By J W Jackie
The recent energy failure in Texas left 4 million Texans without power and almost half the state under a boil water advisory. As below-freezing temperatures and an intense winter storm swept the state, the state’s energy grid—at the worse possible time. Clean energy is poised to grow in 2021.
Now, in the wake of consequences, everyone is asking whether renewable energy is to blame—and realizing that maybe the U.S. energy system is not as indestructible as they once thought. For now, interesting conclusions are being drawn relating to the state’s dependency on fossil fuels, and the need to do more with its energy-saving and green energy initiatives in the coming years.
Texas operates in an unregulated energy market. The millions of Texans on variable rate contracts are now faced with enormous electricity bills— even after having no or sporadic power supply. While some of the blame lies with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) for allowing the increase in energy prices to $9 per kilowatt, many people were also unaware of energy-saving practices to follow during the storm and to keep the grid operational.
In fact, many do not know how to prepare for power outages or colder than normal weather. In a survey published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it was shown that the majority of Americans remain clueless about energy-saving practices.
For Texas, this includes maintaining thermostats to 68 degrees, installing insulated curtains or window screens, and performing regular essential maintenance on heaters. Key cold weather preparation tasks such as examining and replacing your furnace are critical to keeping energy usage levels low at home.
For instance, most Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) (HVAC) professionals recommend replacing your furnace filter every 90 days to expand its lifetime and keep heating bills down. They also recommend that homeowners know the basic signs a boiler dashboard may need changing, such as temperature fluctuations and flashing warning lights on your furnace’s diagnostic system.
Solar and electric energy
During the grid failures, many consumers turned to their electric cars for heat. Others that have solar panels and solar batteries in their homes were able to use these for later use. However, not many Texans have residential solar power. It still only accounts for 0.1 per cent of residential energy generation.
While the residential solar energy market is strong in Texas, residents still do not have enough incentives to invest in the initial capital outlay associated with solar panels. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) estimates that solar prices have fallen by 45 per cent in the last five years, but investing in solar energy as a homeowner can still cost a pretty penny.
The average solar installation prices range between $11,688 and $15,812, and unlike California or Arizona, the state does not provide solar power generator credits or tax credits to residents. Therefore, the entire financial burden of pursuing solar energy still lies heavily on the consumer.
Natural gas is the most dominant source of energy in Texas. In an immediate review by Same Newell, Brattle Group, and other energy experts, many voiced a synonyms concern: is renewable energy to blame for Texas’ energy failure fiasco? In the past few years, the state has invested considerably in sustainable energy sources, such as wind turbines and solar plants.
However, the recent 2020 energy sourcing data provided by ERCOT shows that 46 per cent of the state’s energy supply was still sourced from natural gas in 2020, while another 18 per cent came from coal. While wind energy accounts for 23 per cent of its energy source, the extremely cold weather meant that turbines were frozen and inoperable when they were most needed. Some may say that Texas’ foray into wind energy as a sustainable alternative has backfired in a big way.
It also brings up the point that the state may not be moving in the right direction when it comes to sustainable energy. Windmill turbines have become the latest landfill issue, and their unreliability in incidents of natural disasters shows that other alternatives should be explored. While it is commendable that the state has embraced renewable energy, it does not seem to have gotten the mix right.
With weather conditions predicted to become more erratic, energy officials in Texas need to reconsider the weight they give to the different kinds of renewable energy. Either way, the latest events have shown that there is still a long way to go when it comes to implementing energy-saving tactics in the state and amongst residents.