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Justin Fox

If Heating Goes Electric, We're Going to Need a Better Grid

Texans get most of their heat from electricity, and the rest of the country may be headed that way. That will pose some new challenges for energy infrastructure.

How reliable is your electricity supply?

How reliable is your electricity supply?

Photographer: Bloomberg

When the power went out in Texas last month, most people lost their heat too. Sixty-one percent of occupied housing units in the state rely on electricity for heating, according to the Census Bureau, versus 39.5% nationally. Only six states, all also in the South, have a higher electricity share.

Dependence on electric heat also drove the demand surge that helped cause the Texas blackouts in the first place. The power grid managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which covers almost all of the state, at one point delivered 20% more electricity than its peak winter forecast, according to BloombergNEF, Bloomberg’s energy-research arm. Actual demand was 30% or more above the forecast. The combination of electrical generation from coal, natural gas, wind and even nuclear falling out for a variety of freeze-related reasons and millions of Texans cranking up the electric heat because it was so cold proved more than the system could handle.