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Renewable energy tries to fill a gap as record-breaking heat causes concern for power outages

Posted at 3:40 PM, Aug 03, 2022

The power grid is being tested by record-breaking heat this summer. Mark Dyson is a managing director at Rocky Mountain Institute. The nonprofit works across the global energy industry.

"We're seeing that coal and gas fired power plants are tripping offline either in extreme heat or extreme cold over the past couple of years, and that they also depend on fuel infrastructure, gas pipelines, coal trains that are themselves very vulnerable to extreme weather," Dyson said.

While he says coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants are decades old, renewable energy is stepping up to the plate.

"For example, in Texas, we saw an early season heat wave in June where wind and solar at times produced almost 40% of the electricity in the state," Dyson said. He said it happened "During those hot afternoons when people were running their air conditioners the hardest."

According to a grid reliability report from North American Electric Reliability Corporationthe Midwest is the most at risk for power outages this summer – especially in states like Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Missouri. The western U.S. is also under threat.

John Moura with NERC says decarbonization efforts are important, but there are times when the sun is not shining and the wind not blowing.

"So far, the grid is bending," Moura said. "It's acting the way it's designed. It hasn't broken."

Moura says he's afraid we're trying to let go of coal and natural gas too soon.

"We really need to make sure we have a diverse fleet of different types of fuel sources, greatest resilience and making sure we're not retiring our generation prematurely," Moura said.

However, Dyson says he's very hopeful as the renewable energy infrastructure grows that wind and solar can prevent power outages in the future.

"We know from some of the most detailed technical modeling available that we can easily get to 90% carbon free electricity across the country by the middle of the next decade, by 2035, and even 100%, with anticipated innovation in technologies like hydrogen and long duration storage that can smooth out the remaining variability and help balance wind and solar to arrive at a 100% carbon free electricity system," Dyson said.

Dyson says investing in solar panels for your home or community would be worth it if you're concerned about blackouts.

"Solar panels on homes and businesses actually reduce the likelihood of an outage because they reduce the strain on the rest of the grid," Dyson said. "And then if there is an outage, a home or a business with both a solar system and a battery system is able to disconnect from the grid and power most of their home or sometimes all of their home or business on that stored solar energy."

Dyson says solar panels are already much more affordable for the average household since the boom of the renewable energy sector. He says the cost will lower even more if the U.S. follows after other countries.

"Solar systems in Germany and Australia cost a fraction of what they do here in the United States and it's because of standardization and the elimination of some of the bureaucracy that we have in this country," Dyson said.

Moura says we may be more reliant on electricity than we ever have been, but he says Americans can rest easy knowing that our grid is one of the most reliable in the world.