Just weeks before Hurricane Ida knocked out power to much of Louisiana, leaving its residents exposed to extreme heat and humidity, the chief executive of Entergy, the state’s biggest utility company, told Wall Street that it had been upgrading power lines and equipment to withstand big storms.
“Building greater resiliency into our system is an ongoing focus,” the executive, Leo P. Denault, told financial analysts on a conference call on Aug. 4, adding that Entergy was replacing its towers and poles with equipment “able to handle higher wind loading and flood levels.”
Mr. Denault’s statements would soon be tested harshly. On the last Sunday in August, Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana and dealt a catastrophic blow to Entergy’s power lines, towers and poles, many of which were built decades ago to withstand much weaker hurricanes. The company had not upgraded or replaced a lot of that equipment with more modern gear designed to survive the 150 mile-an-hour wind gusts that Ida brought to bear on the state.
A hurricane like Ida would have been a challenge to any power system built over many decades that contains a mix of dated and new equipment. But some energy experts said Entergy was clearly unprepared for the Category 4 storm despite what executives have said about efforts to strengthen its network.
a Category 2 storm, according to an analysis of regulatory filing and other company records by McCullough Research, a consulting firm based in Portland, Ore., that advises power companies and government agencies.
Entergy said that analysis was inaccurate but wouldn’t say how many of its transmission structures were built to withstand 150 mile-per-hour winds. The company has said that its towers met the safety standards in place at the time of installation but older standards often assumed wind speeds well below 150 m.p.h.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a professional group whose guidelines are widely followed by utilities and other industries, recommends that power companies that operate in areas vulnerable to hurricanes install equipment that can withstand major storms and return service quickly when systems fail. In coastal areas of Louisiana, for example, it says large transmission equipment should be designed to withstand winds of 150 m.p.h.
growing ferocity of hurricanes. The company says it had acted with alacrity. Its critics contend that it dragged its feet.
to restart a $210 million natural gas-fired plant the company opened in New Orleans last year that it said would provide power during periods of high demand, including after storms. But energy experts say it is a lot more concerning that so many of the company’s lines went down — and did so for the second year in a row.
Last year, Hurricane Laura, a Category 4 storm, destroyed and damaged hundreds of Entergy’s towers and poles in Southwestern Louisiana. In April, Entergy told the Louisiana Public Service Commission, which regulates its operations outside New Orleans, that the company had strengthened its equipment, including the installation of stronger distribution poles in coastal areas particularly vulnerable to high winds.
Michelle P. Bourg, who is responsible for transmission at Entergy’s Louisiana operations, told regulators that because it was too expensive to make the entire network resilient, Entergy pursued “targeted programs that cost effectively reduce the risks to reliability.”
In a statement, Entergy said its spending on transmission was working, noting that Ida destroyed or damaged 508 transmission structures, compared with 1,909 during Laura and 1,003 in Katrina. The company added that its annual investment in transmission in Louisiana and New Orleans has increased over the last eight years and totaled $926 million in 2020, when it spent extensively on repairs after Laura. The company spent $471 million on transmission in 2019.
“The facts of this storm support that we have made substantial progress in terms of resiliency since the storms that hit our system in the early 2000s — both generally and with respect to transmission in particular,” said Jerry Nappi, an Entergy spokesman.
The company declined to provide the age of damaged or destroyed transmission structures and an age range for the damaged distribution poles and equipment. Mr. Nappi acknowledged that distribution poles suffered widespread destruction and were not built to withstand winds of 130 to 150 m.p.h.
“Substantial additional investment will be required to mitigate hardship and avoid lengthy outages as increasingly powerful storms hit with increasing frequency,” he said in an email. “We are pursuing much-needed federal support for the additional hardening needed without compromising the affordability of electricity on which our customers and communities depend.”
The company’s plea for more help comes as President Biden is pushing to upgrade and expand the nation’s electricity system to address climate change as well as to harden equipment against disasters. Part of his plan includes spending tens of billions of dollars on transmission lines. Mr. Biden also wants to provide incentives for clean energy sources like solar and wind power and batteries — the kinds of improvements that community leaders in New Orleans had sought for years and that Entergy has often pushed back on.
Susan Guidry, a former member of the New Orleans City Council, said she opposed the construction of the new natural gas plant, which was located in a low-lying area near neighborhoods made up mostly of African Americans and Vietnamese Americans. Instead, she pushed for upgrades to the transmission and distribution system and more investment in solar power and batteries. The council ultimately approved Entergy’s plans for the plant over her objections.
“One of the things we argued about was that they should be upgrading transmission lines rather than building a peaking plant,” Ms. Guidry said.
In addition, she said, she called for the company to replace the wooden poles in neighborhoods with those built with stronger materials.
Robert McCullough, principal of McCullough Research, said it was hard to understand why Entergy had not upgraded towers and poles more quickly.
