The Texas grid is still working, despite the heat

Good morning! It’s officially hot enough to make robust AC the most appealing part of heading into the office. Down in Texas, however, the July heat could spell trouble for an overtaxed electricity grid. Also coming up today: why a handful of lawmakers in North Carolina have proposed legislation that could remove public EV chargers. Buckle up!

Too hot for the grid to handle?

Monday dawned bright and hot, with the news for Texans that the soaring temperatures — over 100 degrees Fahrenheit — could overtax the state’s grid.

While Texas ultimately managed to avoid outages this time around, keeping its electricity flowing is a delicate dance for the independent grid.

Texas keeps breaking electricity demand records this summer. In the midst of a heat wave, residents are cranking their AC and straining the grid. Last week, the state passed its projected peak in electricity demand a month earlier than expected.

  • After February 2021, when Texas had a dramatic cold snap and storm that tanked electricity for several days in swaths of the state, all eyes are on whether the grid can handle the increasingly chaotic weather.
  • Complicating matters was the fact that the state’s typically gusty winds slackened on Monday, causing turbines to generate just a fraction of their potential.
  • The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which is in charge of the state’s independent grid, has so far relied on voluntary cutbacks to curb demand, but rolling blackouts — like those seen across California in peak fire season — are a potential fallback.

Crypto companies have volunteered to be white knights. Or, more accurately, they have volunteered to do something by doing nothing: Crypto companies have long said they could ease demand on the grid by pausing their electricity-intensive mining, and this summer that idea is being put to the test.

  • ERCOT told Reuters that there are roughly 10 crypto mining operations connected to the grid in the state, where low electricity rates and crypto-friendly regulations have made it a playground for the industry.
  • And nearly all of the industrial-scale miners — including Riot Blockchain and Argo Blockchain — curtailed their power use on Monday. Lee Bratcher, president of the Texas Blockchain Council, told Bloomberg that the sector freed up over 1,000 megawatts of mining load.
  • Still, the fact that they can just shut down their operations in times of crisis highlights that their work is power-hungry and non-essential. As we’ve written previously, bitcoin mining in particular requires so much power that crypto operations have even revived dormant coal or natural gas-run plants to sate the demand.

As for Texas-based tech companies? It’s not yet clear how or if companies — including Tesla, Indeed, Dropbox, Dell and Oracle — are adapting their operations in response to high temperatures.

  • But Tesla has clearly been thinking about how it can take advantage of the state’s grid instability. The company filed a request in May asking ERCOT to change its rules to allow anyone with renewables or energy storage capacity to essentially serve as a backup power source in times of trouble.
  • In California, where power outages have become common in times of demand spikes, most major tech companies have been relatively unscathed; they largely get their power from the high-voltage lines that serve big metro areas, rather than the smaller, neighborhood-specific lines that are likely to be cut in times of danger.
  • Still, as my colleague Joe Williams put it, it’s “funny how tech keeps moving places where this is a problem.”

Why would you rip out public EV chargers?

Something strange is afoot in the Tar Heel State. A bill that would allocate funds to potentially remove public electric vehicle chargers was introduced recently in the North Carolina legislature, and people are baffled.

There’s no such thing as a free charge. Or at least that’s the theory behind HB 1049, introduced in May, which would discourage companies from providing free charging stations for their customers.

  • Businesses would be required to add a line to their receipts disclosing how much of a person’s total purchase price “is a result of the business providing electric vehicle charging stations at no charge.”
  • It would also block free charging on government property, unless free gasoline or diesel fuel is also on offer.
  • Lawmakers are even willing to rip out charging stations. The bill would create a $50,000 pot to allow noncompliant businesses to remove the offending chargers.

The bill will undoubtedly die on the vine, according to one of its sponsors, Rep. Mark Brody, but the lawmakers are trying to make a broader point with its introduction about “fuel equity.” The premise is that things won’t be “equitable” if only EV drivers have their source of fuel subsidized.

  • “This one is not going to go any further,” Brody told me, but he says its point stands: that gasoline and diesel fuel are not substantially different from the electricity that fuels an EV. (Fact check: While they may provide the same practical purpose, even electricity derived from natural gas results in far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline or diesel.)
  • “Because the drive is so strong [to get] these electric cars out there,” he added, “the government may be willing to use taxpayer dollars to provide fuel, or in this case electricity, for free … yet leave out the other fuels.”
  • One of its sponsors, state Rep. Ben Moss, seems to have brought the bill into the wider public consciousness by recently tweeting that “taxpayers should not be footing the bill” for public chargers. Commenters seized on the opportunity to point out that it might also not be fair to use taxpayers’ funds to rip them out.

This is a reminder of the challenges facing EV charging. Each state and even each city has a different level of enthusiasm when it comes to building out a charging network, and the lack of consistency affects who wants to actually take the EV plunge, and where.

  • Charging concerns are the most-cited worries for those considering an EV, even as more chargers are installed every day on a nationwide basis.

A MESSAGE FROM PEPSICO

The emissions that make up a full greenhouse gas footprint can emanate from outside the four walls of your own manufacturing operations, like in the case of PepsiCo, where 93% of emissions come from its value chain.

Learn more

One big number: A $2.7 billion solar panel recycling market

Demand for out-of-use solar panel parts is expected to soar over the course of the next decade, new data shows. The research outfit Rystad Energy found that the global market for retired panel materials could be worth $2.7 billion by 2030, as compared to a mere $170 million today. And demand is expected only to continue climbing; by 2050, the market could be worth $80 billion.

Why the anticipated swell in demand? Well, photovoltaic recycling is today still a budding industry trying to rationalize the high cost of transporting and salvaging the materials from a dead panel rather than simply building a new one from scratch. But — as demand builds for solar and developers continue to be thwarted by mangled supply chains — things could change.

As one of the energy transition’s most sought-after technologies, solar panels are bound to generate a growing mound of waste (27 million metric tons per year, per Rystad’s estimate). Recycling can both answer the question of what to do with all of that waste — currently landfill-bound, in most cases — and potentially alleviate some supply chain tension to boot.

Hot links

A new EV retail fleet is hitting the scene: Walmart announced a deal with Canoo to buy 4,500 delivery vehicles, with the option to add even more to the fleet.

I swear it’s deja vu: Sens. Joe Manchin and Chuck Schumer are still discussing a reconciliation package, with energy and climate spending to the tune of $300 billion. Sen. Mitch McConnell, however, is trying to derail their efforts.

The climate crisis is coming for the bond market, and some startups think they can use new technology to help analysts understand the potential risk.

We don’t yet have the tech to decarbonize shipping. Doing so will be both a logistical and a technological challenge, and the sector still has a long way to go, Grist reports.

A MESSAGE FROM PEPSICO

Asking suppliers and associated companies to overhaul the way they work is no small feat, but PepsiCo is taking a three-pronged approach centered around the principles of educating, enabling and incentivizing. The Sustainability Action Center aims to engage and equip value chain partners with tools to undergo their own sustainability journey.

Learn more

Thanks for reading! As ever, you can send any and all feedback to climate@protocol.com. See you Thursday!

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