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How not to transition to clean energy
Devastating impact of winter storm in Texas offers lessons for Asia power sector
22 Feb 2021 | Bayani S. Cruz

There are three takeaways that the Asian power sector must learn from the Texas winter storm debacle that will be invaluable in the transition to clean energy.

The power grid in the “Lone Star State”, which runs 80-90% on fossil fuel, collapsed because it was not “winterized” or protected against a winter storm of this magnitude, resulting in scores of deaths, water shortage, and millions of dollars in damages.

Texas was not really transitioning into clean energy. Many people down there, particularly the state's leaders, are still in denial when it comes to climate change. But based on public feedback there are more people today who understand how clean energy works and what the benefits are. This is already a big milestone considering that as recently as a year ago not many people, even in Asia, knew what clean energy was.

As millions of people in the state struggled to get through without electricity and tap water supply, their governor tried to blame the power outages on clean energy, ending up looking obtuse, to say the least, and deceitful at most. What has become clear is that the power infrastructure in Texas is the opposite of what a clean energy power grid looks like.

In any case the catastrophe has inspired renewed debate on the pros and cons of renewable energy that can only further heighten awareness and greater urgency for transitioning towards clean energy, not only in Texas but worldwide.

The first takeaway, thus, is that an appreciation of clean energy and its benefits in the general population is a must if we are to transition to clean energy quickly and efficiently.

In Asia, we are still in the early stages of awareness and education as regards clean energy but it seems that people are learning very quickly. Though we definitely don’t want the disaster that happened in Texas to take place anywhere, it contributed in a negative way to broadening awareness of the importance of clean energy transition.

The second takeaway is that deregulating, a.k.a. privatizing, the power grid has its pitfalls, based on the experience in Texas. This is relevant for Asia because in the transition to clean energy the idea of privatizing power utilities is normally being bandied about.

To be sure, in Asia there have been successful cases of privatization of the power grid, such as in Delhi, India, in the previous decade. But these were carried out with constructive support from the local government coupled with efficient management of the licensed entities.

In the case of Texas, they privatized the power grid to remove it from the ambit of federal standards and regulations, apart from other considerations. The motivation is essentially political. The result is inefficiency and mismanagement, which became evident during this winter storm.

The lesson for Asia is that while it may be all right to privatize the power grid, it should be done with support and oversight from the government to ensure it meets proper standards.

The third takeaway is that transitioning to clean energy must be done immediately and quickly. While we do not have winter storms in Asia, we do have powerful typhoons, earthquakes, and other natural calamities.

One reason Texas did not bother to winterize its power grid was that in the past destructive winter storms like the most recent one did not happen frequently anyway. But with climate change looming large, this reasoning has become outdated as the natural calamities are now happening more often with much greater severity. 

In Asia, it would do well for governments, utilities, sustainability experts, and others involved in the power sector to consider that these calamities will be happening more often, making it imperative to transition to clean energy more quickly.