“Wood poles no longer have the expected lifetime in the face of climate change,” he said. “Given the repeated failures, it is going to be cost-effective to replace them with more durable options that can survive repeated Category 4 storms — including going to metal poles in many circumstances.”
Had Entergy invested more in its transmission and distribution lines and solar panels and battery systems, some green energy activists argued, the city and state would not have suffered as widespread and as long a power outage as it did after Ida.
“Entergy Louisiana needs to be held accountable for this,” said one of those activists, Logan Atkinson Burke, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Clean Energy.
Entergy has argued that the natural gas plant was a much more affordable and reliable option for providing electricity during periods of high demand than solar panels and batteries.
Jennifer Granholm, Mr. Biden’s energy secretary, said that Ida highlighted the need for a big investment in electric grids. That might include putting more power lines serving homes and businesses under ground. Burying wires would protect them from winds, though it could make it harder to access the lines during floods.
“Clearly, as New Orleans builds back, it really does have to build back better in some areas,” Ms. Granholm said in an interview this month.
Mr. Nappi, the Entergy spokesman, said that distribution lines in some parts of New Orleans and elsewhere are already underground but that burying more of them would be expensive. “Distribution assets can be made to withstand extreme winds, through engineering or under grounding, but at significant cost and disruption to customers and to the community,” he said.
Building and installing enough solar panels to generate up to 45 percent of the country’s power needs will strain manufacturers and the energy industry, increasing demand for materials like aluminum, silicon, steel and glass. The industry will also need to find and train tens of thousands of workers and quickly. Some labor groups have said that in the rush to quickly build solar farms, developers often hire lower-paid nonunion workers rather than the union members Mr. Biden frequently champions.
Challenges like trade disputes could also complicate the push for solar power. China dominates the supply chain for solar panels, and the administration recently began blocking imports connected with the Xinjiang region of China over concerns about the use of forced labor. While many solar companies say they are working to shift away from materials made in Xinjiang, energy experts say the import ban could slow the construction of solar projects throughout the United States in the short term.
Yet, energy analysts said it would be impossible for Mr. Biden to achieve his climate goals without a big increase in the use of solar energy. “No matter how you slice it, you need solar deployments to double or quadruple in the near term,” said Michelle Davis, a principal analyst at Wood Mackenzie, an energy research and consulting firm. “Supply chain constraints are certainly on everyone’s mind.”
Administration officials pointed to changes being made by state and local officials as an example of how the country could begin to move faster toward renewable energy. Regulators in California, for example, are changing the state’s building code to require solar and batteries in new buildings.
Another big area of focus for the administration is greater use of batteries to store energy generated by solar panels and wind turbines for use at night or when the wind is not blowing. The cost of batteries has been falling but remains too high for a rapid shift to renewables and electric cars, according to many analysts.
To some solar industry officials, the Energy Department report ought to help to focus people’s minds on what is possible even if lawmakers haven’t worked out the details.
“In essence the D.O.E. is saying America needs a ton more solar, not less, and we need it today, not tomorrow,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar and Storage Association, which represents solar developers in the state with by far the largest number of solar installations. “That simple call to action should guide every policymaking decision from city councils to legislatures and regulatory agencies across the country.”
Most of New Orleans went dark on Sunday after Hurricane Ida took out transmission lines and forced power plants offline. It was an all too familiar scene in a city that has often lost power during big storms.
But this was an outage that was never supposed to happen. The utility company Entergy opened a new natural gas power plant in the city last year, pledging that it would help keep the lights on — even during hot summer days and big storms. It was one of two natural gas plants commissioned in recent years in the New Orleans area, the other one hailed by Gov. John Bel Edwards last year as a “source of clean energy that gives our state a competitive advantage and helps our communities grow.”
The storm raises fresh questions about how well the energy industry has prepared for natural disasters, which many scientists believe are becoming more common because of climate change. This year, much of Texas was shrouded in darkness after a winter storm, and last summer officials in California ordered rolling blackouts during a heat wave.
More than a million residential and commercial customers in Louisiana were without power on Monday afternoon, and Entergy and other utilities serving the state said it would take days to assess the damage to their equipment and weeks to fully restore service across the state. One customer can be a family or a large business, so the number of people without power is most likely many times higher. In neighboring Mississippi, just under 100,000 customers were without power.
some of California’s largest and deadliest wildfires.
impossible for Texas to import power by keeping the state grid largely isolated from the rest of the country to avoid federal oversight.
add more transmission lines to carry more solar and wind power from one region of the country to another. But some energy experts said the increasing frequency of devastating hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters argues against a big investment in power lines and for greater investment in smaller-scale systems like rooftop solar panels and batteries. Because small systems are placed at many homes, businesses, schools and other buildings, some continue to function even when others are damaged, providing much-needed energy during and after disasters.
