This Summer May Be Too Hot to Keep Cool
Last week, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) released its assessment of the power grid’s predicted reliability during this upcoming summer. It warns that two-thirds of the country’s power grids are not equipped to handle the hot temperatures coming their way. This means millions of Americans may endure rolling blackouts and power outages across all 50 states, particularly during the highest of temperatures.
Why This Matters
Power grid failure can quickly turn deadly, especially when it happens on a large scale. Last summer, more than 500 people died when a heatwave shocked the US Pacific Northwest. Most of those killed lacked access to air conditioning or fans. In Texas, the death toll neared 250 when a cold blast knocked out power for millions of residents in the winter of 2021. As climate change makes weather more unpredictable, disastrous power outages become more likely.
Worse, nearly all power grids operating in the US today were not designed with climate change in mind and lack resilience in the face of extreme weather. Romany Webb, a researcher at Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, explained to CNN, "The reality is the electricity system is old and a lot of the infrastructure was built before we started thinking about climate change.”
Even now, many power companies are reluctant to make the necessary changes to brace their systems against disaster, citing the high short-term cost of retrofitting their grids. In Texas, Energy Professor Michael Webber warned that the state’s gas system was still "not ready” for cold weather and was putting residents at risk. Meanwhile, in California and other Western states impacted by the region’s historic mega-drought, conditions are making hydropower 2% less effective, placing additional strain on their already stressed power supply.
Making Back-Up Plans
In Chicago’s South Side neighborhood of Bronzeville, residents are seeking solutions, including the installation of solar panels on the rooftops of public housing buildings. The new solar is intended to act as a "micro-grid,” supplementing the main grid, and acting as a buffer should it fail.
Bronzeville resident and energy advocate, Yami Newell, understands the importance of reliable access to power, noting that outages and rolling blackouts can be deadly. "An energy crisis can become a public health crisis,” she told CNN. "It can become a food crisis.”