School’s Out For Power Failure

After yet another storm knocked down power lines and left millions in the dark, why is it that we’re still content to just patch up the power grid and continue on until it happens again?

School’s Out For Power Failure
Sure there was snow, but what kept kids out of school last week? No power. Flickr user Eliza Tasbihi

Last week, the northeast quadrant of the U.S. was blindsided by an unusual October snowstorm. In towns like Teaneck, New Jersey, school was out–certainly not for summer, but for power outages.


The storm snapped tree limbs, which severed power lines. And like in so many places, when the power goes out, towns like Teaneck wait their turn for the power company to show up to turn the light back on. Unfortunately, schools’ week-long closings are not enough to get us to rethink how we generate and deliver electricity.

We are at the mercy of the grid, even though America and other countries have been researching energy technologies since the 1970s that can break the cycle of energy dependence and reduce the price of rising fossil fuel prices. Today, these technologies are cost effective, they have reached a level of deployment where countries around the world are competing for dominance, and they are creating more jobs in the United States than any other part of the energy sector. So the question is, how do we kick this opportunity into high gear?

The answer: Get rid of federal energy subsidies. The opportunity to create energy solutions is in facing energy problems. The current issues paralyzing decision makers is whether states should hook their wagon to subsidized natural gas. But we’ve seen the cost of grid failure, like in the northeast quadrant of the U.S. in 2003.

The unexpected snowstorm in the Northeast had people scrambling for heat.  Like the rest of the people seeking energy access in the world, people in Connecticut were left burning charcoal in their bedrooms, markedly raising the number of carbon monoxide poisonings.

It is amazing how short-term fixes are so seductive after a disaster when they make almost no sense in terms of public safety, efficacy, or economics.  If the cost of a fossil fuel generator from the Home Depot were applied as a down payment for a solar photovoltatic system, people could get lower bills year-round and immediate benefit in the days after a disaster. 

We need the enemy of real costs to drive business innovations to deploy new energy solutions. The starting point is to end subsidies. Dump subsidies and level the playing field–it will jump-start business solutions.

About the author

Jigar Shah is CEO of the Carbon War Room, a nonprofit that harnesses the power of entrepreneurs to implement market-driven solutions to climate change and create a post-carbon economy. By bringing project finance and growth capital together with infrastructure entrepreneurs, corporations, governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), he identifies and eliminates market barriers; driving environmental improvements alongside economic growth.