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Climate change poses a serious threat to power grids

Austin Wang

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It’s common knowledge that the oil and natural gas industries are bad for the environment, but the fact that oil and gas threaten electricity supply is much more counterintuitive. Climate change and the resulting extreme weather are a growing cause of blackouts, and as “dirty” energies contribute to climate change, they also indirectly threaten the stability of the power grids they supply.

Blackouts become a rapidly-growing threat

While it may seem far fetched that climate change has caused significant increases in outages, there has been a huge rise in blackouts over the past decade. A report by Climate Central finds that from the mid-1980s to 2012, blackout rates increased tenfold. From 2003 to 2014, an estimated 147 million people were affected by weather-related blackouts.

Storms, tornadoes, and extreme heat all cause blackouts, and climate change only increase the frequency of these events. As global warming continues to raise temperatures, blackouts will become more and more frequent.

Heatwaves make electric grids unusable

Today, heat waves are a serious threat to energy security. Yesterday, one of the largest electric grids in Texas declared an energy conservation emergency as temperatures rose above 100 degrees. As residents scrambled to use air conditioning, electricity demand spiked across Texas. The Energy Reliability Council of Texas suggested that residents reduce energy demand from 3 to 7 pm to prevent blackouts.

Similar energy emergencies could happen all across hot arid regions of the U.S. A study from UCLA’s Institute of Energy and Sustainability found that climate change could cause sweeping blackouts in LA. The combination of a growing population and rising temperatures could easily increase air conditioner use and trigger power grid shutdowns.

Blackouts during extreme heat can be incredibly dangerous as people struggle to cool their homes. In the 1995 Chicago heat wave, an estimated 739 people died due to extreme temperatures and power failures.

Detroit takes a stand to improve power grid security

In Michigan, the state with the most weather-related power outages, citizens are advocating for change. An estimated 800,000 Michigan residents suffer from weather-related blackouts every year and outages are expected to become more frequent.

Detroit has taken steps towards improving power grid security. Utility DTE Energy proposed a $4.2 billion dollar plan to modernize Detroit’s energy grid and make it more resilient to weather-related disasters. However, some argue against fixes that fail to target the root of the problem.

Instead, many activists in Detroit are advocating for the expansion of solar energy. Using solar panels to create community-based micro-grids would allow communities to continue using power during blackouts. Decentralizing the energy supply could also make utility bills cheaper and reduce citizens’ reliance on large utility companies. On a larger scale, solar energy would also slow climate change and the resulting extreme weather effects.

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Here’s How European Homes Are Curbing Energy Emissions

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People and governments around the world are now making a serious effort to curb energy emissions. Ranging from policy reform to the emergence of greentech startups, it looks like people are finally realizing the gravity of the consequences of energy emissions. No doubt, the structural changes that come with this realization will ultimately impact the neighborhoods we live in. So naturally, housing is often the place to begin when considering where to implement environmentally-friendly changes.

Fortunately, homeowners can do quite a bit to cut their own energy wastage. With appliances such as routers and printers consuming energy even when not plugged in, residences are the third-highest source of energy consumption within the United States. But is it any surprise?

How European Homes Compare To The U.S. In Terms Of Energy Emissions?

In contrast, UK homes actually fare quite well when it comes to reducing their energy emissions. Results from the Environmental Performance Index consistently rank European countries as the most environmentally-friendly. The UK placed 6th last year, jumping six places in two short years. On the other hand, the U.S. placed 27th.

The EPI results are in line with the European Union’s mission to become the world’s first carbon-neutral economy by 2050. And undoubtedly, housing will have to play a big role in achieving this goal. After all, our neighborhoods tend to take a significant toll on natural surroundings.

Concrete Changes Within The Housing Landscape

Recently, the EU passed a ‘right to repair’ regulation that makes it easier for people to get their large appliances repaired.

This regulation can yield significant results, as manufacturers are required to make appliances last longer while also supplying parts for machines up to 10 years old. These regulations work to supplement current initiatives by manufacturers.

After all, properly maintaining appliances is one of the key ways to ensure your house emits less energy waste. HomeServe UK states how heating insurance is very important nowadays as it will ensure that homeowners have fully functional heating systems and aren’t wasting energy because their boilers aren’t working efficiently.

Engineers are generally available 24/7 which means they can rectify issues immediately. It is also worth getting professionals to check your water supply, pipes, drainage systems, and roofing so that they are helping to minimize heat loss.

Similarly, home services company Pacifica Group recently launched a partnership with GAP to recycle old fridge units responsibly.

Once the ‘right to repair’ regulations are in effect, homeowners should expect easier access to maintenance professionals.

These initiatives can help reduce the carbon footprint in households, especially as old appliances can end up causing far more energy emissions to do the same amount of work.

A macro-level approach would be to take a look at the neighborhoods themselves. Cooperative and social housing provides for citizens all across the continent, which offers a natural entry point for renewable energy sources and greener buildings.

Cities like Madrid and Leeds are now part of a program to create net-zero buildings, citing energy renovation as a potential key to improving citizens’ overall wellbeing. The program seeks to eliminate carbon emissions from building stocks.

The Importance Of Individual Choices In Reducing Energy Emissions

These developments also run in line with moves made by homeowners to live a more sustainable lifestyle. European citizens are known to make more environmentally-conscious choices, from leaning on public transport to using eco-friendly bags.

Trying to reverse the effects of climate change will require serious structural change, which is why such interventions are necessary. The truth is that much of the nation’s emissions are due to large corporations and factories.

