Texas' Icy Disaster Makes the Case for Uniting the U.S. Grid
Stupidly, the national grid is split into sections that cannot share much power
You could point fingers in several directions for the outages that stemmed from last week’s polar vortex obliteration of the Texas power grid. You can’t rightly blame Earth for doing what it does, but you could certainly condemn the state’s deregulation of its energy system. Texas also remains heavily reliant on fossil fuels, and the power plants that run on them failed en masse. So, you might blame those operators, but you can’t blame renewables for this one.
But you’re not likely to see people point the finger at the obscure yet fascinating eccentricities of the fragmented United States energy grid. And you’re even less likely to hear that what happened in Texas could help spur the country into better preparing its grid for the ascent of renewables—and the nation’s descent into the ravages of climate change.
In the future, the central challenge for the U.S. will be obtaining power that is both clean and “firm,” in the parlance of energy nerds. “The real failing of Texas was the reliance upon the natural gas backbone as the firm power source, which of course wasn't so firm, as they later learned,” said David Victor, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego. He’s a coauthor on a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report coincidentally released today called The Future of Electric Power in the United States. “If you want to decarbonize the grid and keep power reliable, you've got to have a clean, firm power source,” he added. “That's the central goal.”
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