How Heat Waves Threaten the Texas Grid

by | Jun 9, 2022 | Energy, News

In the wake of the horrific winter storm in February 2021 that exposed the frightening fragility of Texas’s power grid, much has been written about the failures of ERCOT and Republican leadership to weatherize and strengthen the state’s electrical system for cold fronts. Now the residents of the Lone Star State are bracing themselves for another type of weather emergency that could bring down the grid: heat waves.

From heat strokes to droughts, heat waves’ dangers are so great that scientists have begun considering whether to start naming them as they do hurricanes to help convey their seriousness to the public. Just as the summer serves as a hurricane season, it will likely become a heat wave season.

Concerningly though, while summer hasn’t officially begun yet, Texas has already been experiencing record high temperatures and heat waves this year. The Lone Star State’s sweltering weather made international headlines last month when temperatures in some parts of the state reached above 110 degrees and multiple power plants temporarily shut down due to surging demand.

The elevated heat is showing no signs of letting up as Texans move towards the official start of the season, proven by the fact that more record high temperatures have been recorded across the state since the start of June.

To compensate for the high temperatures and avoid suffering at the hands of an unforgiving sun, Texans are understandably maxing out their air conditioning systems. However, this rational response suddenly becomes risky once the continuing vulnerability of the state’s isolated power grid is considered.

Even after last year’s winter catastrophe, Texan Republican leaders have shown a dedicated unwillingness to fix the state’s energy capacity issues in response to greater environmental stressors. Their attitude is best represented by a statement made last year by conservative railroad commissioner Wayne Christian, who declared that the best solution to dealing with heat waves is to simply “turn the damn air conditioner up.”

Contrary to what corporation-beholden politicians like Christian say, an ever-growing reliance on AC not only acts as a wildly insufficient means of solving the problem but also exacerbates the unreliability of the Texas grid. This year’s ongoing record heat is likely to result in new records for Texas power usage that have the potential to cause rolling blackouts throughout the summer, shutting off cooling systems altogether and leaving Texans completely exposed to the deadly heat.

As advancing climate change creates more frequent heat waves, the need for consistent energy to deal with the heat as well as regulatory measures that reduce planet-heating greenhouse gas emissions will become all the more critical. However, if the continuing Republican solution for debilitating heat waves is to keep “turning the damn air conditioner up,” Texans are unfortunately in for a lot more unnecessary suffering from heat waves and the other cascading consequences of human-caused climate change in the years to come.

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