Cold weather, high demand for electricity highlights need for diverse resources

Environment

Earlier this week, extreme weather caused power outages for much of the central United States. Bitter cold led to increased demand for electricity while also forcing significant portions of electric generation offline, leaving millions of people across the Midwest, Great Plains, and Texas in particular without electricity.

Although many were quick to point to wind energy as the main cause, numerous sources of generation were impacted by the abnormally cold weather. According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, about 16 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy—mostly composed of wind—was taken offline due to freezing conditions. Meanwhile, nearly 30 GW of thermal generation including coal, gas, and nuclear went offline because of fuel shortage, frozen pipelines, or faulty equipment. 

This crisis has highlighted the necessity of a diverse mix of electric generation and a robust electric transmission grid to meet demand across the nation. Geographic diversity matters too. States that join regional power pools are often better equipped to manage local disruptions. 

Investments in electric storage and demand management can help provide additional diverse resources to meet our electric needs. There must also be strategic efforts to update and expand the electric grid to address the challenge of extreme weather and a shift in the way electricity is generated and consumed. Meeting these challenges stands to not only limit the possibility of revisiting the events of this week, but also create new economic opportunities for rural America and the country as a whole.