U.S. Power Crisis Leaves Millions Cold, Dark as Blackouts Expand

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  • Bloomberg Quicktake: Now published this video item, entitled “U.S. Power Crisis Leaves Millions Cold, Dark as Blackouts Expand” – below is their description.

    The energy crisis crippling power grids across the U.S. showed no sign of abating on Tuesday morning as blackouts left almost 5 million customers without electricity during unprecedented cold weather.

    To prevent the collapse of their networks, suppliers from North Dakota to Texas are having to institute rolling power cuts for the second consecutive day to limit demand. The severe shortages are likely to continue throughout Tuesday, and the deep freeze is forecast to remain until Wednesday at least.

    Officials have reported two people dead, likely from cold, according to the Associated Press. Medical centers are rushing to administer vaccines before they go bad. Flights are grounded. More than a million barrels a day of oil and 10 billion cubic feet of gas production are shut and massive refineries have halted gasoline and diesel output.

    The Southwest Power Pool, which controls a grid spanning 14 states from North Dakota to Oklahoma, ordered rotating outages for a second consecutive day. President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for Texas, making more resources available to help.

    “I’ve been following energy markets and grid issues for a while, and I cannot recall an extreme weather event that impacted such a large swath of the nation in this manner — the situation is critical,” said Neil Chatterjee, a member of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

    The cold blast is just the latest in a chain of severe weather events that have shaken power grids and upended energy markets globally from Japan to France in recent months. They’ve all underscored how vulnerable the world has become in the face of increasingly unpredictable weather brought on by climate change and it’s raising questions about the global push to electrify everything from transportation to heating and cooling.

    Almost 4 million homes and businesses were without power across Texas on Tuesday, based on utility outage data compiled by Poweroutage.us. Another 400,000 were down in a swathe of states stretching from Louisiana to Ohio and Virginia. Almost 250,000 were without power in Oregon.

    In Mexico, over 4.7 million homes and businesses went dark after Texas’s shortages triggered cascading failures. But about 65% of those affected in Mexico had seen their power restored by midday, according to grid operator Cenace.

    While temperatures are forecast to rise, the weather across the central U.S. will remain bitingly cold this week. Dallas, which was forecast to see a low of 2 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 17 degrees Celsius) late Monday, will reach a high of 29 by Wednesday, the National Weather Service said. But by late Thursday, readings will drop back into the teens.

    Such drastic weather conditions are rare, especially in parts of Texas. In Houston, the state’s largest city, roads were iced over and people braved long lines to refill household propane canisters. Traffic and street lights are down. Firewood is selling out. Grocery stores have run out of essentials including milk.

    This week’s cold front caught Texas’s highly decentralized power market especially by surprise. The region’s grid is designed for hot summers, not ice-cold winters, but many households rely on electricity to heat their home. Utilities there haven’t had to carry out rolling blackouts since 2011.

    Extreme weather events are happening more frequently, a shift that’s attributed to the changing climate. In response, electrifying sectors like transport and heating to use green power is seen as vital to eliminating harmful emissions, but the world’s grid infrastructure may not be ready.

    As electricity demand rises and grids rely more on wind and solar power, where supply oscillates with the weather, networks will have to increase access to back-up generation. In Texas, where both wind and gas-fired generation was hit by the cold snap, there wasn’t enough reserve power to keep the lights on.

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