Californians urged to conserve energy to fight Texas storm blackouts

Still, because of Texas’s unique energy system, most of the state isn’t connected to grids in the rest of the country

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Thursday 18 February 2021 20:51 GMT
Snow storm continues to wreck havoc in US

A grid operator is urging Californians to conserve energy as a way to help those facing blackouts in Texas and other states hit hard by winter storms over the last week.

“It’s a good time to help others in the central US facing #severeweather conditions,” grid operator California ISO announced on Wednesday on Twitter. “Some areas of #Texas are interconnected to other grids, so conserving energy in California frees up supplies that could potentially be exported to regions battered by #winterstorms.”

It also added that conserving energy could free natural gas supplies which could go to states that are currently tapped out.

#EnergyConservation can also ease demand for natural gas that can be used in other states in the Midwest and Southeast for heating and #powergeneration,” the operators added. “ When it comes to #poweroutages, every bit helps.”

At least 36 have died as winter storms swept across the country this week, and perhaps nowhere has faced bigger problems with its energy grid than Texas.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s main grid operator, urged rotating blackouts across the state throughout the week to stave off even bigger uncontrolled outages, leaving millions without power across Texas. As restoration efforts continue, about 500,000 still lack electricity, and the power problems have also caused difficulties with maintaining the state’s clean water supply, leaving millions warned to boil water from the tap, if it even reaches them through frozen and burst pipes. 

Energy experts say Texas’s energy grid was in a uniquely bad setup to handle a crisis like this. It’s built to handle extreme Texas weather like hurricanes and high heat, but not winterized for below-freezing temperatures that rained down on the Lone Star State for days. What’s more, it’s almost entirely unconnected to power grids from other states as a means to avoid federal regulation—but that leaves it unable to borrow power from outside the state in most places. 

Finally, despite false suggestions from Texas governor Greg Abbott that relying on renewable energy left the state without enough power supply, it was in fact the state’s reliance on fossil fuels for both heating and electricity that left it overburdened amid surging demand for both during the storms.

“I think this is one of the major problems that we’re seeing across the United States, with a couple of examples over the last year, where particularly due to a lot of changes due to climate change and other big changes that we’re seeing, grids are experiencing more extreme conditions than they’re designed for,” Emily Grubert, an infrastructure expert at Georgia Tech, told NPR.

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