Sep 6, 2023 - News

Texas' winter storm sent power outages soaring

Data: U.S. Energy Information Administration; Chart: Axios Visuals

Texans experienced some of the longest power outages in the country in 2021, highlighting the impact of the deadly winter storm that left millions without power — some for several days.

Driving the news: The average Texas electricity customer experienced 19.6 hours of power outages in 2021 — up from 7.2 in 2020, Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick and Kavya Beheraj report.

  • That's per the latest available data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, an agency within the Department of Energy.

Why it matters: Even short-lived outages can become deadly for those who depend on medical equipment, or for those who lose heating or air conditioning during periods of extreme temperatures.

The big picture: The amount of time Texans have spent without power has grown over the last decade. In 2013, the average customer experienced 3 hours of power outages.

State of play: U.S. Rep. Greg Casar, who represents parts of San Antonio, said last week he is drafting legislation to connect Texas' power grid to the national grid, following eight electricity conservation requests last month.

  • Federal regulators are also considering new rules that would require Texas to connect its grid with other states to reduce chances of a large blackout, per the Express-News.
  • Texas Republicans have long resisted connecting to the national grid.

Zoom out: The average U.S. electricity customer experienced 7.3 hours of power outages in 2021 — down from 8.2 hours in 2020, but more than double 2013's rate.

  • The nationwide average of outage-hours had been trending upward over the last several years before 2021's decrease.
Hours of electrical outage experienced by the average customer in 2021
Data: U.S. Energy Information Administration; Map: Axios Visuals

Zoom in: 2021's nationwide numbers were driven in large part by the widespread power outages in Texas and by broad outages across Louisiana and several other states following Hurricane Ida.

  • The average Louisiana electricity customer experienced a staggering 80.2 hours of downtime in 2021, trailed by Oregon (24.8 hours) and then Texas.

Between the lines: Access to reliable power is increasingly an equity issue, Axios New Orleans' Chelsea Brasted reports, as wealthier people are better able to afford backup generators and other adaptations compared to those less well-off.

  • The less dependable the grid is and the more dependent people are on securing their own power, the more potent the divide becomes, said Jackson Voss, climate policy coordinator at the Alliance for Affordable Energy, a consumer advocacy nonprofit.

The intrigue: Some homeowners are turning to whole-home batteries, sometimes charged via solar power, that can store backup electricity in case of an emergency.

  • A few electric vehicles, like Ford's F-150 Lightning pickup, can also act as residential power sources by funneling electricity from the vehicle's battery into owners' homes.
  • And several communities are turning to "microgrids," which can supply power to a small number of homes and businesses when the main grid goes offline.

Yes, but: While incentives exist for solar and home battery installation, they're still prohibitively expensive solutions for many homeowners — to say nothing of renters with limited say over their home's technology and energy options.

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