Jun 4, 2024 - News

Extreme weather leads to more power outages in Texas

Column chart showing the number of major power outages per year in Texas from 2000 to 2023. Major outages increased rapidly in the last decade, with just 4 outages reported in 2001 and 49 reported in 2021, the year with the most outages in the time period. 29 major outages were reported in 2023. 80% of outages, on average, have been attributed to extreme weather.
Data: Climate Central via U.S. Department of Energy; Note: Major power outages affect at least 50k customers or interrupt service of 300 megawatts or more; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Texas has experienced a rising number of extreme weather-related power outages over the last two decades, a recent analysis shows.

Why it matters: The state's electric grid is under increasing strain as climate change raises the frequency and severity of certain types of extreme weather events like heat waves and heavy rainstorms.

  • Outages and lengthy restoration times can cost the economy billions of dollars and lead to deaths.

Flashback: The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which oversees the state's electrical grid, asked residents to conserve electricity several times last summer — including nearly every day for one week in August — when operators expected record demand to exceed available electricity.

  • ERCOT came close to, but avoided, the kind of emergency operations that end in rolling blackouts.

State of play: Conservation notices probably aren't going away anytime soon, as Texas enters what's expected to be another very hot summer.

By the numbers: Texas saw 210 weather-related outages from 2000-2023, more than any other state, per the nonprofit research group Climate Central.

  • Of those, 65 outages took place from 2000-2012. The other 145 were from 2013- 2023, with 41 tallied in 2021.
  • Such outages are defined as affecting at least 50,000 homes or businesses or those cutting service of at least 300 megawatts.

The big picture: Weather-related power outages are also on the rise nationwide, Climate Central reports.

  • Extreme weather accounted for about 80% of all major U.S. and Texas power outages in the last two decades.

Reality check: People of color and those in low-income communities often experience a disproportionate share of power outages, an example being the February 2021 winter storm in Texas.

The intrigue: Heat waves, one of the hazards most clearly linked to human-caused climate change, are becoming more problematic, Climate Central found.

  • Extreme heat accounts for a smaller share of outages but creates acute public health hazards when it does occur.

What they're saying: "Climate Central sees the increase in power outages as being related to the increase in extreme weather," said Jen Brady, a researcher at Climate Central and the report's main author.

  • She noted 15 heat-related major outages nationwide from 2000-2009; that number rose to 32 from 2014-2023.
  • "As not only the intensity of weather events continues to increase, but also the stress on the system from things like increased cooling demand, weather-related power outages will likely continue to increase as well across the country," she said.

Yes, but: Other factors are at work too, Brady said, such as the age of, and load placed on, parts of the grid.

  • Some load demand may be due to population growth rather than extreme weather trends.
  • ERCOT acknowledged this year it underestimated how quickly the San Antonio area would grow.

What's next: Texas utilities are expected to add more natural gas power plants after voters last fall approved incentives for such projects.

  • The Texas A&M System is looking to put a network of plants on its land across the state.
  • Making the statewide grid more resilient to outages also requires changes at homes and businesses, including solar panels and better insulation, Texas grid expert Doug Lewin wrote in a recent newsletter.
  • At the same time, Texas is seeing a wind and solar energy boom.
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