This latest incident is more than a sign that Houstonians must take control of their power. Photo by Eric Turnquist

On the evening of May 16, a devastating “derecho” storm howled through Houston. Nearly 800,000 customers lost power. Many were still without electricity days later, as a heat wave baked neighborhoods that couldn’t power air conditioners.

It was yet another unwelcome reminder about the precariousness of the power grid.

These outages followed repeated grid warnings, conservation calls, and near-misses last summer and the summer before, as well as the catastrophic Winter Storm Uri freeze in February 2021.

The outages also preceded the increasingly extreme weather Texas faces and staggering growth on the ERCOT grid: after growing about 1 percent a year for 20 years, the power grid covering most of Texas may need to be 78 percent bigger by 2030.

So, this latest incident is more than a sign that Houstonians must take control of their power. It also shows that more and more, the state needs you to act.

Like any other market, a power grid runs on supply and demand. The supply of Texas energy is growing, which is great. At the same time, the economy is booming, leaving Texas setting demand records almost constantly. Generators can’t always keep up, especially when power plants break down or don’t produce electricity — there’s about an 18 percent chance that Texas will face at least one grid emergency this summer.

With odds like that, it’s no wonder that more and more Texans are finding ways to live more powerfully. Many are investing in solar panels and energy storage devices like Tesla Powerwalls.

These systems let families and business owners generate electricity during the day, store it, and use it later when there’s an emergency or just when power is scarce. They protect people from high bills and blackouts; it’s no coincidence that just since last month's storm, we've seen a five-fold increase in leads, reflecting a huge growth in interest in solar power. Further, since the storm, 90 percent of new Houston-area solar customers have bought backup battery systems, compared to 50 percent in 2024 and less than 25 percent in 2023.

That pattern has repeated across the country after severe weather events.

Homeowners and business owners can also slash their bills by weatherizing houses and buildings, the way power plants did after Uri. Advanced devices that help people automatically, and voluntarily, reduce electricity use when the grid is stretched would also help.

These improvements and investments would help more than just homeowners and business owners — they’d help the entire power grid. Every kilowatt that someone doesn’t need or can generate themselves frees up power for other families and businesses across the grid. That helps Texas keep the lights on, especially if electricity demand is about to spike as dramatically as the state expects.

Texas already incentivizes conservation and generation at a large scale. For example, large users like manufacturers and crypto miners get paid by ERCOT for reducing electricity use when the grid is stretched. And just last year, the legislature passed a $10 billion program to help fund new gas power plants.

It’s past time to extend similar incentives to everyday Texans, especially when we’re increasingly called upon to help ERCOT keep the lights on.

If crypto companies get money for reducing electricity use when ERCOT asks them to, then residential and business customers deserve to get paid too. The state could help Texans invest in technologies and smart metering programs that cut bills andautomatically reward people for reducing use on the hottest afternoons and coldest mornings.

More than that, the state has got to do more to reward solar customers who generate electricity and return it to the grid when demand rises. These virtual power plants will increasingly provide vital power when the state badly needs it, and consumers need to be rewarded for it. (Fortunately, the state is looking at strategies to take better advantage of virtual power plants.)

Finally, if Texas is helping big generators build gas plants, it should figure out ways to help regular Texans install solar panels and battery storage units. Such systems obviously help protect Texans from power outages, but they also fortify the ERCOT grid by reducing the demand on it.

Last month’s derecho was exactly the sort of freak occurrence that will become more common as the weather grows more extreme. The best way to protect the grid from such catastrophes is to protect individual Texas customers as well.

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Bret Biggart is CEO of Freedom Solar Power, a Texas-based solar company.


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Houston university debuts new program to develop wind turbine workforce

future technicians

University of Houston-Downtown announced a new Wind Turbine Technician Certificate Program.

UHD’s goal with the new program is to address the global need for workers skilled in servicing, diagnosing, repairing and installing wind turbines and other associated equipment.

The program will allow students to learn at their own pace, and is supported seven days a week by tutorial and technical staff, and offers flexible payment options with a low initial registration fee.

Some courses can be purchased as students work through them.The total cost is $1,750 for the entire program.

The course will be delivered in partnership with George Brown College in Toronto. George Brown College is a leader in distance learning, and one program highlight will be its 3D interactive wind turbine simulator. The wind turbine simulator will have key features like real-time visualization, interactive operation, pre-built lab projects, and Pitch and Yaw Ladder Logic applications, which shows how Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) are used to provide automatic control of wind turbines.

“The programs we develop at George Brown College feature robust technical simulation software so we can reach different students, like those looking to diversify their skills and can’t attend full time because of family or work commitments,” Colin Simpson, dean of continuous learning, says in a news release. “Additionally, our partnership with University of Houston-Downtown allows us to extend our reach to help train the U.S. clean energy workforce.”

According to Global Wind Energy Council’s Global Wind Report 2023, over half a million new wind technicians will be needed by 2026 to service the expected capacity increases, as wind generation is expected to more than double by 2030. Texas produces 26 percent of all U.S. wind-sourced electricity.

“Wind energy is one of the fastest-growing energy sources in the world, and as the largest wind producer in the United States, there is a growing need for skilled technicians in Texas,” UHD President Loren J. Blanchard adds. “By partnering with George Brown College, we’re able to leverage a unique online program to develop a skilled workforce for the wind energy sector in the state and beyond.”

Power grid tech co. with Houston HQ raises $25M series B

money moves

A Norway-based provider of technology for power grids whose U.S. headquarters is in Houston has raised a $25 million series B round of funding.

The venture capital arm of Polish energy giant Orlen, Norwegian cleantech fund NRP Zero, and the Norway-based Steinsvik Family Office co-led Heimdall Energy's round. Existing investors, including Investinor, Ebony, Hafslund, Lyse, and Sarsia Seed, chipped in $8.5 million of the $25 million round.

“This funding gives us fuel to grow internationally, as we continue to build our organization with the best people and industry experts in the world,” Jørgen Festervoll, CEO of Heimdall, says in a news release.

Founded in 2016, Heimdall supplies software and sensors for monitoring overhead power lines. The company says its technology can generate up to 40 percent in additional transmission capacity from existing power lines.

Heimdall entered the U.S. market in 2023 with the opening of its Houston office after operating for several years in the European market.

“Heimdall Power has built itself a unique position as an enabler for the ongoing energy transition, with fast-increasing electricity demand and queues of renewables waiting to get connected,” says Marek Garniewski, president of Orlen’s VC fund.

Heimdall says it will put the fresh funding toward scaling up production and installation of its “magic ball” sphere-shaped sensors. In the U.S., these sensors help operators of power grids maximize the capacity of the aging power infrastructure.

“In the United States alone, there are over 500,000 miles of power lines — most of which have a far higher transmission capacity than grid operators have historically been able to realize. To increase capacity, many have launched large-scale and expensive infrastructure projects,” Heimdall says.

Now, the U.S. government has stepped in to ensure that utilities are gaining more capacity from the existing infrastructure, aiming to upgrade 100,000 miles of transmission lines over the next five years.

Heimdall's technology enables grid operators and utilities to boost transmission capacity without undertaking lengthy, costly infrastructure projects. Earlier this year, the company kicked off the largest grid optimization project in the U.S. with Minnesota-based Great River Energy.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.