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?
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.