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Renewable Energy Is Essential to Avoiding Winter Power Outages

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Jane Marsh's picture
Editor, Environment.co

Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co. She covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, renewable energy and more.

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  • Jan 23, 2023
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Energy suppliers are looking for solutions as the U.S. struggles with more severe weather and the resulting power outages across impacted areas. Traditional sources are struggling to keep up with demand and reliability during unpredictable freezes and other events, resulting in greater risks to customers — sometimes even death.

That’s where renewable power comes into play. Sources like wind, water and solar can solve the country’s current energy crisis, keeping consumers across the U.S. fully powered and safe despite weather challenges.

An Increase in Outages Across the Country

The U.S. has experienced climate changes along with the rest of the globe in recent decades. This has led to an increase in unpredictable and severe weather, such as hurricanes, wildfires and winter storms in vulnerable areas.

Freezing temperatures and cold snaps in regions that aren’t used to severe winter weather have disastrous consequences. For example, a Texas storm in February 2021 claimed over 200 lives. That month's succession of freezing storms caused a major power crisis and widespread outages, leaving millions without electricity. Residents across the state suffered without the proper energy or emergency equipment to deal with the situation.

These storms and other weather events expose vulnerabilities in traditional energy sources, like fossil fuels.

The Challenges of Nonrenewable Energy

The Texas grid failed because the state had not properly winterized power sources and infrastructure. As natural gas facilities and power plants froze, the blackouts had a domino effect resulting in the state's energy, heat, water and food shortages. Many Texas homes are not built for extreme cold, and the lack of power led to hypothermia, fires, carbon monoxide poisoning and other deadly accidents.

 

All across the country, other energy grids and suppliers face the same challenges. Aging infrastructure cannot keep up with demand, especially as the weather becomes more severe and puts greater pressure on the grid.

The U.S. spends billions of dollars annually on severe weather-related outages, including those caused by winter storms, wildfires out west and hurricanes on the coasts. That number is expected to rise — unless the grid switches to renewable energy sources.

Why Is Renewable Energy the Solution?

Renewable energy can ensure the U.S. avoids deadly power outages and other crises in the future. It already makes up about one-fifth of the country’s electricity. There are several advantages to switching from fossil fuels to wind, water and solar power.

A recent Stanford University study found that switching to 100% renewable power would help lower energy requirements and avoid blackouts, two of the major challenges facing nonrenewable sources. Energy-efficient buildings that rely on green sources are less likely to experience power outages that can seriously threaten health and safety.

Switching to renewable energy would also create millions of jobs and reduce consumer energy costs. Building grids based on wind and solar power or modifying the existing grid will employ up to 1.5 million people in various energy sectors. Renewable energy is also the cheapest power source, meaning the savings will be passed onto customers in the form of smaller monthly bills.

Just keeping the power on can improve resident health and safety, too. For example, in Texas, staying cool in the summer and warm in the winter as the weather gets more extreme can be life or death — which requires heating and air conditioning systems residents can rely on. Clean power also has a positive impact on the environment. Solar, wind and hydropower put out less pollution than fossil fuels like coal.

Future Energy Challenges

Swapping to renewable energy won’t happen overnight. It will require a serious commitment from federal, state and local governments to ensure everyone has access to clean energy from new-and-improved grids. Power suppliers must think and operate creatively to take the U.S. from 10% to 100% renewable energy.

However, the benefits are clear. Embracing renewable energy is the only way to effectively deal with the current climate crisis, in which a reliance on fossil fuels has left millions without power in freezing temperatures and other severe weather.

Discussions
John Simonelli's picture
John Simonelli on Jan 26, 2023

While a lot of this makes sense in certain areas of the country, there are other areas where renewables may not help. A classic is in the northeast, a traditional Nor'Easter will bring gale force winds, copious amounts of snow, and maybe even some freezing rain for good measure. Solar panel will be covered in snow and ice, and wind turbines in many cases come offline due to exceeding their max speed limit or icing on the blades. At that point in time they're not providing much value.

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Jan 26, 2023

Fortunately (hopefully) the Northeast will come to its senses and develop the infrastructure to take advantage of the vast renewable hydro and (storm conditions tolerant) offshore wind resources available. They will realize that it is not in their interest to depend on the extortionate and unreliable prices and conditions offered by gas and nuclear. 
 

Though they have had setbacks, it now appears to be on track. But, there are always obstacles to navigate.

Jane Marsh's picture
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