Renewables are the only reason Texas' power grid hasn't failed during this month's punishing heat wave, a grid expert tells HEATED
And yet Texas Republicans think that renewables are something to be scorned and/or derided.
It boggles the mind.............
I spent 10 months living/working in Houston. Signing up for electric service was a nightmare of needless complexity - trying to sift through all the "choices." I don't need choices, I need simple, reliable electric service for a fair price. In my home in Michigan, it took about 3-5 minutes to sign up for electricity. There is one provider, and their rates are regulated by a public commission. I paid a higher monthly electric bill in my 840-square-foot apartment (on the ground floor) in Houston than I did for my 2400-square-foot home in Michigan. It was ridiculous. I thought the idea behind a "free market" was to get lower rates!
What blows my mind about this article is that even in such a "free market" environment, renewables are winning - with just about every conceivable effort by entrenched fossil fuel power structures to shut them down. This is powerful testimony to the inherent superiority of renewable energy sources. Right now, I'm told, solar power plants have faster startup times, are cheaper, and are more reliable than coal-fired power plants, which have been the gold standard in developing nations for fast, cheap power.
Two things are necessary for our switch to renewables: a fortified grid and the ability to store energy. Energy storage doesn't need to be in the form of batteries: I know several places in Florida that use cheap energy at night to create ice cubes that are then used to cool buildings by day, when rates are much higher. Here in Michigan there is a large reservoir a few feet above Lake Michigan - water is pumped up to the reservoir when energy use is low and drained down (to power turbines) when energy needs are high. Other ideas are simply using energy to stack large concrete blocks, and then "unstacking" them to create energy when it's needed most.
There are a lot of wonderful ideas out there - the trick is to loosen the iron grip on the public dialogue from the fossils.
What a brilliant and eye-opening article, Emily! I was so furious hearing some Rep. Congressman berating renewables during this heatwave, and also extrapolating that renewable can nowhere near meet the demand for increased electrical demand. But I had no data to consider an informed counter-argument, and now I do!
Thanks! This will be very useful indeed next time I run across the unreliability argument.
Big batteries really shine when big power plants go offline unexpectedly. They can ramp, that is, "spring into action" faster than any other "dispatchable," "firm," or "baseload" power plant. Kinda like a dual motor Tesla off the line. Also made, and dissed, in TX.
Yep, Texas is bizarro land in the electric part of the energy transition.
It would be grand if this renewable/storage success was covered nearly as much as the BS after Winter Storm Uri, where wind turbines were blamed for a failure of gas delivery, a capability we assumed that Texans had figured out decades ago. But, as per Emily's next story, we shouldn't hold our breath.
This is very good. As someone who left central Texas for a bunch of environmental issues in late 2020, I aplaud this as an in your face GOP Texans and for the GOP in general, who are against change or want to go back the the 'Good 'ole Days', whenever they were. As a baby boomer, I must have been out of the country during those days. I would like to use the headline, credit you for the article and a brief comment in next weeks An Crann Bethadh Podcast due out next Wednesday please?
"Texas is a leader in renewable energy. Local politicians want to change that" https://www.npr.org/2023/05/14/1176062269/texas-is-a-leader-in-renewable-energy-local-politicians-want-to-change-that
This article is necessary and important to push back on the disinformation about renewables reliability on a grid, because I think it is clear this line of attack is a big part of climate deniers current strategy, so thank you for writing it.
But I think some of the arguments used are incorrect and actually not helpful from a perspective of trying to persuade people for a clean grid.
The main issue I have is this asymmetry of expectations for the different power sources. That because solar isn’t expected to work at night, or wind when the wind isn’t blowing, those aren’t “outages”, even though they happen quite regularly, for sometimes half the day.
While a nuclear plant, which runs 24/7 365 days of the year, has a sudden outage that is quickly resolved, is now unreliable and needs to be saved by storage? What if nuclear filled that battery in case of an event like what happened? Apologies if that isn’t your implication, but that is how I read this article.
And to apply a retort I commonly hear when trying to convince people about clean energy, paraphrasing the subtitle,
“Renewables are the only reason Texas' power grid hasn't failed during this month's punishing heat wave, a grid expert tells HEATED”
Fossil fuels and nuclear are the only reason the power grid doesn’t fail every single night.
So from the perspective of trying to convince people about building a clean grid, I don’t think the argument being made is effective enough. Every power source has its pros and cons, some more than others like climate destruction, but using the word “reliability”, even to push back on climate deniers arguments, doesn’t work imo.
A good example of this is the 2021 Texas power crisis you mention. And you are right that the right wing pushed a lot of bullshit about wind turbines when it was methane gas that completely failed.
But as the article you linked mentions, the only reason methane gas failed in the high amount it did, was because wind power, and hardly any solar, was expected to be available in the first place.
So the problem essentially remains anyways if we want a clean grid. Again asymmetry of expectations.
I also have issues with some of the wording or logic used by the person you talked to as well.
“While coal and gas plants are still instrumental parts of the grid, said Lewin, it’s a mistake to think that they’re more reliable—or less “intermittent”—than renewable energy. “A definition of intermittent is something that is not constant. Coal and gas plants are not constant. In extreme weather, they break quite often,” he said.”
The definition of intermittent when used in the context of renewables is essentially “not dispatchable”. Which isn’t about something being constant, but about “can I get power whenever I want it”?
I honestly find it absolutely bizarre to make the claim that coal and gas are “not constant”. “Break often” based on what analysis? Every single power grid I have looked at shows fossil fuels operating exactly how they are supposed to based on demand. Which is the entire problem with regards to climate change. In fact they are so “reliable” based on demand, as HEATED has written about, entire countries spend hundreds of billions securing them when renewables don’t output as expected or required.
““We know exactly when the Sun is coming up and when it's going down.” “
Clouds and overcast weather? This is way, way too simplistic to describe solar, and again hurts the argument we need to make for a clean grid imo.
“In reality, ERCOT said gas, coal, and nuclear power plants were responsible for twice as many outages as solar and wind combined.”
I know you are just repeating the information from the other article but I never liked how this was written even back then. I never understood why nuclear was grouped in with gas and coal, especially when one is trying to make the argument gas failed, as it did.
One reactor tripped offline amounting to about 1.3 GW lost for a couple of days. But grouping it with gas and coal makes it sound like a massive percentage of nuclear power went offline, when that isn’t true.
It also spares methane gas from some of its necessary criticism by not emphasizing how much gas failed in particular during that winter energy crisis, and from a pure GW amount, nuclear was vastly less than wind that went offline. Always bothered me, and I know you are only repeating the information from the other article, but wanted to add it here.
A lot of information in this article is great, especially the section about economic incentives favoring fossil fuels and pushing back on the right is always necessary, but I think the argument about “reliability” is just the wrong one to make in trying to build a clean grid going forward honestly.
Shade, but not casting it upon solar. Shade has value, besides, building large solar arrays on the ground closes out most any other uses of the land from natural wild succession, pasture, livestock grazing or farming. The panels provide shade in hot areas like Texas or deserts where the air temperature would be somewhat cooler and possibly with higher moisture. Building fifteen or twenty feet up to the supporting framework does cost more but the standing posts should be far enough apart of allow farm equipment and aforesaid livestock up to wild elephants to graze. Even villages might move under this partially shaded area. Existing ground arrays could be systematically lifted to open up those lands as well. Roof top solar panels yield only about 3% cooling with only inches clearance, higher is a touch better. Shade from the blazing sun is another benefit of solar arrays.