Susan Guidry, a former member of the New Orleans City Council who voted against the Entergy plant, said she had worried that a storm like Ida could wreak havoc on her city and its energy system. She had wanted the city and utility to consider other options. But she said her fellow Council members and the utility had ignored those warnings.
“They said that they had dealt with that problem,” Ms. Guidry said. “The bottom line is they should have instead been upgrading their transmission and investing in renewable energy.”
Numerous community groups and city leaders opposed the gas-fired power plant, which is just south of Interstate 10 and Lake Pontchartrain, bordering predominantly African American and Vietnamese American neighborhoods. Nevertheless, the City Council approved the plant, which began commercial operations in May 2020. It generates power mainly at times of peak demand.
About a year earlier, Entergy opened a larger gas power plant in nearby St. Charles Parish. Leo P. Denault, Entergy’s chairman and chief executive, last year called that plant “a significant milestone along the clean energy journey we began more than 20 years ago.”
Some utilities have turned to burying transmission lines to protect them from strong winds and storms, but Mr. Gasteiger said that was expensive and could cause its own problems.
“Generally speaking, it’s not that the utilities are not willing to do it,” he said. “It’s that people aren’t willing to pay for it. Usually it’s a cost issue. And undergrounding can make it more difficult to locate and fix” problems.
Big changes to electric grids and power plants are likely to take years, but activists and residents of New Orleans say officials should explore solutions that can be rolled out more quickly, especially as tens of thousands of people face days or weeks without electricity. Some activists want officials to put a priority on investments in rooftop solar, batteries and microgrids, which can power homes and commercial buildings even when the larger grid goes down.
“We keep walking by the solutions to keep people safe in their homes,” said Logan Atkinson Burke, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, a consumer group based in New Orleans. “When these events happen, then we’re in crisis mode because instead we’re spending billions of dollars every year now to rebuild the same system that leaves people in the dark, in a dire situation.”
Some residents have already invested in small-scale energy systems for themselves. Julie Graybill and her husband, Bob Smith, installed solar panels and batteries at their New Orleans home after Hurricane Isaac blew through Louisiana in 2012. They lost power for five days after Isaac, at times going to their car for air-conditioning with their two older dogs, said Ms. Graybill, 67, who retired from the Tulane University School of Medicine.
“We would sit in the car about every hour,” she said. “My husband said, ‘We are never doing this again.’” Mr. Smith, 73, who is also retired, worked as an engineer at Royal Dutch Shell, the oil company.
The couple have set up a little power station on their porch so neighbors can charge their phones and other items. Only a few other homes on their street have solar panels, but no one else nearby has batteries, which can store the power that panels generate and dispense it when the grid goes down.
“We’re told we’re not going to have power for three weeks,” Ms. Graybill said. “The only people who have power are people with generators or solar panels. We lived through Katrina. This is not Katrina, so we’re lucky.”
The nation is facing once in a generation choices about how energy ought to be delivered to homes, businesses and electric cars — decisions that could shape the course of climate change and determine how the United States copes with wildfires, heat waves and other extreme weather linked to global warming.
On one side, large electric utilities and President Biden want to build thousands of miles of power lines to move electricity created by distant wind turbines and solar farms to cities and suburbs. On the other, some environmental organizations and community groups are pushing for greater investment in rooftop solar panels, batteries and local wind turbines.
There is an intense policy struggle taking place in Washington and state capitals about the choices that lawmakers, energy businesses and individuals make in the next few years, which could lock in an energy system that lasts for decades. The divide between those who want more power lines and those calling for a more decentralized energy system has split the renewable energy industry and the environmental movement. And it has created partnerships of convenience between fossil fuel companies and local groups fighting power lines.
At issue is how quickly the country can move to cleaner energy and how much electricity rates will increase.
senators from both parties agreed to in June. That deal includes the creation of a Grid Development Authority to speed up approvals for transmission lines.
Most energy experts agree that the United States must improve its aging electric grids, especially after millions of Texans spent days freezing this winter when the state’s electricity system faltered.
“The choices we make today will set us on a path that, if history is a barometer, could last for 50 to 100 years,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, managing director of the Climate Policy Lab at Tufts University. “At stake is literally the health and economic well-being of every American.”
The option supported by Mr. Biden and some large energy companies would replace coal and natural gas power plants with large wind and solar farms hundreds of miles from cities, requiring lots of new power lines. Such integration would strengthen the control that the utility industry and Wall Street have over the grid.
batteries installed at homes, businesses and municipal buildings.
Those batteries kicked in up to 6 percent of the state grid’s power supply during the crisis, helping to make up for idled natural gas and nuclear power plants. Rooftop solar panels generated an additional 4 percent of the state’s electricity.
become more common in recent years.
Some environmentalists argue that greater use of rooftop solar and batteries is becoming more essential because of climate change.
