A Zero-Carbon Grid Could Prevent Future Blackouts, Study Finds

Satellite images of Houston, Texas before (left) and after (right) the February, 2021 cold snap reveal which areas lost electricity.

Satellite images of Houston, Texas before (left) and after (right) the February, 2021 cold snap reveal which areas lost electricity. NASA

A year after a severe winter storm caused widespread blackouts in Texas, the state’s power grid remains vulnerable to extreme cold. But recent research suggests that moving to 100 percent renewable electricity could help prevent future outages, in Texas and elsewhere.

For the study, Stanford researchers modeled grid stability in 2050 in a scenario where the United States has grown more populous, and all fossil fuels have been completely phased out. Renewables coupled with batteries provide 100 percent of electricity, while cars are either fully-electric or powered by hydrogen fuel cells, and gas-powered appliances have been supplanted by electric alternatives. The models suggests that a zero-carbon energy system would produce no blackouts, even during severe weather. The findings were published in the journal Renewable Energy.

The study found that the Texas grid would be more resilient with battery storage filling in gaps in power supply, wind providing a greater share of the state’s electricity, and heaters running on electricity. During cold spells, wind tends to be stronger, helping to meet increased demand for electric heating. During the 2021 cold snap, wind energy dipped as turbines froze, but it is possible to solve this issue with de-icing equipment, authors wrote.

“On those days that it’s cold, you have a lot of wind, which is really good news because when it’s cold, you have the heating demand,” Mark Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University and lead author of the paper, told The Washington Post. “You actually get more power output on cold days.”

The study found that Texas could further boost reliability by connecting the state’s independent power grid with the Midwest grid. “The intermittence of renewable energy declines as you look at larger and larger areas,” Andrew Dessler, an atmospheric scientist at Texas A&M University, who was not affiliated with the study, told the Post. “If it’s not windy in Texas, it could be windy in Iowa. In that case, they could be overproducing power, and they could be shipping some of their extra power to us.”


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