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Texas power grid failure spurs conversation about America’s energy future

March 5, 2021, 4:30 PM UTC

As is the way in Texas, the state went supersize when it came to having an electric grid meltdown during a recent (and rare) winter storm. The storm created a huge spike in demand for electricity and tumbled the state’s power grid.

So what are Texas and other states to do in order to keep this from happening again? Emmanuel Lagarrigue, chief innovation officer of Schneider Electric, says it’s worth looking to other countries, such as Australia, for answers.

The country “is probably two or three years ahead of the rest of the world, in terms of the energy transition,” he says. “The utility is not selling power anymore,” and houses and other buildings have solar panels and are “uploading or downloading power every day. The role of the utility is to be that software company that orchestrates the balance of demand on the grid.”

But a change like that requires a major shift in thinking. “It’s very difficult for the traditional energy companies,” he continues, “whether it be oil and gas, or utilities to think in different terms, because for decades, we’ve been thinking about an energy system that supplies with a very big supply chain, channeling fuel from the other side of the planet, refining [that fuel], and then distributing [it] to consumers.”

Lagarrigue joined Michal Lev-Ram and Brian O’Keefe, hosts of Fortune Brainstorm, a podcast about how technology is changing our lives, to talk about the future of America’s energy supply.

Also on the show is Michael Putt, director of smart grid innovation at Florida Power and Light. Putt agrees that there are a lot of “opportunities with giving customer opportunities to host solar in their homes.”

Finally on the show is Dr. Elta Kolo, the content lead for the Grid Edge team at Wood MacKenzie, which is working on utility digitization and flexibility for U.S. electricity markets. Kolo believes “we’re in a fantastic phase right now” and “we’re seeing technologies really start to scale.”

What will help move things along?

“Federal investment will create a sense of confidence and security in the private sector,” Kolo says.