As the death toll of the so-called Texas heatwave — officially — climbed to 14 on Thursday, renewable energy generation has so far kept lights on, air conditioners running, and electricity prices relatively low in Texas. “[Wind and solar] are really cranking,” Joshua Rhodes, a research scientist at the University of Texas, told Heatmap. The brutal heat, made worse and more likely by climate change, caused 8 megawatts of methane gas- and coal-fired power generation to fail, the state’s grid operator said.
Even so, “wind and solar are giving us a big enough buffer that even when we have a handful of power plants go offline, it isn’t causing disruptions,” Dan Cohan, a Rice University professor of civil and environmental engineering, told the Washington Post. The extreme heat, which is blanketing a large swath of the South as well as Mexico, subjected more than 60 million people in the U.S. to extreme heat on Thursday.
Sources: (Texas deaths: AP, The Guardian); Renewables: Heatmap $, Washington Post $, PBS, Gizmodo; Broader heatwave: AP, Washington Post $, Inside Climate News, The Hill, Axios, Washington Post $; Calls for worker protections: The Hill; Climate Signals background: Extreme heat and heatwaves)
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More than 40 million people across the Southern U.S. were under a heat alert over the weekend and wind and solar energy have kept the lights on — and the air conditioners running — so far. “For the first time, the peak demand for power this summer will exceed the amount we can generate from dispatchable power, and we will be relying on renewables to keep the lights on,” Peter Lake, chairman of the Public Utility Commission, told regulators in May. The record heat — that’s forecast to worsen this week — is so intense, and deadly, that meteorologists are apologizing, while climate change, mainly caused by the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, made the extreme heatwave 5°F hotter, Michael Wehner, a senior climate scientist with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory told Inside Climate News, and five times more likely to occur, according to an analysis by Climate Central.
“This kind of heat dome and long-lasting extreme heat conditions are not anything we have seen before in Texas, and yet they are happening more and more often,” Texas-based energy consultant Alison Silverstein told E&E. “Climate change isn’t messing around.”
Renewables Boost Texas Grid
Texas refuses to integrate its electrical grid with the rest of the country, meaning that it cannot import more power to cope with soaring demand. That’s especially problematic in light of a report released last week on the growing body of evidence that coal and gas-fired power plants are increasingly vulnerable to — and thus more likely to fail during — extreme temperatures. Fortunately, the state doubled the solar energy generated since last year and will double it again by next year, as wind and solar make up 38% of Texas’s electricity generated this year. Unfortunately, Texas Governor Abbot recently signed a law revoking water breaks for outdoor workers who are already dying from the extreme heat.
(Heatwave: Inside Climate News, USA Today, The Guardian, NPR, New York Times $, Washington Post $, Fox Weather, Axios, The Hill; Apologies: Washington Post $; Solar: E&E $, New York Times $; Climate stress on power grids: New York Times $, Washington Post $, Reuters; Fossil failures: Politico Pro $, Utility Dive; Abbot: Guardian; Climate Signals background: Extreme heat and heatwaves)
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