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Could Texas See a Similar Blackout to California?

Despite their best intentions to inform customers on the looming shutdown that would probably affect a million people, PG&E’s computer systems failed before they could adequately let those affected know. When it was all said and done, about 700,000 California residents were powerless.

PG&E as a utility is understandably under a lot of scrutiny. They have stated that it was most likely one of their downed transmission lines that led to the  deadliest wildfire in history, Camp Fire, last year. And this most recent outage put them under the magnifying glass again. 

Regardless, with everything as interconnected as they are,  and networks not having strong enough backup emergency operations in order to prepare for grid emergencies or shutdowns, there might be something to worry about if climate change continues to progress at its current rate.

A pressing question is this: could a similar scale blackout happen in Texas, say from a hurricane or tornado?

 

Tornadoes? Hurricanes?

Considering that the US experiences 147 big blackouts every year, as E&E News shares, it’s safe to assume that the number will only rise. The U.S. averages about 65 weather-related outages a year. 

For Texas in particular, Hurricane Ike in 2008 caused 7.5 million power outages in Texas and the midwestern states. Basically, anyone on the Gulf Coast is at obvious risk for hurricane damage, as well as the electric grid. All the reminder we need is Hurricane Harvey, which knocked out 10,000 Megawatts of electricity near the coast and Houston. Additionally, wind turbines were turned off because for their protection because they have a maximum recommended speed at 55 mph. Wind-generated electricity was, in turn, drastically reduced.

But despite the affected power lines, ERCOT was able to effectively manage the power problems because of cooler temperatures and high reserve margins to cover the emergency. 

Yet, what if hurricanes and tornadoes (like the recent tornados in Dallas) continue to grow more frequent, so that ERCOT doesn’t have the necessary electricity to meet the demand?  On a similar note, writers are wondering if California will ever have a solution for the increasingly prevalent wildfires. 

But there’s one thing that’s for sure, as the weather gets more extreme, so too policy makers, engineers, utilities, and so forth will need to change a lot about current infrastructure. Not only to prevent disasters, but to have adequate backup plans. Texas very well could be a state that is similarly affected, especially with the extreme heat we received this summer. Will Texas see as massive a blackout as California? Probably not, but don’t count it out entirely. 

 How Plausible is an All-Renewable Electric Grid in the US?

Is the key to tackling climate change really as simple as ‘electrifying everything’. According to Vox, and many others, it is. 

Electrifying everything in this sense means that all means of energy production should be replaced with an electrical alternative (if at all feasible). Sounds great, but we aren’t quite there yet and will still have to burn natural gas to generate the majority of our electricity need (about 35% according to 2018 numbers).

Vox goes a step beyond this in another article and says that it’s economically plausible to run the U.S. entirely on renewable energy by 2050, citing this projection, among others. The authors of that Energy & Environmental Science report believe that Wind, Water, and Solar (WWS) energy will prevail and be robust enough to generate zero-carbon energy. And although there are criticisms about just how reliable most of that renewable energy would be, those same experts actually agree that the grid will be more secure with renewable grid modeling.

But there’s so many complexities at play that span all political, logistical, and technological corners of the country. Additionally, over-generation and duck curves are a commonly-posed problem with renewable energy. 

Let’s explore some solutions for facilitating this all-renewable vision for the U.S. energy system as a whole.

Some Solutions: Larger Scales, Increased Storage Facilities, and Microgrids

 

Let’s ignore the incredibly dense and mind-boggling policy considerations and Congressional cooperation that would need to take place to enact this global green initiative for energy. Instead, let’s explore some smaller scale solutions.

This article by David Timmons, which was featured on TechXplore, offers some insights on the importance of how cost has an inverse relationship to how large the scale of the project is. As an example, this is what he says about scalability, “in the United States, large-scale solar farms can be more than 1,000 times larger than residential rooftop systems and about half the cost.”

