Snowstorm Blackouts? Renewables to the Rescue!

Snowday. Polar vortex. Snowmaggedon. Whatever the moniker, extreme weather events hurt less when you have renewables on your grid.

Jan 22, 2014 at 2:39PM

If your fridge and furnace kept humming during yesterday's snowstorm and subsequent frigid temperatures, you may have renewable energy to thank. During the peculiar "polar vortex" earlier this month, several regions were able to maintain power supplies despite record-low temperatures and record-high energy demand because wind power swooped in to boost production right when it was needed. The thing is, our power grid still has a long way to go for this protective effect to be consistently and universally reliable.


Source: Randy Geise

Diversity = Resilience
The buzzword in energy circles these days is resilience. As multiple forces conspire to undermine our antiquated power grid -- an increase in extreme weather events, the rise of cyberterrorism, and the steady deterioration of infrastructure, to name just a few -- energy companies are redoubling their efforts to harden their systems against various threats. For those with vision, diversification is an essential element of resilience.

No matter what the system -- be it the gene pool, financial markets, or the energy mix -- diversity greatly improves resilience to shocks. Biologists emphasize hybrid vigor. Finance experts recommend a range of financial instruments in your portfolio. This concept holds for energy sources as well.

Each power source has its strengths and weaknesses. Conventional, coal-fired power plants provide steady, reliable energy, but they have trouble responding to demand surges. Thus, coal plants typically maintain excess capacity, which is wasteful because it goes unused except in rare circumstances. Meanwhile, they have capacity limitations that can be exceeded, thereby not meeting the needs of electricity consumers. That's when the lights go out.

Meanwhile, renewables like wind and solar only deliver when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining. However, deployed effectively, they can pump extra electricity into the grid in periods of unusually high demand. During a heat wave, when folks are cranking their air conditioning to the breaking point, solar generation can make up the difference. In cold snaps, when we fire up the furnaces to infernal levels, wind can often pick up the slack.

Texas keeps the lights on during the polar vortex
Indeed, such was the case during the recent polar vortex. Texas shivered under below-freezing temperatures, and chilly Texans cranked their thermostats as they struggled to keep warm. Monday, Jan. 6, and Tuesday, Jan. 7, were two very different days in that regard.

That Monday, Texas' grid operator had to declare an emergency when power plants began shutting down out of nowhere, reducing the electricity supply as demand soared. This situation forced outages across the Texas grid. On Tuesday, however, a fairer wind blew. Even as the arctic freeze persisted, and electric-power use soared even higher to set a new record, the lights stayed on. Why? Because wind farms in West Texas generated enough juice to bridge the gap.

The wind carried in an additional benefit: It took some of the pressure off of gas-fired power plants, keeping natural gas prices in check and leaving more for building heat.

While there is some natural inconsistency to wind and solar energy, the availability of both can be reasonably predicted using weather forecasting. Given that conventional power plant failures are utterly unpredictable, wind and solar may not be as unreliable as they're sometimes made out to be.

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind...
Texas' recent experience is but one example among many in the last few years. However, it illustrates a further point: The fact that Texas still saw significant outages on Jan. 6 demonstrates that the grid still has a long way to go to achieve the holy grail of genuine resilience. As we continue to invest in the electric grid of the future, a time-honored adage holds as true as ever: diversify, diversify, diversify.

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4 in 5 Americans Are Ignoring Buffett's Warning

Don't be one of them.

Jun 12, 2015 at 5:01PM

Admitting fear is difficult.

So you can imagine how shocked I was to find out Warren Buffett recently told a select number of investors about the cutting-edge technology that's keeping him awake at night.

This past May, The Motley Fool sent 8 of its best stock analysts to Omaha, Nebraska to attend the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting. CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger fielded questions for nearly 6 hours.
The catch was: Attendees weren't allowed to record any of it. No audio. No video. 

Our team of analysts wrote down every single word Buffett and Munger uttered. Over 16,000 words. But only two words stood out to me as I read the detailed transcript of the event: "Real threat."

That's how Buffett responded when asked about this emerging market that is already expected to be worth more than $2 trillion in the U.S. alone. Google has already put some of its best engineers behind the technology powering this trend. 

The amazing thing is, while Buffett may be nervous, the rest of us can invest in this new industry BEFORE the old money realizes what hit them.

KPMG advises we're "on the cusp of revolutionary change" coming much "sooner than you think."

Even one legendary MIT professor had to recant his position that the technology was "beyond the capability of computer science." (He recently confessed to The Wall Street Journal that he's now a believer and amazed "how quickly this technology caught on.")

Yet according to one J.D. Power and Associates survey, only 1 in 5 Americans are even interested in this technology, much less ready to invest in it. Needless to say, you haven't missed your window of opportunity. 

Think about how many amazing technologies you've watched soar to new heights while you kick yourself thinking, "I knew about that technology before everyone was talking about it, but I just sat on my hands." 

Don't let that happen again. This time, it should be your family telling you, "I can't believe you knew about and invested in that technology so early on."

That's why I hope you take just a few minutes to access the exclusive research our team of analysts has put together on this industry and the one stock positioned to capitalize on this major shift.

Click here to learn about this incredible technology before Buffett stops being scared and starts buying!

David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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