After its gear ignited several large wildfires, Pacific Gas & Electric began shutting off power on hot and windy days to prevent fires. The company emerged from bankruptcy last year after amassing $30 billion in liabilities for wildfires caused by its equipment, including transmission lines.
Elizabeth Ellenburg, an 87-year-old cancer survivor in Napa, Calif., bought solar panels and a battery from Sunrun in 2019 to keep her refrigerator, oxygen equipment and appliances running during PG&E’s power shut-offs, a plan that she said has worked well.
“Usually, when PG&E goes out it’s not 24 hours — it’s days,” said Ms. Ellenburg, a retired nurse. “I need to have the ability to use medical equipment. To live in my own home, I needed power other than the power company.”
working to improve its equipment. “Our focus is to make both our distribution and transmission system more resilient and fireproof,” said Sumeet Singh, PG&E’s chief risk officer.
But spending on fire prevention by California utilities has raised electricity rates, and consumer groups say building more power lines will drive them even higher.
Average residential electricity rates nationally have increased by about 14 percent over the last decade even though average household energy use rose just over 1 percent.
2019 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a research arm of the Energy Department, found that greater use of rooftop solar can reduce the need for new transmission lines, displace expensive power plants and save the energy that is lost when electricity is moved long distances. The study also found that rooftop systems can put pressure on utilities to improve or expand neighborhood wires and equipment.
Texas was paralyzed for more than four days by a deep freeze that shut down power plants and disabled natural gas pipelines. People used cars and grills and even burned furniture to keep warm; at least 150 died.
One reason for the failure was that the state has kept the grid managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas largely disconnected from the rest of the country to avoid federal oversight. That prevented the state from importing power and makes Texas a case for the interconnected power system that Mr. Biden wants.
Consider Marfa, an artsy town in the Chihuahuan Desert. Residents struggled to stay warm as the ground was blanketed with snow and freezing rain. Yet 75 miles to the west, the lights were on in Van Horn, Texas. That town is served by El Paso Electric, a utility attached to the Western Electricity Coordinating Council, a grid that ties together 14 states, two Canadian provinces and a Mexican state.
$1.4 million, compared with about $1 million to Donald J. Trump, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
In Washington, developers of large solar and wind projects are pushing for a more connected grid while utilities want more federal funding for new transmission lines. Advocates for rooftop solar panels and batteries are lobbying Congress for more federal incentives.
Separately, there are pitched battles going on in state capitals over how much utilities must pay homeowners for the electricity generated by rooftop solar panels. Utilities in California, Florida and elsewhere want lawmakers to reduce those rates. Homeowners with solar panels and renewable energy groups are fighting those efforts.
Building power lines is hard.
Despite Mr. Biden’s support, the utility industry could struggle to add power lines.
Many Americans resist transmission lines for aesthetic and environmental reasons. Powerful economic interests are also at play. In Maine, for instance, a campaign is underway to stop a 145-mile line that will bring hydroelectric power from Quebec to Massachusetts.
New England has phased out coal but still uses natural gas. Lawmakers are hoping to change that with the help of the $1 billion line, called the New England Clean Energy Connect.
This spring, workmen cleared trees and installed steel poles in the forests of western Maine. First proposed a decade ago, the project was supposed to cut through New Hampshire until the state rejected it. Federal and state regulators have signed off on the Maine route, which is sponsored by Central Maine Power and HydroQuebec.
But the project is mired in lawsuits, and Maine residents could block it through a November ballot measure.
set a record in May, and some scientists believe recent heat waves were made worse by climate change.
“Transmission projects take upward of 10 years from conception to completion,” said Douglas D. Giuffre, a power expert at IHS Markit. “So if we’re looking at decarbonization of the power sector by 2035, then this all needs to happen very rapidly.”
HOUSTON — When OPEC barred oil exports to the United States in 1973, creating long gasoline lines, President Richard Nixon pledged an effort that would combine the spirit of the Apollo program and the determination of the Manhattan Project.
“By the end of this decade, we will have developed the potential to meet our own energy needs without depending on any foreign energy sources,” he said in a televised address.
His timing was off — it took more than 40 years — but the country has come pretty close to energy independence in recent years thanks to a surge in domestic shale oil and natural gas production and the harnessing of solar and wind energy.
That independence, however, is fragile. Last week, cars lined up at gas stations across much of the Southeast after the Colonial Pipeline was paralyzed by a cyberattack by a criminal group seeking a ransom. The electric grid is also coming under greater stress because of climate change. In the last year, a heat wave in California and a deep freeze in Texas forced rolling blackouts as demand for power outstripped supply.
panic buying rarely seen in decades produced shortages, and prices at the pump rose as much as 20 cents a gallon for regular gasoline in some states in a few days, according to AAA.
