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What the Texas power outages reveal about the US energy grid

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Posted at 10:05 AM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-18 10:05:20-05

While temperatures are warming up, millions of Texans still continue without power today.

Now, some lawmakers and people on social media are blaming renewable energy for not being able to keep up with demand.

The truth of the matter is, only about one-quarter of Texas' power comes from wind and solar, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

And right now, the agency that manages the state's power, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, is actually getting just a bit more power from windmills than they planned.

The problem boils down to the supply and demand of the state.

ERCOT controls the state's power grid. Before the storm, there was some anticipation that turbines could freeze, but it didn't anticipate needing so much power from traditional sources.

“What they didn't know was that the coal and natural gas and nuclear power plants were going to have these types of difficulties in the cold and that's where the problem comes from,” said Robert Kaufman, an earth and environment professor at Boston University.

This is what's causing blackouts throughout the state, but the problem isn't exclusive to ERCOT or Texas.

California has also had blackouts when summer heat waves reached extreme temperatures and buckled the system. It has also shut off power during times of high winds as a way to prevent wildfires.

Experts say this is common, but the way it is handled can affect customers.

“These things happen and the frequency with which they happen determine, in part, how much backup you've got, how much insurance you're paying, if you've got no backup. This is going to happen a lot each time you get some bad weather,” said Kaufman.

In order for an energy grid to be efficient and dependable, customers need to pay for reliability, which means supplying additional power before it's needed.

Experts say it's up to energy suppliers to come up with ways to increase the efficiency of the grid and that may include incorporating renewable energy.