Wind power production is setting records in Texas, but an energy revolution is expected from a project to develop utility-scale solar electricity that will help double the state’s sun-harnessing capabilities over the next two years and ease demands on an often-overloaded power grid.
Those plans include Misae I and II, two of the largest utility-scale solar projects in the United States, and increased production of utility-scale batteries — all of which has the potential to substantially increase the marketability of renewable energy.
Experts say generating power from a mix of fossil fuels and renewable energy will be crucial for a state that continually requires more electricity to meet daily needs, particularly during hot Texas summers.
For most of the past decade, renewable energy investment dollars have been funneled into wind power, a corner of the market that’s doubled capacity from from 9,400 megawatts in 2010 to more than 22,000 megawatts this year, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. By 2021, the state could add more than 14,000 additional megawatts of wind power to the state grid.
For the first time in history, production of wind power topped coal power in Texas over the first six months of 2019. But the trouble with wind, some experts say, is there often isn’t enough during the peak summer heat.
In August, wholesale electricity prices soared to more than $9,000 per megawatt hour several times because excess capacity, or reserve margin, fell below predetermined thresholds. Experts note that if just one major natural gas plant had gone offline during the crisis, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas would have been forced to implement rolling blackouts — a last-ditch effort utilities use to avert overload and a total blackout.
“When we reach conditions in which resources are scarce compared to customer demand, all available resources are online, and we get to the point where the amount of unused capacity falls below the 3,000 megawatt cap,” ERCOT senior director of system planning Warren Lasher said. “That reflects that scarcity in the wholesale market price.”
Most Texans in deregulated areas were insulated from price hikes because their electric rate is locked in. But residents who buy power wholesale were hit hard, with electric bills that quickly totalled thousands of dollars.
Experts say peak demand is growing at up to 1,500 megawatts per year, driven mostly by population growth in major cities. Another driver is wattage needed to power the oil and gas shale boom in West Texas. Lasher said hydraulic fracking, which breaks up shale rock to release oil and gas, uses large amounts of electricity.