Climate Change-Fueled Weather Increasing Power Outages
Last year, the average American household experienced eight hours without power, as storms hammered electrical systems built with less erratic climate conditions in mind. That average outage time is double what it was five years ago. But only looking at the average obscures the experience of people who lived through these extreme weather events like Hurricane Ida, which left residents in LaPlace without power for weeks. While state regulators and utility commissions acknowledge their grids aren't prepared for climate change-fueled weather, they haven't taken sufficient steps to address the problem, claiming it would raise rates.
CBS: Hurricane Ida exposes vulnerability of America's energy infrastructure, September 1, 2021.
Why This Matters
Electricity is essential. Whether it's keeping the AC running on a 100-degree day or powering a medical device, people need reliable electricity to survive. In the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, 14 Louisiana deaths were connected to the power outages and intense heat. Like many climate-driven actions, seeing the cost to make necessary changes often deters action from leaders, but the cost of inaction is much higher. In New York, one of the few states to run a climate assessment of its grid, a report priced heat-related climate risks at up to $4.6 billion by 2050.
The lack of action isn't because of a lack of solutions. Moving power lines underground is one answer. Burying lines can increase the power system's resilience across the country and would mean a lower risk of sparks igniting wildfires in California. Without lines and poles that can topple, lights are more likely to stay on in hurricane-force gusts as seen in North Carolina. But the work can cost millions of dollars per mile, giving opponents the easy argument that it’s too expensive.
Another potential solution is the implementation of microgrids, which power a smaller geographic area than the entire system. Using solar power and battery storage, they can run independently of the broader grid. Microgrids were used during COVID-19 to keep the lights on in hospitals serving multitudes of patients under the threat of wildfire outages.
In the aftermath of a climate disaster, "everybody's standing around saying, 'Why didn't you spend more to keep the lights on?'" Ted Thomas, chairman of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, said in an interview with the Washington Post. "But when you try to spend more when the system is working, it's a tough sell."
CBS: Rain Showers Trigger Power Outages Across The Bay Area,
Bloomberg: Power grid failure in Texas highlights critical need to prepare for impacts of climate change, Feburary 19, 2021.