Article by:
Austin Young
June 16, 2021
Back to all articles

Could Texas have escaped the power outages with Solar and Battery backup?

February saw Texas reeling under the effects of Storm Uri which knocked the city out of power. However, this pointed the discussions towards how the state can be prepared for such a scenario in the future. A large part of it was chatter around the role of solar and battery storage as a part of these preparations.

What happened in Texas?

A cold snap had almost brought Texas, a state that is one of the largest producers of power, to its knees. The Texan population experienced multiple outages over a week as a result of natural gas pipes and power generators getting frozen. This meant that there were millions of residents who bore the brunt of the harsh weather in their unlit and unheated homes.

The circumstances led to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas(ERCOT) having to execute rolling blackouts to keep the grid from failing.

A winter storm on one of the weekends in February led to temperatures dropping which ended up in over 70 power plants going offline and many others struggling to function. Almost half of Texas’ power is generated from natural gas and there are about 680 power plants in the entire state.

However, this was not the first time that the state faced such an issue. The residents faced rolling blackouts in 2011 and 1989 due to freezing weather conditions.

The entire event resulted in a lot of misinformation being spread across social media. Blaming alternative energy sources for the blackouts, was one such rumor.

Here are some of the things you need to know about the outages:

·        A community of people who did not believe in climate change was happy to pin the blame on frozen wind turbines. However, the truth is that most of the energy supply mediums were affected and that these frozen turbines were a very small part of the whole scenario.

·        The main reason for the outage was the frozen pipes and diesel engines that were knocked out due to low temperatures. A sizable number of power plants in the state are run on natural gas which is stored underground. Frozen pipes and pumps that did not work meant that natural gas could not be transported up from the grounds.

·        Experts also pointed out the fact that the state has a separate power grid from the other US grids. Since, the other grids were already experiencing a demand surge, drawing power from its neighboring territories did not seem viable.

·        Several electric power generators were under maintenance as it usually is during the winter months. This added pressure on the available power sources.

Should Texans and the rest of America expect more such outages due to climate change?

Climate change is a looming issue that threatens the proper functioning of electric grids in America. The threat to these grids is not just limited to low temperatures but also includes extremely high temperatures. The growing frequency of extreme weather is a cause of concern for the electric grid. Apart from extreme temperatures, climate change has also increased the occurrences of weather-related disasters. As the frequency of such disasters and events increases, it has become imperative for states to ensure that the infrastructure is fully capable of handling such occurrences.

This has called for the need for a more resilient grid which would be a result of various culminating factors. This includes alternative sources of energy, reliable storage mechanisms, and weatherization of the existing infrastructure. Conducive regulations for these factors also play an important role in ensuring resilience.

Will solar and batteries help in avoiding such outages?

Texan households with solar and battery backup were able to stay warm and had power when the outages happened. This is one of the biggest testimonials to the fact that these alternative sources of power and energy storage need to be explored at least at the household level if not beyond that.

These facilities are no more utility options that are not feasible. Small-scale solar projects are slowly becoming popular as the demand for energy and the cost of traditional energy sources rises. With innovations like virtual grids like the one offered by Ivy Energy, even tenants in multi-family settings can enjoy energy savings. This will help to reduce the demand pressure for natural gas and other conventional power sources.

One of the early challenges of adopting solar was not understanding how to store the generated solar energy. The same held true for wind energy. As sustainable tech advanced, the amount of energy that could be stored on batteries also got better and these products also got cheaper by a large margin over the years.

Solar and batteries are a reliable solution that residents in Texas and other parts of America can adopt to safeguard themselves against such power-related problems. California already saw a spike in the number of homes adopting solar and battery storage solutions over the last decade.

In a scenario wherein a grid fails, a smaller network of shared solar can be a relief. It is important to understand that the idea is to ensure that power generation should be a mix of both conventional and natural resources like solar. These sources need to be complementing each other, rather than be pitted against each other. In the current scenario, none of the technologies in this space are developed fully enough for states or countries to rely only on only one of these sources completely.

Battery storage solutions at a large scale can also be a lifesaver in the event of conventional sources failing to work, as was the case of Texas earlier this year. Since 2020, Texas has seen a surge in energy storage brands investing in the state.  At a larger scale, energy storage operators hold the potential to establish themselves as independent energy producers.

This calls for proper regulations and planning especially when it comes to pricing. Large-scale storage solutions create a fluctuating pricing strategy based on the demand. This would mean exorbitant pricing when the demand goes up, especially in scenarios like outages.

Here are some of the biggest advantages of incorporating solar and battery storage into one’s lifestyle:

·        Cheaper energy costs in the long run. While batteries for individual use or even solar hardware may be too expensive for some, the benefits these technologies have to offer in the long run financially cannot be overlooked.

·        Heightened energy security, so in case you are hit with an outage, you always have solar to fall back on.

·        Helps in reducing one’s carbon footprint. Solar energy yields a notable amount of energy and generates no pollution or waste in the process.

As more and more people rely on battery storage solutions for powering their homes and even vehicles, it is evident that the use is becoming more distributed. Combining the benefits of solar power and battery storage is a huge plus and can be a safety net to fall back on. This is especially important for regions that are facing the wrath of climatic changes and are facing consequences like power outages that are possibly bringing their lives to a halt.