decrease the output of the dams and will reduce surplus hydro exports from the Northwest. NERC issued their 2021 Summer Reliability Report stating that many regions in the country are facing increased risks of energy emergencies. Any threats of rolling blackouts are an absolute last resort measure.
The electricity grid has relied on legacy generators (coal power plants, gas). These technologies are not meant for failure. There are various examples. The June 2021 heatwave California’s grid survived despite the breakdown of many old clunker gas-fired plants. The Texas blackouts in February 2021 were due to plant outages that far exceeded the local grid operator’s expectations.
Grid resilience can be boosted by integrating more renewable energy. And clean resources are already delivered to help enhance reliability. Supply on the California grid benefits from the new solar battery storage and successful demand response resources. In February 2021, solar was the only generation source to overperform its expected output during the Texas blackouts. Intense heatwaves and wildfires in California have led to an increase in solar energy.
By the end of 2021, the number of households with solar panels and battery storage is expected to double throughout the nation. Now homeowners are taking control of their power. During extreme weather events, power outages amplify and expose existing inequities so ingrained that they are built into the electric grid systems.