Mr. Yergin said that drivers who lined up at pumps to fill gas cans and even plastic bags made the situation worse. The impulse to hoard harkened back to the oil shocks of the 1970s and appeared to touch a chord in the national psyche.
“People remembered gas lines even though they weren’t born yet,” Mr. Yergin said.
Colonial Pipeline, a private company, resumed full operations over the weekend, but it will take at least several more days before many gas stations are restocked.
Energy companies will come under greater pressure from governments and investors to bulk up their defenses against cyberattacks, but those and other vulnerabilities will not be easily overcome, especially after years of underinvestment.
Upgrading the energy system will not be easy. Dozens of competing companies that operate a vast web of oil and gas wells and pumping stations, transmission lines and power plants will need coaxing to make their operations more resilient to weather and criminal attacks. Considerable funding will have to come from business and government, as well as research to keep ahead of the cybercriminals. President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan devotes $100 billion to the transmission grid.
The quest for energy independence has never been a straight line, and there have been many unfortunate twists. Reliance on Middle East oil was a major consideration in military action and diplomatic strategy, including alliances with countries like Saudi Arabia with disturbing human rights records. A half-century ago, the country shifted from burning heating oil to relying more heavily on coal, which contributed to climate change.
But the search for energy independence also led to innovation. Fracking — the hydraulic fracturing of shale oil and natural gas deposits — not only slashed energy imports but also made the United States a major exporter. Suddenly oil and gas were not a national security vulnerability but a tool to further American interests.
nearly half of the transportation fuel needs of the region.
When hurricanes hit, and refineries on the Gulf shut down, gasoline and diesel prices tend to rise along the East Coast. Normally, that is not a huge problem because companies store lots of fuel close to where it is used and trucks and barges can usually make up the difference. This time, however, uncertainty about how long it would take to restore supplies made the Colonial Pipeline’s shutdown much more disruptive.
The ransomware attack was the work of DarkSide, an extortionist ring that has been responsible for scores of attacks on companies in several countries. But it is hardly the only group that infiltrates computer systems to extort money. Others go by names like REvil, Maze and LockBit.
“The technology moves so quickly, you solve one or two or twenty possible vulnerabilities in your computer systems and the hackers find a different way to get in.” said Drue Pearce, a former deputy administrator of the federal Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
The criminal groups represent a threat to industries beyond energy. But experts say energy is of particular concern because it is essential to a functioning economy. The peril is no less complex than reducing the United States’ reliance on foreign oil, said Bill Richardson, a former energy secretary.
“This is a new threat that we are not prepared for,” he said.
HARANABUSH, Syria — When the Syrian government attacked their village, Radwan al-Shimali’s family hastily threw clothes, blankets and mattresses into their truck and sped off to begin new lives as refugees, leaving behind their house, farmland and television.
Among the belongings they kept was one prized technology: the solar panel now propped up on rock next to the tattered tent they call home in an olive grove near the village of Haranabush in northwestern Syria.
“It is important,” Mr. al-Shimali said of the 270-watt panel, his family’s sole source of electricity. “When there is sun during the day, we can have light at night.”
An unlikely solar revolution of sorts has taken off in an embattled, rebel-controlled pocket of northwestern Syria, where large numbers of people whose lives have been upended by the country’s 10-year-old civil war have embraced the sun’s energy simply because it is the cheapest source of electricity around.
the Islamic State lost its last patch of territory in Syria in 2019, the northwest was importing fuel from Turkey that was much purer but cost more than twice as much, now about $150 for a 58-gallon barrel of Turkish diesel, compared with $60 for a barrel from eastern Syria a few years ago.
That price spike pushed customers into the arms of solar power, said Ahmed Falaha, who sells solar panels and batteries in the town of Binnish in Idlib.
He had originally sold generators, but added solar panels in 2014. They weren’t popular at first because they produced less electricity, but when fuel prices went up, people noticed at night that their neighbors who had solar panels still had lights while they sat in the dark. Demand grew, and in 2017, he stopped selling generators.
“Now we work on solar energy day and night,” he said.
His best sellers were Canadian-made 130-watt panels that had been imported into Syria after a few years at a solar farm in Germany, he said. They cost $38 each.
For those with more to invest, he had Chinese-made 400-watt panels for $100.
His standard package for a modest home consisted of four panels, two batteries, cables and other equipment for $550, he said. Most families could use that to run a refrigerator or washing machine during the day and lights and a television at night.
As people got used to solar power, he started selling large installations to workshops and chicken farms. He recently sold his largest package yet, 160 solar panels for about $20,000, to a farmer who had nearly gone broke buying diesel to run his irrigation pump and needed a cheaper alternative.
“It is expensive at the start, but then it’s free,” Mr. Falaha said, showing a video on his phone of the solar-powered sprinklers watering a lush, green field.
