The recent winter storm in Texas left millions without power or water from Presidents Day weekend until the following Friday, according to NBC News. With more than 80 people dead due to hypothermia, the death count of Winter Storm Uri rivaled that of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The storm revealed major problems in Texas’ energy supply and emergency preparedness.

In a Feb. 27 email interview, Mary Fischer, manager of the Office of Sustainability, explained that “clean energy” and “reliable energy” are not synonymous: fossil fuels can be reliable, and wind power, for example, can be unreliable. “Reliable means that when you want energy, you get it. Any type of energy can be reliable or unreliable,” said Fischer.

Fischer explained that in Texas, both clean and non-renewable energy sources were “unreliable.” Natural gases make up the largest component of Texas power at 50.1%, according to an Electric Reliability Council of Texas report. Wind turbines, which make up 24.8% of the state’s energy, made up roughly 13% of outages due to freezing — demonstrating that renewable energy can also technically be “unreliable.” But wind was unreliable to a lesser extent than gas, according to the report.

On the Stitcher podcast “The Energy Gang,” hosts Katherine Hamilton, Stephen Lacy and Jigar Shah claimed that natural gases were the biggest cause of outages. They explained that natural gas grids were unreliable because of Texas’ refusal to “weatherize.” Fischer defined “weatherization” as “preparing for the weather that we expect.” 

Prof.Sabine von Mering(ENVS) emphasized that there are many lessons to be learned from the storm and its aftermath in Texas. “We will have to have much smaller, renewably-powered grids, decentralized and community-owned. That way if a power outage occurs it doesn’t affect hundreds of thousands of households. Renewables are so much better. … They are much easier to deploy in a decentralized way,” she said. 

Due to Texas’ lack of weatherization, the storm and the unusually cold weather led natural gas lines containing water particles to freeze. “The Energy Gang” explained that when one part of the gas line froze, it shut off the entire gas grid. “The Energy Gang” also explained that in colder climates like New England, water is filtered out of gas lines to prevent this exact situation from happening. ERCOT cannot force energy suppliers to weatherize — only the Texas legislature can, and until winter storm Uri, they haven’t.  

At Brandeis, von Mering said, “We already have some experience with power outages on campus. … The most important thing to learn from Texas is that we must stop pretending we can slowly evolve out of this mess.” She continued, “Since Brandeis is a university, our most important product is education and research. We need to hire more climate experts [and] require students to become climate literate. … There is so much more we can do.”