Extreme events fuelled by climate change are becoming a massive threat to infrastructure, including power grids.
The Texas deep freeze in February 2021, considered a rare phenomenon in the state where Texans are used to the mild winters, has led to a major power crisis.
State officials initially blamed the outage on failing renewable energy. Still, data showed that the state’s failure to winterize power sources like wind turbines and natural gas infrastructure has caused the grid to fail.
The cost of damages of power outages to homes and businesses, foregone economic activity, contaminated water supplies, and the loss of at least 111 lives are estimated to be between $80 billion–$130 billion in direct and indirect financial loss.
Energy and policy experts blamed the crisis on the legislators, and state agencies, who they say did not heed the warnings of previous storms or the warmings of climate scientists of more extreme events but have prioritized the free market.
Instead of preparing the grid for the harsh weather – requiring equipment upgrades to withstand extreme winter temperatures better, they left it to the power companies to do so, and many of them have opted against the costly upgrades.
Texas power grid failure exemplified the vulnerability of infrastructure to extreme weather when there is a lack of preparation to climate-proof them. What happened in Texas could also occur in other countries.
The article, ‘The energy tragedy was avoidable,’ lists the government decision deemed “short-sighted” about their energy infrastructure, making them vulnerable to climate change effects and other disasters.
- Germany steadily increased its reliance on Russian gas while reducing alternative energy sources such as nuclear power — even after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014.
- Britain closed its last central gas storage facility in 2017, leaving it no cushion against the volatile prices caused by Germany’s decisions.
- Texas built a market-based system that gave private operators no incentive to build resilience to rare events like the winter storms of 2021.
- California’s grid is overburdened by the kind of heat wave that will only become more common. It was saved from blackouts only by a desperate emergency text alert.
- China invested massively in hydropower without diversifying sufficiently into alternative energy sources that wouldn’t dry up in the event of a drought.
- India needed $1.5 trillion of energy investment between 2015 and 2040, per an International Energy Agency report in 2014; eight years later, it has yet to get started on that kind of expansion.
The article notes that the world needs to wean the power grid from fossil fuel sources and invest more in renewables as the earth heats up.
The cost of upgrading the U.S. power grid is estimated at $2.4 trillion by 2050, according to an estimate from a Princeton report.
The global cost of reaching a net-zero economy by 2050 is around $5 trillion per year between today and 2030.
But boosting renewable energy is not necessarily easy to do and prone to opposition from individuals who dislike high voltage powerlines in their backyard or windmills destroying their views, so politicians hesitate to push these changes.
The article claimed that investing in renewables a decade ago was cheap; governments should have taken advantage of that and could have prevented today’s energy crisis.