What the Texas Energy Crisis can teach us about the future

Monday, February 15 2021 – Due to extreme winter conditions, nearly 3 million Texas residents – and a North Texas Man living in his car to stay warm – awoke Monday morning to news from Oncor that power outages across the state would be much more severe than expected:

While the utilities are unable to meet the public demand for power, utility and State officials in Texas and neighboring states have urged residents and businesses with access to power to limit their electrical usage. Locals have been recommended to turn down thermostats, forego electrical lighting and avoid using large appliances during certain hours of the day in order to avoid unexpectedly high power bills.

Utility companies have warned that wholesale gas market prices are expected to spike 10 to 100 times higher than normal, according to KCTV.

Frustrated locals with internet access took to Twitter, taking to task the power providers for their lack of preparedness and communication as many have been without power (and heat) for over 8 hours:

Blackouts are a major concerns for many Texas residents, but, for some, the situation is dire.  Ann Towns, who relies on a CPAP machine to help her breathe, has been without power since early Monday morning. After repeated attempts to contact their utility, Ann and her daughter, Tricia, have been left without answers.    (CNN)

Each year, severe outages become increasingly widespread across the US. Modern technology and lifestyle has increased the demand for electricity, but the overburdened power grid has struggled to keep up. With a repair backlog estimated to be over $3 trillion, many experts fear that the grid’s power problems will only get worse.

Update: Tuesday, February 16 2021 –

For many Texans, a new day has only brought more ice, more cold and no relief as the number of locals affected by power outages has risen to over 4 million according to PowerOutages.us

What has experts most concerned, though, is the instability occurring across the country as winter storms cause major outages in at least eighteen states. Over 200,000 in Oregon are without power, and Oklahoma, Louisiana, Kentucky and West Virginia combine for over 560,000 blackouts.

In Portland, Oregon, damage to power lines is being blamed for the majority of outages as utility crews struggle to reconnect miles of downed and damaged wires.

“We’re not offering estimated repair times for individual outages because there’s just too much,” (Steve Corson, a spokesperson for Portland General Electric) told KGW8. “The magnitude of the damage is so tremendous.”

The issue of trees near lines is a concern with all kinds of weather: winter storms, wildfires and heavy winds alone. Per industry standards mandated by the state, utility companies trim branches back from power lines year-round, zeroing in on each tree, every two to three years. The process, Corson said, is called “vegetation management.” That said, PGE monitors an estimated 2 million trees along 12,000 miles of power lines.

More than 4,900 PGE power lines have been brought down by ice and tree limbs. Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) said crews were sent to 366 calls from Sunday through Monday involving downed power lines.

A Louisiana resident tweeted out shocking footage of a fireball traveling along their power lines:

Power lines are often used to highlight the fragility of the electric grid, as each wire is a potential point of failure that could cause an outage for thousands of customers if damaged. Many energy experts believe that distributed generation and microgrids, which have already been adopted by leading organizations such as Apple and Mississippi State University, could be the solution to weakening grid infrastructure. As these technologies become more accessible at the consumer level, home owners and businesses will have the option to switch from utility power completely.

“What’s truly remarkable is that these issues have been kept in the dark for so long. The electric grid is over a hundred and fifty years old and was never designed to accommodate this kind of demand, especially over such vast distances. It’s unstable, and only getting worse,” said BlueSky Power CEO Ben Parvey. “Which is why our team of innovators has shifted its focus to alternative solutions for residents and businesses – to a world without wires.”

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