Farmers who embraced solar appreciated the lack of noise and smoke, but what mattered most was price.
“Here, the last thing people think about is the environment,” Mr. Falaha said. Nearby, a colleague of his poured battery acid down the shop’s drain.
Outside of town, Mamoun Kibbi, 46, stood amid lush green fields of fava beans, eggplants and garlic.
In recent years, the price of diesel to power the family’s 40-year-old irrigation pump had gotten so expensive that it erased Mr. Kibbi’s profits. So last year he shelled out nearly $30,000 to install 280 400-watt panels on the flat roof of a defunct chicken farm.
The large swath of panels were on a seesaw base connected to a winch so he could adjust their angle to the sun through the day. When it was sunny, the system kept the pump going for eight hours. It worked less well on cloudy days, but he was pleased with how his crops looked so far.
“It is true that it costs a lot, but then you forget about it for a long time,” he said.
Most people in northwest Syria have simpler energy needs and much less money to invest. More than half of the 4.2 million people in the rebel-held area have been displaced from elsewhere, and many struggle to secure life’s basics, like healthy food, clean water and soap.
But many of the refugee families living in crowded tent camps have at least one solar panel that produces enough energy to charge their phones and power small LED lights at night. Others have three or four panels to power such luxuries as internet routers and televisions.
In the city of Idlib, Ahmed Bakkar, a former fireman, and his family had settled in the second-floor of a four-floor apartment building whose roof had been punched in by an airstrike.
The family had moved six times during the war and lost nearly everything along the way, Mr. Bakkar said. Most of the rooms in the family’s current apartment lacked windows, so he had hung blankets to block the wind. They couldn’t afford heating oil, so they burned pistachio shells to keep warm.
But he had managed to buy four used solar panels that sat on a rack on the balcony, facing the sky.
When the sun was out, they provided enough energy to pump water up to the apartment so they didn’t have to carry it up, and they charged a battery so the family could have some lights at night.
“It works for us because it’s free energy,” said Mr. Bakkar, 50.
His nephew, also Ahmed Bakkar, was less impressed.
“It is an alternative,” he said. But if Syria were more functional and the family could simply plug into the grid, “it would be better.”
This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.
For nearly four decades, William R. Harris devoted his career to safeguarding his fellow citizens.
As an international lawyer and a sought-after consultant, he drafted treaties to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and reduce the risk of accidental war. He modeled a framework for the government to continue functioning during a national catastrophe. He helped extend Daylight Saving Time to conserve fuel and focused officials on protecting the electrical grid from digital sabotage.
He practiced what he preached, too, making sure to get his first vaccination for the coronavirus in early February, as soon as he was eligible and the vaccine was available. He completed the regimen by the end of the month.
In late March, though, his family said, he received a jarring diagnosis: Covid-19. Mr. Harris also had chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and family members said that a few weeks after learning that he had Covid, he read an article in a scientific journal suggesting that the vaccine might not be fully effective for people with that type of leukemia.
The New York Times last month.
No vaccine is 100 percent effective, and some so-called breakthrough infections can be expected, even in healthy people who have been fully vaccinated. But those cases are rare. As of April 26, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 9,245 breakthrough cases, out of 95 million fully vaccinated Americans; 132 people died.
In a eulogy on Facebook, Mr. Harris’s daughter Darcy R. Harris described him this way: “As an international lawyer and policy wonk, his work spanned arms control treaties and verification, energy policy, space law. He was a consummate researcher, an early adopter, an innovator. On top of that, he was always working for free and helping others out.”
Dr. William A. Horwitz and Dr. Henriette Klein, both of whom were professors of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University.
He attended the Dalton School in Manhattan and, after graduating from the Choate School, now Choate Rosemary Hall, in Wallingford, Conn., earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Harvard College in 1962 and a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1966.
In 1968, he married Elizabeth Jones. Along with his wife and their daughter Darcy, he is survived by another daughter, Rebecca Harris Deane; a son, William Proctor Harris; four grandchildren; and his sister, Susan Harris Molnar.
On an October evening five years ago, Elon Musk used a former set for “Desperate Housewives” to show off Tesla’s latest innovation: roof shingles that can generate electricity from the sun without unsightly solar panels.
After delays, Tesla began rolling out the shingles in a big way this year, but it is already encountering a major problem. The company is hitting some customers with price increases before installation that are tens of thousands of dollars higher than earlier quotes, angering early adopters and raising big questions about how Tesla, which is better known for its electric cars, is running its once dominant rooftop solar business.
Dr. Peter Quint was eager to install Tesla’s solar shingles on his 4,000-square-foot home in Portland, Ore., until the company raised the price to $112,000, from $75,000, in a terse email. When he called Tesla for an explanation, he was put on hold for more than three hours.
