On Aug. 1, 2011, a feral heat wave grasped Texas by its drought-parched throat. Temperatures remained over 100 degrees for 40 days—dozens of people died. Air conditioners all over the state struggled valiantly to cool buildings—much of their effort leaked out into the hot Texas sky. Then, one by one, twenty power plants–primarily natural gas peaker plants—winked out because of the temperature. The cost for a kilowatt (kWh) of electricity during the afternoon peak reached $5,000. While inland wind was also low during the heat wave, coastal breezes kicked up. Wind power barely kept the grid operator from having to black out neighborhoods. Grid operators conceded that equipment failures in such heat were to be expected. The irony here is that the power plants which failed—inefficient peakers with a high cost per kWh—are justified on the basis that they will be required only occasionally, during extreme weather—but apparently are not designed to be available in those very circumstances!
A quarter of U.S. coal fired power plants this winter are operating with less than half their necessary reserve supply of coal, making the entire national grid vulnerable in the event of a severe weather event. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Remember this episode the next time you hear—or read—that we can’t progress to 100 percent clean energy because the centralized, fossil grid is more “reliable.” Our current coal and natural gas reliant grid is anything but reliable. The Galvin Electricity Intiative led by former Motorola CEO Bob Galvin and former Edison Electric CTO Kurt Yeager, describes the grid as “Aging, unreliable, inefficient, insecure and incompatible with the needs of a digital economy … each day roughly 500,000 Americans spend at least two hours without electricity. Brownouts, power spikes and even minor blips can bring high-tech production lines to a halt. Such impurities and failures cost business and consumers an estimated $150 billion a year. Moreover, the system is vulnerable to terrorist attack, major storms and even moderately turbulent weather.”
Heat waves are not the only source of fossil power vulnerability. Only six months before the 2011 heat wave, Texas had lost 80 power plants to an ice-storm. During last year’s three day freezing U.S. polar vortex, with temperatures 20-30 degrees lower than normal, demand soared across the Midwest and East. Simultaneously, more than 35,000 megawatts of electricity capacity failed; about half was due to inadequate fuel supply, either frozen coal piles or natural gas supply shortfalls; the other half was due to equipment freezing in the severe cold. (Significant brown-outs were avoided only because of demand response management—clean power to the reliability rescue again).
Water shortages can cripple both fossil and nuclear power. In 2013 and again in 2014 coal power plants in Maharashtra, India, were shut down due to a lack of cooling water. The State of Chattisgarh had to shut down its Sipit coal plants in 2008 due to drought. In 2003 Electricite de France had to shut down a quarter of France’s nuclear power fleet because of water temperatures. In June 2014 California lost more than a gigawatt of natural gas capacity because of a drought-induced shortage of cooling water. Last August Connecticut had to shut down a nuclear plant because of water temperatures too high for cooling.
Lots of rain doesn’t help either. This July Serbia lost 45 percent of its coal production due to flooded mines. From 2010-2013 floods routinely slashed coal production in Queensland, Australia, driving up global coal prices dramatically and forcing importers like India to reduce generation and cut off consumers.
Each fossil fuel power plant sits at the end of a long supply chain; these often fail. Even the utility industry is making the argument that its natural gas powered fleet does not have access to sufficiently reliable gas pipeline capacity. A quarter of U.S. coal fired power plants this winter are operating with less than half their necessary reserve supply of coal, making the entire national grid vulnerable in the event of a severe weather event. In 2013 Pakistan experienced routine 20-22 hour black-outs and load shedding because its gas-fired power plants could not access enough fuel.
This August 55,000 megawatts of generating capacity in India were shut down due to coal supply shortage or breakdowns. Yet the U.S., Pakistan and India are among the countries with the world’s largest coal reserves.
Indeed, so unreliable is the centralized, fossil dependent grid that both its operators and customers have to overbuild generating capacity to deal with these failures. Utility systems are routinely expected to have 15 percent surplus capacity above expected maximum load to deal with outages, and often maintain more than 30 percent. A full 20 percent of the total electric load in the U.S. is backed up with on-site generators, mostly diesel, because facilities like hospitals, prisons, data centers, airports and research laboratories cannot tolerate the routine power outages that they experience from grid power.
So why (Big Carbon propaganda aside) do we keep reading about unreliability as the problem with a 100 percent clean power future? The media confuses, (and is encouraged to confuse) intermittency with unreliability. A full moon is intermittent—and so are eruptions of Old Faithful. But we would not describe either of them as “unreliable.”
Wind and solar are similarly intermittent but reliable. (Geothermal, small hydro and efficiency are neither intermittent nor unreliable.) The number of hours a year they generate at peak capacity is smaller than for a typical natural gas, coal or nuclear power plant—if that conventional plant has fuel and doesn’t break down. But that doesn’t mean we don’t know how many electrons renewables will yield each year, nor that those electrons necessarily cost more—after all, the fuel is free. Increasingly renewables have raced “grid parity” and now cost less than fossils is many markets.
And clean power is less vulnerable to equipment failures, extreme weather or disruption of fuel supply chains than coal, natural gas or nuclear. Indeed, after really extreme weather events, like Hurricane Sandy or Typhoon Hudhud, the only electric power that was available, sometimes for weeks, were pockets of renewable energy.
And electric demand is intermittent as well—with solar generating peak power at exactly the moment when air conditioning load, or irrigation pumping is the highest—so that in California solar power has eliminated the need for summer afternoon peaker plants. In Africa and India, many earnest discussions of how “unreliable” solar power is take place in grid powered meeting rooms where, during the meeting itself, power is shifted from a grid which has failed to local diesel generations. But outside those rooms solar panels on poor people’s houses continue to operate.
Reliable, but intermittent generation, like wind and solar, requires different load balancing strategies than coal power at risk from fuel disruptions, or nuclear which can break down for months or years at a time. Clean power needs short-term storage, to deal with variations in wind and solar generation from clouds or gusts, and a better connected set of wires so that as wind in West Texas dies down consumers simply draw on coastal winds which are kicking up.
But overall the reliability problems with a clean energy future will be smaller than if we keep trying to drag out our dependence on fossil fuels. The chart below—which is based on experience globally—suggests why. There are simply a lot more ways that a centralized, fossil fuel grid can let consumers down than there are with a clean energy, heavily distributed grid.
VULNERABILITY OF GENERATING TECHNOLOGIES TO DISRUPTORS
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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