Reviews | Texas politicians won’t say this, but solar is saving their tushies right now
Solar power, meanwhile, has heroically filled the gaps.
This is because there has been a huge increase in solar investments in recent years. This has been driven by multiple factors, including government incentives, customer demand, and especially technological advancements that have made solar power surprisingly cheap. Sun-drenched Texas — not exactly known for its bleeding-heart liberals — almost triple solar capacity this summer that he didn’t have last summer.
It turned out to be a life-saving investment. The extra power provided by newly installed solar has (so far) likely prevented power outages this summer.
“If you took this year’s weather and put it on [the power infrastructure] since last year, it’s extremely likely that we’ve had some outages,” says Doug Lewin, a energy advisor.
If there’s one possible upside to the unbearable heat scorching the West or sky-high fossil fuel prices, it’s this: recent events could finally help change the reputation of renewables. Perhaps governments will finally see the virtues of a faster transition to clean energy.
Maybe they still don’t care about saving the planet, but at least they’ll want to make it easier for their constituents to deal with the already made the planet less hospitable. Or maybe they want to get out of the grip of unsavory authoritarian oil states.
Renewables have a bad reputation. Many voters still see solar and wind power as an expensive, green-enforced indulgence. In fact, these technologies have become extremely competitive on the price. As I have already noted: it is cheaper building and operating a greenfield wind or solar power plant than continuing to operate an existing coal-fired power plant.
Coal and gas-fired power plants have to pay for the fuels that power them, and those fuels have become extremely expensive. On the other hand, the marginal costs of renewable energies are close to zero: once the wind farm or the solar panel is installed, the wind and the sun are free.
Politicians also sometimes denounce renewable energy as unreliable. They (falsely) blamed wind turbine outages for outages during last year’s extreme Texas cold snap, even though the major power outages were from thermal sources (gas, coal, nuclear) that had not been winterized.
There are of course times when the sun does not shine or the wind does not blow. But it became quite easy to provide these times and plan around them. Battery technology is also improving steadily, allowing storage for later use.
In addition, in summer, the peak energy demand is matches peak solar output quite well, as University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Gregory Nemet notes. People turn up the air conditioning the most when the weather is nice.
Extreme heat can reduce solar production efficient. But so far, the main disruptions in energy supply related to heat (in Texasas good as France and Germany) seem to involve thermal producers. Thermal power plants may require large amounts of cooling water, for example.
Economic forces are already making the move away from fossil fuels inevitable. The only question is how quickly this happens – before or after the planet has passed the point of no return – and how motivated governments are to accelerate change. Politicians could, for example, fund more R&D in battery technology, offer more incentives for investments in renewable energy or put a price on carbon.
There have been some recent legislative and court setbacks in the United States that make such interventions more difficult. And voters have yet to exactly put two and two: There’s a cosmic irony that, as the world burns, many are complaining that fossil fuels should be cheaper.
But we always knew that this transition would be painful and politically tense, because we can’t change everything overnight.
People drive to work with the cars they have. They are stuck with the heating or cooling technology they have already invested in. When there’s a major shock to fossil fuel supply or demand – right now, unfortunately, we have both – consumers can’t just seamlessly switch to electric vehicles, heat pumps and solar on the roof. Instead, they have to absorb these costly shocks, which effectively makes them a bit poorer.
In the short term, it makes sense for politicians to try to lower the prices of oil and natural gas, to limit the suffering of their constituents. But our leaders should also push aggressively for more clean energy – which has so far kept the current heat and power crisis going. to be even worse, and which could, one day, prevent us from enduring this dear agony again.