Switching gears, microgrids can also inch the U.S. much closer to a renewable grid. Through smaller, more flexible grids, power outages are less a threat because there are always back-up systems in place. In addition, more energy is saved because about 5% of all electricity is lost through longer transmission lengths, according to the EIA. So microgrids can be a game-changer if they are utilized strategically with key points of high renewable energy generation. 

Lastly, better battery capacity means less wasted energy. And because there is an over-generation problem with renewable energy, storing excess electricity is key for efficiency and can mean a more robust electrical grid. Using the ‘duck curve’ as an example, solar energy hits points of peak production and then obviously falls off during the night time. Better batteries can minimize the wasted electricity. 

Wind to Surpass Coal in Texas in 2020

 

Texas wind power has been impressive for some time now. It was this year after all that wind surpassed coal for energy production, offering 22% of all energy generated in the state in the first half of the year. And the divide between coal and wind will only grow larger come 2020. 

This is a huge difference from a decade ago when experts lamented the future of renewables, pegging them for energy generation pipe dreams. But with Texas having the most amount of wind power out of any state, reliance on this renewable is obviously very viable. 

And the rest of the world, according to BP, will follow suit with renewable energy sources to make up for increasing global energy demands: BP says that by 2040, the global energy demand will grow by a third. Additionally, natural gas and renewables will rise commensurately to generate enough energy. 

Wind Power Projections and Stats

In Texas, the Department of Energy projects that wind energy will account for 24% of all Texas energy in 2020, according to the Houston Chronicle. So, combined with coal’s steady decline as of late, forecasters are confident that wind will overtake coal all of next year, and possibly for the foreseeable future in Texas.

This contradicts what Trump says about wind energy, showing instead that wind is as relevant as ever and will continue to rise in the states. It also accounted for 114,000 jobs last year, which makes it a pretty robust talking point for not only environmental health but also employment growth.

The EIA, in their September energy review, show that renewable energy has continued to rise across all sectors for electricity generation, and that coal has consistently fallen. In addition, hydroelectric has always accounted for much more energy production, but recent national trends show wind and hydroelectric almost intersecting on the Y-axis for most graphs. This convergence speaks to just how quickly wind has progressed throughout the country. 

So, with renewables becoming cheaper and offering more jobs, the rest of the country will only add to the continually climbing numbers of renewable energy generation. Can’t argue with that.

Wind Energy Updates in 2019

What’s new in wind energy for 2019? The forecast is promising. There is an increase in both onshore and offshore development projects. Many more powerful wind turbines are popping up across the nation and even out at sea. Several states are ramping up their capacity to generate electricity from wind. It looks as if policymakers, investors and developers are starting to think outside of their comfort zones. This is great news for clean energy enthusiasts and our environment.

Costs are Dropping

Wind energy used to be costly. Now, wind energy is one of the cheapest sources of generating electricity. In fact, wind energy today costs 69 percent less than it did in 2009. Modern turbines can generate much more power at a lower cost. Projects costs are falling, and this trend is continuing. According to the DOE (Department of Energy) what once cost 7 cents/kWh for power purchase agreements in 2009, has now dropped even further to about 2 cents/kWh. The offshore wind industry is about to bloom, big time. There is potential to generate more than 2,000 gigawatts of power. That number is almost double our nation’s current electricity use. To get an idea of how many utility-scale wind turbines 2,000 gigawatts of power is, check this out: four hundred thirty-one utility-scale wind turbines are equal to 1 gigawatt of power. Of course, this technology is evolving quickly, and wind turbines are becoming more powerful.

Coastal states like Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island are driving the offshore wind industry on the east coast. And out west, California is researching floating wind turbine structures. Floating wind structures are vital to the wind industry because it enables these structures to be placed further out into the ocean, where the potential to generate clean electricity from wind is high.

