Texas has been enduring an early heat wave that has broken temperature records and strained the state’s independent power grid. The Texas power grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), and some utilities had called on residents to voluntarily cut back on air conditioning and appliance use. ERCOT expected power use would reach 81,191 megawatts, topping the grid’s record peak of 80,148 megawatts on July 20, 2022. Despite having the most wind capacity of any state and having doubled its solar generation, the grid operator was able to keep the lights and air conditioning on across the state, but just barely.
- Texas is an energy powerhouse, but is again concerned its grid can provide adequate electricity in the wake of a summer heat wave as more weather-driven, intermittent wind and solar power is added to the grid, compromising electric reliability.
- Battery backup is urged by green groups, but it is very expensive and limited in its applications.
- Texas has been attempting other means of guaranteeing sufficient backup power for renewable sources of electricity, and is spending heavily from its state treasury, which has benefitted from enormous oil and gas revenue streams.
Wind with its nameplate capacity of 38,695 megawatts failed, dropping to 4,700 megawatts on a day when the state operator’s models indicate it should be getting more than 10,000 megawatts from wind. Solar provided almost 3 times wind’s generation during that time, despite having only about 55 percent of the nameplate capacity that wind has in the state because the weather happened to be clear and sunny. The lights stayed on because the state’s thermal plants – coal and natural gas – were supplying 73 percent of the generation on the grid.
Solar Power Growing in Texas
The amount of solar energy generated in Texas doubled since the start of last year and is expected to roughly double again by the end of next year, according to data from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Solar had produced 15 percent of total energy on a sweltering day when a larger-than-usual share of power was coming from the sun. But, so far this year, about 7 percent of the electric power used in Texas has come from solar, and 31 percent from wind. Texas trails California in the amount of solar power on the roofs of homes, but it has been outstripping California in the growth of solar farms. In the western part of the state that has long been into oil and gas development, wind energy and now solar power are being developed in tandem.
Reliability is an Issue
The reliability issue is that Texas does not have sufficient available capacity in reserve to make up for a situation in which wind and solar underperform on a given day. That is the state has insufficient dispatchable energy that can be quickly turned on in an emergency. While batteries can store excess wind and solar power to be used when wind and solar resources are low, that capacity is still small at just 447 megawatts in Texas—about half the capacity of an average coal plant. Usually, utilities turn to natural gas-fueled power plants for back-up power.
Last month, the Texas Legislature passed a $10 billion program mostly to incentivize the construction of new natural gas power plants so that the state can have reliable, dispatchable power. The sum includes $1.8 billion for local hospitals and other critical services to purchase backup power generators that are fueled with petroleum products or propane.
Texas politicians are pursuing power-system reforms in an effort to avoid repeating the deadly week-long grid collapse of February 2021 during a historic freeze. During that freeze over 4 million Texas electricity customers had no power for days, many of those with power received enormous electricity bills, and, tragically, dozens of people died. Wind energy went from producing over 40 percent of the state’s generation before the freeze to a small fraction during the freeze, resulting in coal, natural gas, and nuclear power generating the lion’s share. When wind generation faltered and natural gas supplies were prioritized to meet home heating needs, coal capacity picked up the slack.
Despite renewable proponents believing that the intermittency of solar and wind power can be managed with energy storage and massive investments in new transmission infrastructure, the truth is that grid-scale energy storage is very expensive and building new, cross-country high-voltage transmission lines are also expensive and difficult to permit.
Texas Has Energy Options
Texas is an energy powerhouse and does not have to rely on unreliable wind and solar power that need the wind to blow and the sun to shine. Texas is the nation’s largest producer of oil and natural gas. In fact, the Texas upstream oil and natural gas industry, mainly the oil and natural gas extraction industries, added 6,900 jobs in May, the highest job growth reported in a single month in the 33 years the Texas Workforce Commission has reported the data. The record jobs added in May brought the total upstream oil and natural gas job count in Texas to over 200,000 employed in the industry for the first time in over three years. May’s more than 206,000 upstream jobs was an increase of 22,700, or 12.4 percent, from May 2022.
The oil and gas industry in Texas supports the state’s economy. In addition to contributing the lion’s share of money to fund public education and transportation, Texas energy producers in May paid $497 million in oil production taxes and natural gas producers paid nearly $200 million, after the industry paid $24.7 billion in state taxes and royalty payments for the first time in state history last year.
Texas is enduring another heat wave that is testing its electric grid due to its dependence on wind and growing dependence on solar power. To ensure reliability, Texas legislators passed a bill to provide for natural gas plants as back-up power on the grid. Texas is the nation’s largest producer of oil and gas and has options to ensure that the lights stay on and appliances can be used when residents want.