Texas Blackouts Offer a Lesson for Reducing Dangerous Spikes in Energy Demand
By Steven Nadel, Executive Director
The historic winter storm across the central United States brought a fierce chill into the homes of millions of Texans who lost electric power. Extended outages played a role in many of the fatalities as some residents faced hypothermia and tried to warm themselves through makeshift means.
Observers have focused on the factors that caused so much power generation to unexpectedly shut down, including frozen natural gas pipelines and coal piles, natural gas shortages, and, to a lesser extent, iced-over wind turbines. The power generators’ reliability must doubtless be improved.
But another key factor driving the blackouts was an alarming increase in power demand, driven by greater heating needs in the unprecedented cold. In Texas, that demand blew past the grid operator’s previous winter record, and effectively required 15-20 power plants more energy than had been projected.
To help avert the next massive power outage from extreme winter weather, can we mitigate such spikes?
Almost certainly. That’s because most homes today consume far more energy than necessary to meet their heating needs. For instance, almost 20% of homes in the South-Central United States are poorly insulated, according to federal data. That means heaters need to work harder to keep homes warm. In addition, many homes rely on out-of-date, inefficient heating technologies. And these challenges are generally worse for low-income, Black, and Hispanic households, who on average pay a far larger share of their income on energy costs.
Fix these problems, and you reduce demand surges that overwhelm the grid…
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