Wind And Sun Destroy Texas Grid Again, By Delivering Power To It :(
Wind turbines in West Texas. Photo: Jonathan Cutrer, Creative Commons License 2.0

Texas is getting whomped by a heat wave this week, with temperatures over 100 degrees F in many parts of the state, and the high temperatures — more typical of July or August than early June — are expected to continue for at least another week or so. That means record demands for electricity in a state that notoriously saw much of its power grid go into casters up mode during the winter storm of 2021. Fortunately, though, Ted Cruz probably won't have to abandon the state for whatever the cool-in-summer version of Cancun is, because as CNN reports, the state's growing renewable energy sector is helping Texas keep up with the unseasonably high demand for electricity.

On Sunday, the state's power demand was a whopping 75 gigawatts, a new record; similar demand may occur other days this week as well, according to ERCOT, the state's grid operator. During that peak demand on Sunday, CNN says, 27 gigawatts of electricity, just short of 40 percent of the electricity supply, came from wind and solar. Texas Republicans may complain about those crazy greenies pushing for a transition from fossil fuels, but the reality is that carbon-free energy sources — yes, including nuclear — made up about 38 percent of the state's total generating capacity in 2021, supplying an increasing portion of Texas energy. That's getting close to the 42 percent of energy from natural gas; since 2019, wind and solar alone have contributed as much or more to the mix than the dirtiest energy in Texas, coal.

“Texas is, by rhetoric, anti-renewables. But frankly, renewables are bailing us out,” said Michael Webber, an energy expert and professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “They’re rocking. That really spares us a lot of heartache and a lot of money.”

CNN's story ran yesterday; we have so far not seen any reports of armed mobs swarming Dr. Webber's office.

Researchers also point out that since wind and solar don't require the purchase of fuel once they're up and generating, they also help hold down overall energy costs, a significant concern since fossil fuels — even coal — are costing more during the current world energy freakout resulting from high demand and disruptions to energy supplies resulting from Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

“Because the price of wind and sunlight hasn’t doubled in the past year like other resources, they are acting as a hedge against high fuel prices,” said Joshua Rhodes, an energy researcher at UT Austin.

The high temperatures this early in the year are still a matter of concern, especially given the failure of fossil fuel plants during the 2021 cold snap. CNN points out that Texas utility infrastructure has always been engineered with high temperatures in mind, but that energy boffins are concerned about what may happen as periods of extreme heat become more common and last longer due to global warming.

“As opposed to a winter storm, we were built for three months of 90-plus [degrees],” said Caitlin Smith, head of regulatory policy and communications at Texas-based battery storage company Jupiter Power. “Were we built for 4 months of 100-plus [degrees]? There’s some uncertainty there.”

Rhodes and Smith said that stress on the system might become a worry if peak demand continues for long periods, so Texas will need not only to build out more renewable capacity, it will also have to upgrade its grid to better make use of wind and solar, to get energy where it's needed. That there points to a problem, not only in Texas, but nationwide: There just isn’t enough capacity in the transmission system to handle and effectively distribute the new wind turbines and solar farms that will be coming online.

Rhodes pointed to ERCOT projects showing higher solar numbers than what was actually being used; a casualty of over-crowded power lines that can’t let the power through to consumers.

“About half of the solar that could be produced is not being produced right now because there’s no more room on the lines,” Rhodes said. “The numbers for renewables would probably be higher if we had the transmission capacity to move them around.”

In addition, the fact that wind and solar can’t be instantly switched on when power is needed means the grid will need to be able to accommodate high-capacity batteries that can store energy for when the sun is down or the wind isn’t blowing.

As the Washington Post noted yesterday (free link) — and as energy nerds have been saying for decades — the transition to clean energy is going to require major rebuilding of the national energy grid, which evolved to handle very different demands from energy producers and consumers during the fossil fuel age.

As if the winter deaths in 2021 didn’t already make it clear, Texas will probably need to stop isolating its grid from the two major national grids, yes even if that means its energy companies will be subject to federal regulation.

Just getting through the permitting process to build new transmission lines can be a nightmare; as the Post notes, in November, Maine voters turned down a referendum that would have allowed new transmission lines needed to carry power from Canadian hydroelectric plants to 900,000 homes in New England, a setback that could throw a wrench into the region’s plans to reach net zero carbon emissions. Big surprise, too: Campaign spending against the measure was overwhelmingly from fossil fuel companies, to the tune of $24 million. Now supporters of the transmission line are asking courts to get the project back on track in one form or another.

Fortunately, some of the grid problems will start being addressed by funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed last year, the hell of it all being that the transition from a fossil economy to a green economy is technologically doable, and has the potential to make people’s lives better through cleaner air and good jobs. But it’s still anybody’s guess whether the USA and the rest of the world will find the political guts needed to spend the money and actually do it in time to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

Perhaps if we could get some celebrities to sing “Imagine.” Or nah, not that.

[CNN / WaPo/ Photo: Jonathan Cutrer, Creative Commons License 2.0]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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