Power transmission towers in Pasadena, California. Over the past two decades, power outages due to extreme weather conditions have increased dramatically. John Antczak / AP Hide caption
John Antczak / AP
John Antczak / AP
The Texas blackout is another reminder that more frequent, climate-related extreme weather puts a strain on the country’s power grid. It came just a few months later Outages in California aimed to prevent forest fires.
On top of that, electricity is likely to be even more important in the years to come as cars and homes need to be electrified to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many grid experts say it is time to improve the country’s electricity infrastructure.
This includes cables, power plants, large transmission towers, and local utilities – anything that gets you powered. And much of that infrastructure was designed for another time.
“We planned this network for the weather in Ozzie and Harriet and are now facing Mad Max,” says the energy consultant Alison Silverstein.
The pop culture references are their way of saying the grille was designed for technology and weather that existed in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Now, she says, it has to be updated for a future that includes climate change.
“Everyone always designed these systems in the rearview mirror,” says Silverstein.
We planned this grid for ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ weather and we are now facing ‘Mad Max’.
That made sense back then. Planners would identify the worst case weather scenario from the past and make sure they can handle it in the future. But climate change provides weather that has never been experienced before.
According to NOAA, the number of weather disasters with losses of over a billion dollars is increasing National Centers for Environmental Information. And the group Climate Central says that since 2000, power outages due to weather and climate events have increased 67 percent.
Each region has its own weak points. Take, for example, the Pacific Northwest and its massive dams.
“We don’t just have to worry about the cold weather events like you saw in Texas and the hot weather events like California,” said Ben Kujala, director of energy planning Northwest Power and Conservation Council. The group recently changed the planning models to also better prepare for how climate change changes as water flows through the dams.
Warming temperatures make the snowpack likely to melt earlier in the year in the mountains, he says. Instead of a lot of water flowing into the reservoirs in spring, this is more the case in winter.
“And it could be that by the summer you have pretty much survived the entire snow cover – you have melted everything,” says Kujala. As a result, less water remains through the power generation dams, as well as more people cranking up their air conditioning systems.
Grid experts also generally agree that the country needs to build more transmission lines to get electricity from where it’s produced to where it’s needed. This allows cleaner energy sources like wind turbines, solar projects and batteries to be added to store energy. This will be key to achieving the Biden management target of zero carbon emissions from the electricity sector by 2035.
“In the world of building broadcasting, it really isn’t that far away if you think you need a good ten years lead time to get there,” says Larry Gasteiger, managing director CABLES, a trade group advocating more high-voltage transmission lines.
He says that all of this new transmission infrastructure comes at a high price. “”Our study Up to $ 90 billion is to be invested by 2030, and perhaps even $ 600 billion by 2050. ”
Gasteiger suspects that the Texas blackout will encourage policymakers to address this issue soon. Liz Sherwood-Randall, White House homeland security adviser said last week that the failures in Texas show how unprepared the country is for climate change.
As expensive as upgrading the country’s electricity grid is, the Texas experience shows that there is also a cost in not preparing for more extreme weather conditions, both in dollars and in life.