Panel of energy experts concludes that a cleaner, more resilient energy system needed in light of Texas blackouts
AUSTIN, Texas -- Environment America Research and Policy Center hosted a webinar Friday featuring several energy experts who responded to the blackouts and grid failure in Texas. The group identified areas where we can improve energy infrastructure to prevent similar events from happening in the future, including local energy generation and battery storage.
As pipelines, power plants and gas wells froze last week, America witnessed first-hand the devastating damage an energy crisis can cause, and many were left wondering if it could happen again and in other states. The panel discussed how the vulnerability of America’s energy system was on display not only in Texas but also with the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) and the Midwestern ISO (MISO), all of which were forced to initiate rolling blackouts. This left almost four million people without power on the night of Feb. 16.
“The events in Texas and elsewhere prove that our energy system is more fragile than it should be,” said Johanna Neumann, who moderated the event and is senior director for Environment America Research and Policy Center’s Campaign for 100% Renewable Energy. “This webinar made it clear: To build a clean and resilient energy grid in Texas and the rest of the country, we should use the many tools that we have in our toolbox including local solar and storage, increased energy efficiency, microgrids and electric vehicles.”
The panelists spoke to the roles localizing energy production, creating microgrids and increasing energy efficiency, can play -- all while moving toward a society powered by 100 percent renewable energy.
“Just think if every Texan had an electric car in their driveway, which could be used not just to power phones, but also the furnace and the refrigerator during emergencies,” said panelist Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas Research & Policy Center. “I have solar panels on my home, but if I also had a battery, I could have had even more electricity. We have so many solutions available to us, we just need to put them to work.”
Karl Rábago, principal at Rábago Energy LLC and former commissioner of the Texas Public Utilities Commission, pointed to microgrids as another key part of the equation.
“A microgrid can keep operating even if the entire grid is down or even if neighboring parts of the grid have to be going through some kind of load shedding or load reduction event,” he said. “A microgrid, if you start thinking about it, it can be a point of refuge. It can be a place where you maintain electricity by taking advantage of a suite of technology options.”
PJ Wilson, who is the founder and president of the Solar and Energy Storage Association of Puerto Rico (SESA), talked about how Puerto Rico is an example of where solar and storage is becoming an increasing part of the transformation.
“The one thing that has changed a lot since before [Hurricane] Maria, there were about 10,000 homes with solar systems installed, almost zero with batteries, even though [Puerto Rico has] the oldest and most unreliable grid in the nation,” he said. “Still batteries are pretty expensive. Since, there are now around 25,000 systems installed three years later and almost all of them have batteries. It is the batteries that save lives when the power grid goes down and the solar that is the cleanest way and the most reliable way to keep it charged.”
Other panelists were Virginia Palacios, executive director at Commission Shift; Maria McCoy, research associate with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance; and Justin Brant, Utility Program co-director of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP).
Palacios emphasized the need to learn from this storm and make the necessary changes to prevent future disasters, while McCoy and Brant discussed the importance of local solar generation and energy efficiency measures.
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