To make solar power viable, there need to be gigantic installations in remote locations. Then there need to be new power lines equivalent to every paved road in America. Then the grid needs to be modernized with battery storage.

None of that is happening any time soon but what may spur at least grid improvements is the reliance on natural gas. Though alternative energy gets mandates and subsidies conventional fuel supplies 80 percent of American energy, but natural gas needs energy to get from place to place. While most of that is still, fittingly, supplied by natural gas, in places where it is supplied by electricity, or even less reliable solar electricity, pipelines are far more subject to outages.

The Texas 2021 event that led to more than 200 deaths was because natural gas pipelines were reliant on electricity to get into their grid, and when weather created demand while solar failed, electricity used for pipelines did also. With 10% of pipeline compressor stations using electricity, there is greater jeopardy during hurricanes and other natural disasters as well.

A new paper notes that compressor stations typically have enough backup power on site for auxiliary demands (e.g., control systems, lighting, cooling fans), but electrically driven compressors are usually too large for practical on-site backup. Therefore, an electric outage to a compressor station—an event that is quite possible during hurricanes or other similar events—could take all on-site electric compressor units out of service.

In what the authors say is the first rigorous effort to identify the number of U.S. electric compressor stations, they examined data from 2008 to 2020, finding nearly 1,500 stations or substations. Of these, they determined that approximately 10% are electric, with several large pipelines vulnerable to electric outages. California, the Midwest, the Gulf Coast, and the East have high levels of installed electric compressor capacity. New hydraulic models, verified by past events, show that disrupting power to a single pipeline compressor station can force a loss greater than 2 gigawatts of downstream gas generators.

Using electricity instead of gas makes little sense but energy is a politically-controlled business and governments spending money on subsidies want to make sure solar and wind look like they are in use, so companies add electrical compressors even when they know the risk is higher. 

Based on their findings, the authors suggest that electric utilities should immediately incorporate the identified facilities into critical facility lists - and use something besides electricity as backups.