Texas is tops among US states when it comes to installed wind power generation capacity, having added 1,826 megawatts (MW) in 2012 to bring its cumulative total to a whopping 12.212 gigawatts (GW), enough to power nearly 3 million average American homes, according to the American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) latest industry report.
Ongoing improvements in wind turbine technology, manufacturing processes, installation and operations and maintenance, along with investments in transmission infrastructure, bode well for the future. The same is true for solar photovoltaic (PV) power systems, and though solar energy hasn’t caught on nearly as fast as wind power, Texas is no slouch there either, ranking seventh nationwide in terms of installed solar power generation capacity, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association’s third quarter 2012 state rankings.
Progress on the clean energy front is happening extraordinarily fast. So much so, in fact, that in its latest biennial Long Term System Assessment report to the Texas legislature, regional grid operator the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) “found that if you use updated wind and solar power characteristics like cost and actual output to reflect real world conditions, rather than previously used 2006 assumed characteristics, wind and solar are more competitive than natural gas over the next 20 years,” Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Colin Meehan highlights in a January 28 EDF blog post.
Texas Alternative Energy Paths
Basing the assumptions incorporated into the complex models ERCOT uses to project and forecast conditions on Texas’s electricity grid on actual, historically recent real-world data as opposed to the assumptions used in 2006 made a huge difference in the results reported in ERCOT’s latest Long Term System Assessment.
“What they found was astounding: without these real-world data points, ERCOT found that 20,000 MW of natural gas will be built over the next 20 years, along with a little bit of demand response and nothing else.”
“Once they updated their assumptions to reflect a real-world scenario (which they call ‘BAU with Updated Wind Shapes’) ERCOT found that about 17,000 MWs of wind units, along with 10,000 MW of solar power, will be built in future years,” Meehan writes.
ERCOT’s report authors go on to state that “the added renewable generation in this sensitivity results in lower market prices in many hours [of the year].”
“This means that when real-world assumptions are used for our various sources of power, wind and solar are highly competitive with natural gas. In turn, that competition from renewables results in lower power prices and lower water use for Texas,” according to Meehan.
The latter point – lower water usage – shouldn’t be lost on Texas legislators responsible for making policy decisions and taking actions to help assure healthy, sustainable living conditions for present and future generation Texans.
Better understanding the interrelationships between water supplies and usage and energy production and use — the water-energy nexus — have become increasingly critical in recent years given changing precipitation patterns, a global rise in mean temperature and two years of historic drought — drought that has recalled memories of the Dust Bowl years that affected Texas and Texans so badly.
Scientists and policy makers worldwide are working to improve our understanding of water and energy resources and their interrelationship. There’s an urgent need to go beyond and improve upon the overly simplistic, generalized models and metrics still most commonly used, as sister site PlanetSave notes.
As Meehan notes, ERCOT’s report lays out two alternative future paths for Texas’ energy system, one dominated by the use of natural gas to produce electricity, and the other based on a diverse mix of energy sources centered on clean, renewable wind and solar-generated power. It’s now incumbent upon Texans’ elected state representatives to fully and openly assess ERCOT’s report and chart the future course for energy production and use across the Lone Star State. In doing so, they can put Texas on the road to a healthier, more sustainable future.