Extreme weather is increasing due to global warming. Counterintuitively, the latest example is the extreme cold weather brutalizing Texas. Climate research points to the Arctic’s now warmer and more moist air weakening the jet stream that typically keeps Arctic air from heading southward. A now weakened jet stream, especially in La Niña years like this one, allows cold Arctic air to drop as far south as Texas.
What this means to your business is that global warming’s impacts on electricity grids are a measurable and recurring cost. Examples include a longer and more intense western U.S. fire season, more intense hurricanes slamming into the Atlantic and Gulf Coast states and more intense thunderstorm/tornado weather. The bottom line result is that your business goes dark and your customers stop buying.
Extreme Weather Impacts All Energy Sources
Extreme cold in Texas is impacting all electricity energy sources. Yet, the initial hype coming out of Texas pointed the finger at renewable energy as the cause of the power outages. That is wrong. On February 15 when the Texas grid began rotating blackouts it had 34 gigawatts of power offline. About 4 gigawatts was tied to wind turbines going down. The rest was tied to coal and natural gas (methane) fired power plants.
The key facts for Texas are that coal piles freeze when it is that cold. And natural gas lines feeding into the state’s gas fired power plants are constricted and/or lose pressure when demand so grossly exceeds supply/delivery capacity. And in terms of wind power, Iowa and Denmark experience extreme cold weather and they successfully operate their grids with a larger share of wind power than Texas. A key reason is that they weatherize their wind turbines for cold weather with antifreeze and heating elements.
Nuclear is not immune to cold weather either. It requires a lot of water to run and cool its operating systems. Extreme cold weather freezes its water supply system and curtails operations.
The reason Texas is dark is because the state did not engineer for extreme weather. Their strong bias for overvaluing least costs per kW and kWh has been at the expense of system reliability that now confronts the reality that climate change is real and is creating more, and more intense, extreme weather events.
Texas Is an Electricity Island by Political Choice
There is another reasons Texas lost power. It is an electricity island not connected to the U.S. grid. Unlike the other 47 continental U.S. states, Texas could not import electricity across state lines to supplement its own grid supplies.
State’s rights politics is the reason why Texas is an electricity grid island. Texas politics, unlike those of any other state, valued not being under the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency’s regulation of wholesale power transactions between electricity suppliers and buyers as being more valuable than having the reliability of being part of the national grid.
Clean, Smart Microgrid Solutions
Think about your computer if it lost WiFi service. You could still operate the computer. You just couldn’t send and receive messages.
Electricity microgrids offer a similar value for businesses. For example, a building with rooftop solar panels connected to a battery system can still operate when the grid goes down. Even if snow is on a solar panel it can be removed fairly easily. This allows a solar system to produce electricity even on a cloudy day.
Utilities are the number one reason why more buildings do not have solar panels and batteries. Utilities view microgrids as a revenue threat. Self-generation removes electrons they could sell. This bias influences utilities to undervalue microgrids to their state regulatory commissions by assigning their grid’s lowest incremental prices for microgrid electricity production. They also use rate design to minimize the ability of solar panels to lower electric bills. During extreme weather events that are now more frequent due to climate change, this undervaluation becomes painfully evident.
You Can’t Beat Utilities but You Can Act
Fighting a utility is like fighting city hall. Going to your state regulatory commission unfortunately delivers low value returns because their decision-making process requires expensive studies and costly hearings that only a utility can afford.
But there are two things your business can do to address climate change risks and costs.
The first is to begin investing in, or at least investigating, solar, batteries and smart technologies for your buildings. Look at such investments from the perspective of how businesses began buying PCs in the late 1970s. The economics were marginal but opened the door to disruptive technologies that today no business can operate without.
Also consider how to engage your local and state leaders on climate change. Climate change is no longer a disputed question. It is now a business cost measured by how much you pay for electricity and whether the lights are on for your business and your customers.