“I said, ‘This isn’t real, right?’” said Dr. Quint, whose specialty is pediatric critical care. “The price started inching up. We could deal with that. Then this. At that price, in our opinion, it’s highway robbery.”
slashing the price of panels in 2019 has done little to stem the slide.
At the “Housewives” set at Universal Studios in 2016, Mr. Musk, the company’s chief executive, promised that Tesla’s new shingles would turbocharge installations by attracting homeowners who found solar panels ugly. But shingles remain such a tiny segment of the solar market that few industry groups and analysts bother to track installations.
Tesla is not the only company to pursue the idea of embedding solar cells, which covert sunlight into electricity, in shingles. Dow Chemical, CertainTeed, Suntegra and Luma, among others, have offered similar products with limited success.
Tesla’s electric cars and SpaceX’s rockets, Tesla’s glass shingles attracted outsize attention. He promised that they would be much better than anything anybody else had come up with and come in a variety of styles so they could resemble asphalt, slate and Spanish barrel tiles to fit the aesthetic of each home.
solar ambitions date to 2015 when it announced that it would sell panels and home batteries alongside its electric cars. A year later, the company acquired SolarCity, a company run by Mr. Musk’s cousin Lyndon Rive. SolarCity was the leading rooftop solar installer in the United States, but in the last five years Tesla has fallen far behind Sunrun, which became even bigger last year after buying another installer, Vivint.
Tesla has been losing market share even as demand for rooftop solar has increased sharply as panels have become more affordable. In terms of energy-generating capacity, annual installations are about 13 times as great as they were a decade ago, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
battery system would cost $63,000. But two weeks before installers were scheduled to show up, an email from the company raised the price to $85,000.
She wanted the system to protect her family from losing electricity when her utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, shuts off power to prevent its equipment from setting off wildfires. She also hoped to lower her electricity bills, which have jumped from about $200 a month to as much as $400 in the four years since her family moved to California from New York.
She sought out Tesla’s shingles because contractors had told her that they could not attach conventional solar panels to her composite roof.
Tesla never offered an adequate explanation for the price change, Ms. Bianchi said, so she canceled the job: “It’s just outrageous.”
Richard Rhodes, the energy historian whose recent book, “Energy: A Human History,” recounts the technologies and innovation that transformed energy over centuries, said an Italian physicist, Cesare Marchetti, discovered a hard truth in the 1970s after studying thousands of energy transitions. It takes about 50 years for any new source of energy, be it coal or oil, natural gas or renewable power, to command just 10 percent of the global market. It takes another half century after that to reach 50 percent.
That, Mr. Rhodes said, held true despite wars, economic conditions and government interventions.
White House officials say the country can defy history with a variety of paths to achieve Mr. Biden’s goals, including reducing emissions from farms and city buildings. But two sectors loom large: electricity, where the president will need far more renewables, including advanced batteries to store power generated by solar panels and wind turbines; and transportation, where reliance almost exclusively on gasoline needs to shift to electricity.
Mr. Biden has proposed a carrot-heavy approach, spending on research and development, efficiency improvements in homes and schools, and the electric grid to better support renewable energy. As part of his infrastructure plans, he wants Congress to require electric utilities to shift toward lower-emission power sources.
Mr. Biden’s emissions target relies on electric power plants cutting their emissions sharply by 2030 and to net zero by 2035.
“Our analysis says we could get there by 2050,” said Nick Akins, chief executive of American Electric Power, an Ohio-based electric utility, but not 2035.
“If we move too quickly, we could jeopardize the reliability of the grid,” he added, pointing to the recent rolling blackouts in Texas
WASHINGTON — President Biden has repeatedly pledged to work with China on issues like climate change while challenging Beijing on human rights and unfair trade practices.
But those goals are now coming into conflict in the global solar sector, presenting the Biden administration with a tough choice as it looks to expand the use of solar power domestically to reduce the United States’ carbon dioxide emissions.
The dilemma stems from an uncomfortable reality: China dominates the global supply chain for solar power, producing the vast majority of the materials and parts for solar panels that the United States relies on for clean energy. And there is emerging evidence that some of China’s biggest solar companies have worked with the Chinese government to absorb minority workers in the far western region of Xinjiang, programs often seen as a red flag for potential forced labor and human rights abuses.
This week, Mr. Biden is inviting world leaders to a climate summit in Washington, where he is expected to unveil an ambitious plan for cutting America’s emissions over the next decade. The administration is already eyeing a goal of generating 100 percent of the nation’s electricity from carbon-free sources such as solar, wind or nuclear power by 2035, up from only 40 percent last year. To meet that target, the United States may need to more than double its annual pace of solar installations.
many of which are imported from Chinese-owned factories in Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand.
China also supplies many of the key components in solar panels, including more than 80 percent of the world’s polysilicon, a raw material that most solar panels use to absorb energy from sunlight. Nearly half of the global supply comes from Xinjiang alone. In 2019, less than 5 percent of the world’s polysilicon came from U.S.-owned companies.