But as a consumer, you can take steps to reduce energy emissions too. Coupled with large changes to the housing landscape, everyone can make a difference.

Europe continues to pave the way in this regard. And its new legislation and projects prove that how we live plays a direct role in shaping our environment.

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Energy

Concerned About Your Carbon Footprint? Send Fewer Emails.

Ari Kelo

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Emailing contributes to carbon emissions.

How often do you send a pointless email? Perhaps a quick “Thank you,” “Much appreciated,” or “Have a good weekend” when the conversation ends? That may seem like proper etiquette, but at scale, these unnecessary emails contribute a great deal to your carbon footprint. A recent survey study commissioned by OVO Energy — the leading energy provider in England — has uncovered the actual gravity of email traffic on carbon emissions.

How Emails Increase Your Carbon Footprint

Using the UK as a case study, researchers found that Brits send more than 64 million pointless emails each day — a habit releasing 23,475 tons of carbon emissions per year. Just by reducing each adult’s email traffic by one email a day, the UK could reduce its carbon footprint by 16,433 tons a year. That’s as much as 81,152 flights to Madrid or 3,334 diesel cars getting taken off the road.

Professor Mike Berners-Lee, one of the study’s authors, and coincidentally brother to Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the web), argues that these small behaviors, such as sending unnecessary emails, add up.

Professor Mike Berners Lee agrees cutting back on unnecessary emails can help reduce carbon emissions.
Professor Mike Berners-Lee agrees cutting back on unnecessary emails can help reduce carbon emissions.

“When you are typing, your computer is using electricity,” he says. “When you press send it goes through the network, and it takes electricity to run the network. And it’s going to end up being stored on the cloud somewhere, and those data centers use a lot of electricity. We don’t think about it because we can’t see the smoke coming out of our computers, but the carbon footprint of IT is huge and growing.”

And although he’s not too sure about the exact statistics, Berners-Lee agrees with OVO Energy’s point. “[Every small step is] a reminder to ourselves and others that we care even more about the really big carbon decisions,” he says.

To Email Or Not To Email

The study’s bottom line? “Think before you thank,” according to OVO Energy. Doing so could save 16,433 tons of carbon each year.

And the good news? Most Brits are more than willing to limit their email traffic for the sake of the environment. According to the study, 71% of UK adults wouldn’t mind not receiving that extra closing email if they knew it would reduce carbon emissions and benefit the environment. And despite their stereotypical British politeness, 87% would happily “reduce their email traffic to help support the same cause.”

At the end of the day, simply understanding the environmental toll of emails may be enough to inspire people to change their email habits.

So the next time you consider sending that “Lol” or “Sounds good,” instead consider saving your time. In doing so, you may also be saving the environment.

In short, when in doubt, leave that “Thank you” out. (And maybe unsubscribe from your grocery store mailing list while you’re at it.)

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Energy

For The First Time, Renewable Energy Powers Half Of Australia’s Grid

Rich Bowden

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Renewable energy powers half of Australia's power grid.

Renewable energy provided 50 percent of Australia’s power grid last week, according to data from the National Energy Market (NEM). It was the first time the country’s renewables have reached half of all power generated in the NEM market.

For reference, the region covers markets including Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania. 

The Numbers Look Promising For Renewable Energy In Australia

Solar power led the way, powering 32.5 percent (23.7% rooftop solar, 8.8% large-scale solar) of the grid. Wind power followed with 15.7 percent and hydro with 1.9 percent. Experts believe the breakthrough heralds a future where these numbers will become an increasingly common occurrence.

“We will start to see this happening more frequently. It was just a snapshot in time, but it’s indicative of an underlying trend in the system,” said Dylan McConnell of the University of Melbourne’s Climate and Energy College.

However, while the achievement was pivotal, renewable energy operators in Australia still were not running at full capacity. “What we’ll see in Australia eventually is getting to 100 per cent [renewable supply] at certain times, but that excess of power won’t be able to be exported anywhere — it’ll have to be stored,” industry analyst and columnist Giles Parkinson explains.

Battery Storage Will Be Key To Australia’s Continuous Adoption Of Renewable Energy

Further take-up of renewable energy in Australia depends on the availability of storage, said Parkinson. He further discusses that the government should do more to make storage available to all Australians. “We’ve been locked in a decades-old paradigm of coal providing base-load [energy] and gas providing the peak load,” he said, referring to Australia’s continued reliance on fossil fuel energy. 

He added that the federal government should be pro-active in providing incentive programs for battery storage. “We really need a plan to be put into place and, right now, we’re not seeing that from any government, even though some of the state governments are calling out for it,” he adds.

Energy Companies Double Down On Battery Storage To Support The Shift

The news comes as Australian energy company AGL announced a major breakthrough in Australian battery storage. The company has signed an agreement with the Maoneng Group to supply four large-scale batteries in New South Wales. Each battery will be 50MW/100MWh in capacity, according to an AGL press statement. 

AGL CEO Brett Redman described the deal as heralding a new era in battery storage in Australia. “This is the dawn of the battery age and AGL is proud to lead the way,” he said.

He adds: “Australia’s energy market is undergoing significant changes and large-scale batteries like these will be pivotal in providing firming capacity in the shift between base-load power and renewables.” The statement says the batteries will be ready to go online in 2023 and power 30,000 homes at that time.

Summary

As companies are governments continue to push for a shift towards renewable energy, battery storage innovations will be pivotal. And while renewable energy may have only temporarily powered half of the Australian grid, it certainly is a positive signal.

That is, it is clearly possible to run on cleaner energy sources at scale.

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