A record heat wave, and its connections to climate change, are highlighting again the growing concerns around America’s electrical grid and whether it can withstand the added stress. In Texas, which operates its own electrical grid, power demand hit an all-time high this week. William Brangham discussed more with Michael Webber, a professor of energy resources at the University of Texas.
It’s really hot in Texas right now. Many parts of the state are hotter than they’ve ever been at this time of year. In the coastal city of Corpus Christi, the heat index, a combined measure of heat and humidity, reached a shocking 125 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 52 Celsius.
That’s because a weather system called a heat dome is parked over Texas, Oklahoma and parts of Mexico. People are struggling, and one person may have died from the baking temperatures. And, there’s a lot of worry about the Texas electric grid.
That heat dome could stay in place until early July. It’s forecast to expand to Arkansas, Louisiana and Kansas. As people turn up their air-conditioners to stay cool, will the grids hold?
Human-caused climate change is poised to heavily strain the U.S. power grid in the coming decades, and vast improvements are needed to enhance its reliability and ability to meet increasing electricity demands, experts say.
Why it matters: The effects of new weather extremes on the grid may be seen throughout the summer if intense heat waves trigger energy demand spikes that test the limits of power infrastructures nationwide, officials have warned.
- “We’re designing our energy systems today for the past 50 years of weather and not the next 50 years of weather, and that’s a problem,” Melissa Lott, research director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, told Axios.
Threat level: The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), a nonprofit that oversees the reliability of the North American power grids, warned in an assessment last month that two-thirds of the continent face an elevated risk of energy shortfalls this summer if extreme heat events occur.