The Forecast is Looking Good for the Wind Energy Job Sector

New wind industry projects mean lots of new jobs. Construction and operating jobs are on the horizon, and these are well-paying jobs. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the second fastest-growing job in the U.S. is a wind energy technician. Right now, there are wind jobs in all 50 states. Land-based wind industry jobs already support over 114,000 American jobs, and it’s continuing to grow. There are over 500 factories in the U.S. for building wind-related parts, and these factories are employing Americans.

Texas leads the nation in producing the most wind power. In fact, Texas’ wind capacity is at least three times more than the runner-up, Iowa. Of course, oil is still king in Texas, but things are starting to change. The rise of jobs and the need for clean energy is evident. Along with operational roles, there are numerous manufacturing facilities and component suppliers in Texas. With the advancement of offshore and onshore wind farms, the job market potential in Texas is enormous.

The east coast is embracing the wind industry, especially with regards to offshore wind farms. A study by the Clean Energy States alliance found that even 8 gigawatts of offshore wind from Maryland to Maine can create over 36,000 full-time jobs over the next ten years. Everyone can benefit from the wind industry. The offshore wind industry is poised to revitalize ports and coastal communities, and it will deliver reliable, clean energy to some of America’s most populated areas. It’s a win-win situation.

Farmers and ranchers in rural America are embracing wind turbine placement on their property. There are significant advantages, for one, it’s a reliable, drought-resistant cash crop. Plus, there’s lots of money to be made from leasing out space for wind turbines. Landowners can receive up to $8,000 per year for a single wind turbine lease on their property. So, landowners able to host several hundred wind turbines can cash in on the growing demand for clean energy.

What to Expect

Floating wind turbines. As mentioned earlier, we can expect to see wind turbines far out at sea. They’ll be floating because the water is too deep for a fixed, solid foundation. As of now, there are operational floating wind farms in Hywind, Scotland, with five turbines generating a total capacity of 30 MW. The other, in Japan, has four floating wind turbines with a combined capacity of 16 MW. Northern California is poised to become the home of America’s first floating wind farm.

Cleaner energy support from corporations. Corporations are purchasing more and more renewable energy every year. Did you know that Facebook has committed to 100% clean energy by the year 2020? Facebook plans to do this by opting for more wind and solar power. Facebook purchased more than 7 GW of renewables in 2018, compared to 5.4 GW in 2017.

Continued growth. There is always going to be wind blowing. Best of all, it’s free. With technological advancements, lower costs, and a thriving job market, the growth in wind power is expected to grow by leaps and bounds.

It’s easier than ever to make the switch to clean energy. Compare and shop for 100% clean, renewable energy plans at Vault Electricity.

How to Stay Safe From Electrical Dangers After a Tornado

They don’t call parts of Texas tornado alley for nothing. We get tornadoes a lot, so much so that the highest average annual number in the U.S. is in the Lonestar State. If you’ve ever experienced one, then you know that when a tornado comes ripping through your area, it can be scary stuff. March through May are the peak months in Texas, but tornadoes can happen at any time of the year, and when they do, they can cause severe damage to all types of structures, including power lines and other electrical equipment. Once you’ve weathered the storm, you need to prepare for the dangers that are present after a tornado strikes.

Be Alert to Your Surroundings

Most tornadoes come with little or no warning. That said, you can be better prepared when you know there’s one on the horizon. Pay attention to a few warning signs, like a dark, greenish sky or a wall cloud. Other signs to look for are large-sized hail and a sound that’s similar to a freight train. Often, tornadoes accompany a thunderstorm and are quite visible to the naked eye. So, if the weather looks like it’s starting to get worse, take shelter. You’ll want to prepare for any kind of natural disaster, so be sure to have an emergency kit handy and a family emergency plan. It’s also a good idea to invest in a hand-cranked or battery-powered radio. Invest in a portable cell phone charger so you can stay connected to better monitor the situation, and call loved ones to let them know how you’re doing.

