Those still doubting renewable energy capacity compared to fossil fuels quickly blame the “clean energy” movement when power grids fail.
But recent grid failures are often due to extreme temperatures and events.
For example, the Texas blackouts in 2021, the biggest in the U.S., resulted from natural gas-fired power plants collapsing due to freezing temperatures. This blackout left millions of Texans without power for nearly a week amid the cold.
Although some policymakers blame the blackouts on the frozen wind turbines, which is not the case, the same renewable energy bailed out the state from failure during the heatwave the following year.
The sweltering heat has caused Texans to turn on their air conditioning units, causing energy demands to soar to a record 75 gigawatts on one particular Sunday.
Thanks to the strong performance of renewables like wind and solar, experts believe they provide for the state’s additional power demands.
Despite the spike in power demands, the grid held remarkably as opposed to what happened to the previous year’s winter season.
According to Vox’s article, “The real reason a heat wave is pushing California’s power grid to its limits,” climate deniers like to highlight the weakness of renewables – that it is not always available, unlike fossil fuels, plus electric vehicles use a lot of energy to charge. These are both true.
Mark Dyson, managing director of the Carbon-Free Electricity Program at RMI, a clean energy think tank, pointed out that neither of these two concerns is true because, while the EV market is growing in the state, they are still “largely in the noise” of California’s energy use, plus EV’s software allows them to charge them during off-peak hours. Additionally, California’s energy mix is still dominated by fossil fuels.
The state of California seeks to accelerate its EV sales growth, aiming to have 100% zero-emission vehicles sale by 2035.
But whatever the source of energy is, whether fossil fuel or renewables, past and recent experiences showed that the power grid is unprepared for climate change impacts, specifically extreme heat, the Vox article mentions.
Below are a few more explanations from “The real reason a heat wave is pushing California’s power grid to its limits.”
Eric Fournier, research director at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, explains that heat affects the power grid in two ways.
First, more people turn on their air conditioners and run them for longer on hot days, which means electricity demand is higher. As the temperature rises, those air conditioners have to work harder to cool the air, drawing more power and straining the grid even more. Second, heat physically impacts the grid’s infrastructure, making wires less efficient at moving electricity and pushing transformers and thermal power plants to their temperature limits.
Dyson notes that the grid and reliability requirements were designed for the 20th century. The fossil fuel power grid is also aging, which can make them highly susceptible to the intensifying impacts of climate change.
“We’re at an extremely sensitive, and I would say potentially dangerous, transition point,” said Fournier. “If renewables are painted as the problem, we may miss the window to prevent ourselves from getting into a really desperate, dangerous level of climate change. We have a short window right now. If we panic, it’s going to get really ugly.”
The transition to renewables may be daunting and could as well intermittent blackouts. But continuous burning of fossil fuels will only bring more extreme events with catastrophic impacts.
It leaves us no choice but to choose zero-emissions energy sources to mitigate climate change impacts and make infrastructure more resilient to the growing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and temperatures.