A Texas power outage caused by severe cold weather that negatively impacted the state’s mostly independent and thoroughly unprepared power grid is causing Austin hospitals to curtail activities.
The Texas power outage currently plaguing the state of Texas is teaching an unfortunate lesson about the nexus between water an energy that Austin hospitals never wanted to learn. The near-statewide power outage was caused by continued low temperatures and snow conditions that found the independent electric grid that services most of the state wholly unprepared.
The lack of preparation to harden the system to the types of climate extremes expected as the climate changes was brought on through politically-based management decisions. The implications of the decisions have been staggering, especially during the time of COVID and the need to stay at home as much as possible.
As of the time of this writing, low power has left almost 600 public water systems in 141 counties with service disruptions, a spokesperson for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality told the Texas Tribune. The disruptions have impacted 12 million people, many of whom currently lack electricity to boil water as they’ve been instructed to do. Many water systems have been left with low water pressure, which has unfortunately impacted hospitals, forcing several in the Austin area to significantly curtail their activities.
At St. David’s South Austin Medical Center, low water pressure caused the facility’s heat to fail since its facility is heated with a boiler and heated water. Some patients are being moved to other hospitals and emergency efforts are underway to get water to the hospital. At Ascension Seton Southwest Hospital, issues with low water pressure are causing hospital officials to reschedule surgeries until the crises has ended. Officials with the state’s non-profit electrical grid operator, ironically titled Electric Reliability Council of Texas, say electrical shutdowns were necessary because the state was moments away from catastrophic shutdowns that could have taken months to repair and restart.
The whole disaster is a good lesson in the close relationship that water and energy share and why that relationship can sometimes be fraught. It takes a lot of energy to treat, heat and move water. Likewise, it takes a lot of water to make energy, especially for systems that are dependent on fossil-fuel based thermoelectric power that relies heavily on water that cools steam used in the process of generating electricity.
Texas’ leaders and grid management would do well to embrace nexus thinking by understanding the coming dangers of Climate Change and taking the steps necessary to adapt and harden their systems, in order to avoid what are likely to become more frequent episodes.