According to experts, the extensive power disaster that is happening in Texas did not have to happen and does not need to happen again. Hence, to prevent future power outages, authorities can begin to look for solutions.
The state’s grid needs to brace for further blows from severe weather, to begin with, and the authority needs to upgrade other structures as well. Improving houses and buildings is an easy way of keeping people safe during catastrophic weather, such as the cold snap this week. Emergency response efforts, too, require an upgrade.
As reported by The Verge, Michael Bates, general manager of Energy at Intel, lives in Austin with his mother and had no electricity for three days. He believes should the same thing happen again, with the technology we have today, the damage would be much less if we deploy them properly.
At Intel, Bates works to build smart grid technologies that can find out where energy is lost so that electricity can be deployed in a crisis where it is needed. For example, there was an uproar over empty brightly lit skyscrapers that loomed over downtown Houston on Monday night, while imminent outages faced more than 1.3 million people across the city. Utilities said that blackouts were prevented in specific neighbourhoods because they were near hospitals or other vital infrastructure required to sustain electricity.
Bates said with a smart grid, uneven distribution of power failures would not be a problem.
“In laser, scalpel-like precision, you can turn the building lights off or down … and avoid having to do the rolling blackouts by being able to connect in real-time to those assets,” said Bates.
The grid upgrade allows it to tap electricity from allocated sources such as residential solar panels or even electric vehicles. Renewable energy sources will provide consistency on par or even better than the system they have now that depends on fossil fuels when linked to batteries and smart grids.
“The industry might see it as it’s highly disruptive, but the solutions and the technology are not that complicated. They exist today, it’s just how do we apply them to this problem?” added Bates.
Instead of introducing new technology, some fixes depend on rethinking Texas’ energy and infrastructure policies. The state’s energy infrastructure should also do more to weather its cold system, which was recommended in 2011 and 1989 after similar cold-induced blackouts. Even though officials knew they were vulnerable to cold weather, frozen gas wells and pipes were a primary culprit behind current outages.
When it comes to its energy infrastructure, the Lone Star State even lives up to its moniker. The grids of other states are interconnected, so one state can draw on power from another state when required. For the majority in Texas, that is not the case.
Joshua Rhodes, a research associate at The University of Texas at Austin, was quoted saying some parts of the grid on the East or West Coast have excess power that they could sell to Texas. Even so, they do not have the mean of getting it.
Rhodes thought that it would be better for Texas’ grid to be interconnected with other parts of the U.S. He added whatever the plan is, it needs to happen now.
Meanwhile, disaster management plans can shift a lot faster and achieve some of the same goals as efforts to upgrade the grid.
In the end, protecting people in the future from catastrophic power outages would entail predicting new disasters, not just responding to the previous ones.