“It’s put the Democrats in a hard position,” said Francine Sullivan, the vice president for business development at REC Silicon, a polysilicon maker based in Norway with factories in the United States. “Do you want to stand up to human rights in China, or do you want cheap solar panels?”
The administration is increasingly under pressure from influential supporters not to turn a blind eye to potential human rights abuses in order to achieve its climate goals.
“As the U.S. seeks to address climate change, we must not allow the Chinese Communist Party to use forced labor to meet our nation’s needs,” Richard L. Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., wrote in a letter on March 12 urging the Biden administration to block imports of solar products containing polysilicon from the Xinjiang region.
Xinjiang is now notorious as the site of a vast program of detention and surveillance that the Chinese government has carried out against Muslim Uyghurs and other minority groups. Human rights groups say the Chinese authorities may have detained a million or more minorities in camps and other sites where they face torture, indoctrination and coerced labor.
In a report last year, Horizon Advisory, a consultancy in Washington, cited Chinese news reports and government announcements suggesting that major Chinese solar companies including GCL-Poly, East Hope Group, Daqo New Energy, Xinte Energy and Jinko Solar had accepted workers transferred with the help of the Chinese government from impoverished parts of Xinjiang.
Jinko Solar denied those allegations, as did the Chinese government. Zhang Longgen, a vice chairman of Xinjiang Daqo — a unit of one of the companies cited by Horizon Advisory — said that the polysilicon plants were not labor intensive, and that the company’s workers were freely employed and could quit if they wanted, according to Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party-owned newspaper. The report said that only 18 of the 1,934 workers at Xinjiang Daqo belonged to ethnic minorities, and that none were Uyghur.
a sweeping ban on cotton and tomatoes from the region. Those restrictions have forced a reorganization of global supply chains, especially in the apparel sector.
The Biden administration has said it is still reviewing the Trump administration’s policies, and it has not yet signaled whether it will pursue other bans on products or companies. But both Mr. Biden and his advisers have insisted that the United States plans to confront China on human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
A spokeswoman for the National Security Council said that the draconian treatment of Uyghurs “cannot be ignored,” and that the administration was “studying ways to effectively ensure that we are not importing products made from forced labor,” including solar products.
a pledge of 236 companies to oppose forced labor and encouraged companies to sever any ties with Xinjiang by June.
Some Chinese companies have responded by reshuffling their supply chains, funneling polysilicon and other solar products they manufacture outside Xinjiang to American buyers, and then directing their Xinjiang-made products to China and other markets.
Analysts say this kind of reorganization is, in theory, feasible. About 35 percent of the world’s polysilicon comes from regions in China other than Xinjiang, while the United States and the European Union together make up around 30 percent of global solar panel demand, according to Johannes Bernreuter, a polysilicon market analyst at Bernreuter Research.
John Smirnow, the general counsel for the Solar Energy Industries Association, said most solar companies were already well on their way toward extricating supply chains from Xinjiang.
also been reported in Chinese facilities outside Xinjiang where Uyghurs and other minorities have been transferred to work. And restrictions on products from Xinjiang could spread to markets including Canada, Britain and Australia, which are debating new rules and guidelines.
Human rights advocates have argued that allowing Chinese companies to cleave their supply chains to serve American and non-American buyers may do little to improve conditions in Xinjiang and have pressed the Biden administration for stronger action.
“The message has to be clear to the Chinese government that this economic model is not going to be supported by governments or businesses,” said Cathy Feingold, the director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s International Department.
Chinese companies are also facing pressure from Beijing not to accede to American demands, since that could be seen as a tacit criticism of the government’s activities in Xinjiang.
In a statement in January, the China Photovoltaic Industry Association and China Nonferrous Metals Industry Association condemned “irresponsible statements” from U.S. industries, which they said were directed at curbing Xinjiang’s development and “meddling in Chinese domestic affairs.”
“It is widely known that the ‘forced labor’ issue is in its entirety the lie of the century that the United States and certain other Western countries have concocted from nothing,” they said.
mothballed a new $1.2 billion facility in Tennessee in 2014, while REC Silicon shut its polysilicon facility in Washington in 2019.
China has promised to carry out large purchases of American polysilicon as part of a trade deal signed last year, but those transactions have not materialized.
In the near term, tensions over Xinjiang could be a boon for the few remaining U.S. suppliers. Ms. Sullivan said some small U.S. solar developers had reached out to REC Silicon in recent months to inquire about non-Chinese products.
But American companies need the promise of reliable, long-term orders to scale up, she said, adding that when she explains the limited supply of solar products that do not touch China, people become “visibly ill.”
“This is the big lesson,” Ms. Sullivan added. “You become dependent on China, and what does it mean? We have to swallow our values in order to do solar.”