Assess the Damage

Once the storm has passed, you’ll want to assess the damage. Watch out for debris, like glass, nails and other hazards. For safety, you’ll want to be wearing long pants, a long-sleeve shirt, and a pair of sturdy shoes to survey the damage. Tornadoes can down power lines, so stay away from power lines you see on the ground and contact your local electric utility company. Keep in mind that just because a power line looks like it’s not active, doesn’t mean it’s not live and dangerous. Never touch a downed power line, regardless of the situation. Downed power lines can still energize things around it. So, if these lines are near chain link fences or other metal objects, stay away and wait for authorities.

You’ll also want to be mindful of exposed electrical wiring in your home or place of shelter. Exposed wires can cause injuries such as electric shock, fires and electrocution. If the building you’re taking cover in is in bad shape, you might want to find shelter in another building. However, large rooms such as gymnasiums and auditoriums are not very safe due to possible falling debris.

When you’re inspecting your home and notice damage to structures, shut off electrical power. You’ll also want to shut off natural gas lines and any propane tanks. If a tornado strikes at night and it’s dark inside, reach for a flashlight rather than a candle. Candles can increase the risk of an explosion or fire in a damaged home, especially if there’s a gas leak present. If you smell gas, contact the gas company or your local police or fire department. Try to clean up as best you can. There might be spilled medicines, flammable liquids, and other potentially hazardous materials that need to be cleaned up.

Assist Your Neighbors

Severe storms, such as tornadoes, can cause billions of dollars’ worth of damage. Tornadoes can also cause fatalities, and one of the significant causes comes from flying debris. Besides deaths, there may be many people injured after a tornado. Stepping on nails is a common injury, as are injuries caused by falling or rolling heavy objects. People may be injured due to electrocution or fires, too. Once you know that your family is safe from harm, help your neighbors if you can. Police, firefighters, relief organizations, and emergency management may ask for volunteers to help with cleaning up or assisting those in need. If you’re adequately trained and emergency response teams haven’t arrived, provide first aid to victims.

Tornadoes are scary at any age and are especially frightening to children. Be sure to explain the situation and reassure them that it’s a natural event. Let them express their feelings of fear and be sure to listen and show them that you understand. Provide reassurance by spending time with your children and showing them love. One of the best things you can do is to include your children in any clean-up activities. Watching the home return to normal and giving them a job to do is comforting.

You can switch to a different provider if you live in an area that’s in a deregulated energy market. Vault Electricity works with the top trusted REPs in Texas and can help you find a new electricity provider that offers excellent service and low electricity rates.

How Does Wind Energy Work?

The switch is on. More and more energy consumers are turning away from fossil fuels that harm the environment. People are making the switch to clean alternatives, like wind energy. This is good news for our planet, which has been suffering from the harmful effects of fossil fuels for far too long. Wind energy is not just better for the environment, but also better for us as it generates industry opportunities and creates jobs all across the U.S. It’s a win-win situation for our way of life.

Using the power of wind to create energy isn’t something new. Humans have benefited from this sustainable source of energy for thousands of years. Humans used the force of wind to set sail and traverse across the globe. Farmers used the wind to power windmills. Today, we’re using wind turbines to deliver electricity to homes and businesses across the U.S. The force of wind continues to be a constant source of clean and renewable energy.

Wind Energy: What is it and How Does it Work?

We found a way to generate power from wind years ago. From its humble beginning of mechanically powering windmills to its evolution of powering wind turbine generators to convert wind power into electricity — wind energy is a simple and effective way to provide energy. Using generators to provide electricity to buildings and homes is forging a new era that benefits energy consumers and our planet.

But how does it work? Of course, there needs to be a significant force of wind. You’ll also need a turbine. The turbines most of us are familiar with are the ones with two or three large propeller-like blades. You’ve probably seen them while driving, usually through rural areas with lots of open space. You may have also seen these turbines while flying over the ocean or lakes, where they are used to great effect. The horizontal-axis, propeller-like turbines are the most common. However, there are also vertical-axis turbines that look like an egg beater, though they’re less reliable than horizontal-axis turbines.

