Texas’s Winter Crisis Helps Build A Case For Solar Storage . Will It Be The Turning Point?

Highlights :

  • The Wildfires in California, and Now the Winter Storm in Texas, have built a strong case for solar +storage in these large states in the US.
  • As trendsetters, these states could influence demand in a big way for storage , helping bring down prices. Is that time here finally?

Earlier this year, Winter Storm Uri swept across North America in the month of February and thrust the U.S. state of Texas in the grip of a major power crisis, causing electricity outages, disrupting telecom facilities, and creating food, medical support, and heat shortages. Like many other power-dependent infrastructures, the Ullrich Water Treatment Plant in Austin shut down due to an electrical failure, creating urgent water paucity. A few Texans, in whose homes backup electricity systems were already installed, found it easier to battle the crisis and served as an example for many other helpless residents who are now trying to prepare better for future disasters. Could this time of crisis be a pivotal moment for the widespread adoption of solar and storage backup systems, driving down costs in and beyond the state?

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Three months after the blackouts subsided, demand for such systems was skyrocketing, according to Bloomberg. Freedom Solar, which installs home solar and storage, saw sales of Tesla Powerwall batteries jump 16-fold, while Greater Texas Solar saw a 25% jump in sales after the freeze.

Even though politicians have blamed power outages on the irregular supply of renewable energy, rather than confronting the real cause — shuttered gas plants and fuel shortages —Texans are suddenly more open to learn from their difficult experience and prepare for future climate change-induced crises by investing in new technologies that merge solar, battery, and generators to achieve independence from the grid. For instance, Greater Texas Solar is promoting a solar and battery storage system that’s backed up with propane-fired generators. During a power failure, part of the electricity created by the propane generator can also be used to charge the battery system for later use, thus enabling the system to run on “island mode” for days, if needed.

A similar investment in backup power is being observed as a result of another climate change-led disaster — the Californian wildfires which have caused blackouts in the state. Since not everyone has the resources to build such reserves at home, Smart Electric Power Alliance is calling for using public funds to strategically install microgrids at police stations, fire stations, schools or community centers, which can become shelters during disasters with prolonged outages.

These “microgrids” — comprising solar panels and large batteries — seem to be the only reliable solution for the communities living in and outside Texas to ensure that vulnerable people (elders, the ill, and the poor) and infrastructure can withstand power outages.

In light of the billions of dollars spent by Texas in managing the blackouts, microgrid systems are being considered much more affordable by grid experts. The California Self-Generation Incentive Program, which provides incentives for residential battery storage, and includes energy storage incentives for low-income residents, is one of the models being considered towards encouraging residents to supplement local microgrids. As adoption of such systems grows within and beyond Texas, their prices can also reasonably be expected to go down to affordable rates.

The implications of such a shift could be profound. Besides the extra demand, it could actually drive down prices faster, as scale economies kick in. Of course, in the short term, there is always the chance that   prices could move up, till the market adjusts.

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Soumya Duggal

Soumya is a master's degree holder in English, with a passion for writing. It's an interest she has directed towards environmental writing recently, with a special emphasis on the progress being made in renewable energy.

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