Renewables Ride To The Rescue As Texas Bakes Under Withering Heat

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Wind and solar power turned a neat trick in Texas this week, with turbines and PV panels continuing to churn out electricity as the entire southwest baked under yet another round of record setting high temperatures. That may come as somewhat as a surprise. After all, Texas is a global leader in oil and gas production, and its coal industry isn’t too shabby, either. Nevertheless, when it comes to delivering the kilowatts under extreme conditions, renewables are delivering the goods.

Extreme Weather: Who Wore It Better, Renewables Or Fossil Fuels?

Hojun Choi of the Dallas Morning News recapped the state of play on Thursday morning, writing that “renewable energy sources came through in a big way this week for Texas, when temperatures and electricity demand reached record levels.”

As reported by Choi, Texans hit a new record for electricity demand on June 12, racking up triple-digit temperatures that tied a century-old set in the Dallas-Fort-Worth area. Instead of wilting under the pressure, wind and solar power plants ramped up to supply about 1/3 of the state’s electricity. That beats the typical average, which is already impressive compared to the output from renewables in other US states.

The news is especially significant when compared to last year’s devastating, storm-related power outage in Texas. Fossil energy stakeholders were quick to lay the blame on the state’s robust wind industry. However, all sources were impacted by the grid-wide failure, and over-reliance on gas power plants during the winter emerged as the main culprit.

“The proportion of energy generated from wind power in Texas set a new record on April 10, when it contributed to about 69% of the total electricity on the ERCOT grid,” Choi added. “Solar energy generation in the state’s main power grid set a new record on May 19, when it accounted for 14.62% of the electricity in the system.”

Lone Star State Hearts Renewables

CleanTechnica has spilled plenty of ink over the renewable energy revolution in Texas over the years. The state is a global epicenter of fossil energy production, but the lax regulation that enabled oil, gas, and coal production to surge also opened the door to robust development in the wind industry, with a healthy assist from economic development policies that launched a major new transmission line back in 2013.

US military installations in Texas have also helped to push the case for renewables, as part of a broader Department of Defense effort to promote energy security and resiliency with an eye on climate change.

Though much of the attention has focused on the state’s wind industry, solar power activity has begun to pick up as well as energy storage and other related tech.

Beginning Of The Beginning For Renewables

Other US states have been catching up to Texas on renewables, but the state still ranks #1 in wind capacity and a healthy #2 in solar capacity as of this year, and it’s not stopping there.

Land-based wind and solar are not the only renewables in town. Last summer Texas A&M University dropped word that is exploring a clean tech options offshore. That could be a challenge in the offshore wind area, because wind resources in the Gulf of Mexico are less than optimal, but the A&M vision could work around that by pairing wind with floating solar panels.

In addition, another Gulf state, Louisiana, is in hot pursuit of offshore wind opportunities. Just last February the state announced a 5-gigawatt goal for offshore wind, which is mighty impressive considering that the entire US currently has just a handful of offshore turbines in operation.

Louisiana could take advantage of the emerging green hydrogen and green ammonia trends to make the bottom line case for offshore wind development in the Gulf, and that angle is already in play for the Lone Star State.

In January of 2021, the University of Texas at Austin hosted a green hydrogen round table to set the state for a statewide green hydrogen hub, leveraging its renewables — wind, solar, and biogas, too — plus its existing fossil energy infrastructure.

Shell has the green hydrogen angle on an offshore wind project in the Netherlands, which is interesting because in the fall of 2020 the US Department of Energy signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Netherlands to collaborate on offshore wind development. Shell is also behind the largest electrolyzer-based green hydrogen project in the EU, at its Rheinlander facility in Germany.

Renewables & Pickup Trucks, Perfect Together

Another interesting angle on the renewable energy scene in Texas is the number of pickup trucks. More drivers in Texas favor cars and SUVs on a percentage basis, but in terms of raw numbers the state continues to be a national leader in pickup truck sales.

The number of pickup trucks in Texas could come into play as legacy auto makers pivot into electric vehicles and extreme weather fosters more disruption in the state’s power supply. Ford Motor Company is already touting the battery of its Lightning F-150 EV as a source of emergency backup power, and last year Ford announced a hookup with the leading solar installer Sunrun that makes it easier for F-150 owners to charge up from their own rooftop solar arrays.

If the electric pickup movement goes mainstream, millions of rolling energy storage devices could take to the streets of Texas, providing a much-needed workaround for persistent transmission bottlenecks that continue to hold back the pace of renewable energy development in the state.

The pickup truck element dovetails with the distributed energy resources and virtual power plant trends, in which small scale renewables and energy storage devices coordinate through “smart grid” technology to provide the kind of grid services that a large, centralized power plant would normally provide.

The virtual power plant trend began taking shape in the US several years ago with the support of the Energy Department. Last month the agency’s Director of the Loans Program Office, Jigar Shah, wrote a blog post emphasizing the impact of virtual power plants on the demand for renewables.

“The consumer market for distributed energy resources – DERs – is on the verge of booming. The Solar Energy Industries Association estimates nearly 5% of U.S. owner-occupied homes now have rooftop solar. Energy storage is having its moment, with more storage deployed in 2021 than the prior five years combined. What’s more, solar generation and energy storage are increasingly friendly, with a third of new behind-the-meter solar systems installed by 2025 expected to incorporate energy storage,” Shah wrote.

“DERs can provide energy at a lower price than what the grid typically offers. They do so more cleanly while offering consumers greater resilience during adverse grid events. And despite commercial lenders’ unwillingness to adequately recognize it, DERs are also more widely available and cost-effective than ever,” he emphasized, adding that “virtual power plants can catalyze DER deployment at scale and help make affordable, resilient, and clean energy accessible to all Americans.”

That’s why we say it’s the beginning of the beginning for renewables. For another indication of what’s in store for fossil energy stakeholders, check out a recent Rice University report demonstrating that “Texas can be a model for the nation on how to effectively replace coal with wind and solar for the state’s energy needs while meeting environmental goals.”

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo: Rooftop solar panels in Austin, Texas courtesy of US Department of Energy via Austin Energy.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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