Here’s the lowdown. The turbines convert the energy of the wind to create electricity. When there’s strong enough wind, the rotor blades will capture the force of the wind and transfer this power to the rotor hub. The rotor connects to the main shaft, and it’s spinning the generator. All this creates electricity. It really is that simple.

One question that always comes up is how much electricity can a wind turbine generate? There’s no set answer because it depends on the size of the wind turbine and how much wind speed is going through the rotor. So, a very windy area with high wind speeds is going to be a favorable spot for well-positioned wind turbines.

Electricity from wind

Why Care About Wind Energy?

Anyone that cares about a healthy environment, and wants the next generation to inherit a healthy planet should care about wind energy. Wind power is carbon-free, so it doesn’t produce any carbon emissions. Also, the wind is a renewable energy source — we won’t ever run out of it. With climate change a reality, there’s no better time than now to start weaning ourselves from our dependency on fossil fuels. Today, wind power only represents a small fraction of power generation. It’s still struggling to grab hold of the fossil-fuel giants. However, the future is looking up. Wind turbine use is steadily increasing by more than 25 percent a year, and it’s creating great-paying jobs. In fact, the second fastest growing occupation in the United States is a wind turbine technician. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the wind industry in the US supported over 105,000 jobs, and Texas is leading the nation with up to 25,000 people employed in wind industry jobs.

How Will Wind Energy Improve the Future of the Industry and Planet?

We know that the use of fossil fuels is driving climate change. Power plants that rely on coal, oil or natural gas to create electricity are polluting the air with toxins and emitting harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. If we keep up with fossil fuels as our primary source of energy, what’s going to happen to our planet? Wind produces no toxins. Also, while some might complain that a wind farm takes up too much land, and tends to look like an eye-sore, one wind turbine alone won’t take up much space and some people like the design. Wind farms can have a positive financial effect on landowners too. Landowners can harvest wind energy and produce cattle, corn, wheat and other commodities. Also, big-time corporations like AT&T and Walmart are buying wind energy, so the shift to clean energy is well on its way. Today, the electricity generated by wind can power up to 24 million homes. Investments in wind projects are on the rise, leading to a greener future for generations to come.

If you’re ready to give wind energy a shot, Vault Electricity can help. You can compare green energy electricity providers and select one that is perfectly suited to your needs. 

2016 Another Strong Year for Renewable Energy and Natural Gas

2016 Renewable EnergyContinuing a 3 year trend, 2016 saw renewable energy account for the majority of new electricity generation capacity in the United States.  The lion’s share of these additions came in the form of wind and solar power.

As is often the case, renewable energy generation peaked in the spring on a nationwide basis.  The spring typically sees a peak in hydroelectric power in the western part of the U.S. as rain and snowmelt drives hydro power. The Western United States also contributed the majority of the country’s solar power with 77% of total U.S. solar generation.  In Texas, the state’s massive installed wind base continued to churn out electricity for the Texas electricity grid which is separate from the other major U.S. electricity grids.

While 2016 also saw a large increase in solar power, most new solar capacity comes from small scale solar photovoltaic rather than large scale utility generation.  As of October of 2016 the U.S had a total of 12.6 GW of small-scale solar power installed.

Wholesale Electricity Rates Continue to Fall

Despite the fact that new capacity generation is coming largely from renewable energy sources, it is cheap natural gas that continues to put downward pressure on electricity rates.  Monthly wholesale prices for 2016 were lower than 2015; driven largely by lower natural gas prices.  The cost of natural gas delivered to power generators was 17% lower for the first 10 months of 2016.

Low rates for natural gas also contributed to an increased reliance on natural gas for electricity generation.  2016 saw, first the first time, natural gas surpass coal for electricity nationwide.  Although, in Texas this has been the case for a number of years.