As extreme weather conditions wreak havoc on America’s largest energy producing states, can they continue to provide for their citizens? The combination of climate change and aging infrastructure could soon spell disaster for California and Texas unless they address their contrasting realities.
While soaring temperatures in California lead to wildfires, Texas faces blackouts and energy shortages when faced with winter storms. Each state battles their own extreme weather, but the result is the same – dangerous living conditions and a lack of energy supply for inhabitants of these states.
In the summer of 2020, while everyone was worrying about extinguishing wildfires across the state of California, in the midst of a global pandemic, residents were battling blackouts due to the decades’ old electricity grid.
While Californians were experiencing record high temperatures, their A/C was failing to work, as the electricity infrastructure, built mainly in the 1960s and 1970s, could not keep up with such high demand.
By September 2020, 4.7 million acres has burned across California due to wildfires. This is not a new phenomenon, as we’ve seen years of wildfires across the state, growing more severe each year as temperatures rise and terrain grows more arid.
The most prominent challenge to California’s energy infrastructure is the unwillingness to invest and update existing systems, as they adapt to incorporate renewables, until something breaks and needs replacing.
Brian Tarroja, a researcher in the Advanced Power and Energy Program at the University of California, Irvine explained of the situation, “If you’re going to wait until a component fails or until a component is past its lifetime to replace it with something that’s more amenable for carrying out this zero-carbon energy transition or something, it’s going to take a really long time”.
State government is attempting to prepare for future severe weather phenomena by building huge lithium-ion battery fields to store energy. However, this system leads to significant waste as they are only able to store enough energy for a few hours’ power.
It’s not only the effect that aging infrastructure is having on Californians that is of concern. In 2019, six of the 10 most destructive fires in the state’s history were started by electrical equipment or power lines. This led local government to carry out intentional outages to avoid further devastation. Following the damage, California’s biggest utility filed for bankruptcy, at a cost of $30 billion in civil liabilities from the fires.
More recently, the winter storm in Texas led people from around the world wondering why the biggest energy producer in the U.S. failed to provide for its citizens.
Texas is well-known for its energy production, providing the highest quantity of oil and natural gas in the U.S.. In 2019, it supplied 41 percent of the country’s crude oil. It is also a national leader for wind energy production and produces more electricity than any other state.
Yet, when hit by snow and ice, the electricity grid once again failed and people across the state lost power during the coldest week of the year.
Last week, one of the two reactors at a nuclear power plant in South Texas, serving two million households, experienced a shutdown due to frozen detector lines connected to the plant’s water pumps.
Not only did this mean Texans had to face freezing temperatures without heating, resulting in several deaths, but one-third of oil production came to a standstill, drinking water systems went offline, roads and transportation were affected across the country, and vaccine distribution was hindered across 20 states.
While President Biden is calling for an investment of $1.3 trillion in the country’s infrastructure over the next decade, the lack of improvement in Texan infrastructure in recent years, and further delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic, highlight recent failures that could have been prevented.
Storms, soaring temperatures, hurricanes and floods are just some of the worsening weather conditions facing several U.S. states every year, with experts suggesting climate change will only worsen the situation, overwhelming the country’s failing infrastructure. Unless greater investment is made to improve infrastructure in Texas and California, as well as several other states, before it fails, we are likely to experience a huge disaster in the near future.