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Amid a Texas heat wave, renewable power shows its potential

Even as fossil fuel power plants were failing during last week's Texas heat wave, renewable power from wind and solar energy proved its worth.

Power failures at six methane-gas fired power plants took out power generation for about 580,000 homes across the state in what could be a preview of things to come as Texas settles in to its blazing hot summer months.

But even as state regulators called for customers to conserve energy in an effort to prevent outages, solar and wind power may have saved the state from rolling blackouts, as David Tuttle, the Vice Chairman of the Electric Utility Commission of Austin, wrote in The Dallas Morning News.

Critics of renewable energy point to its variability as a cause for concern and a reason to maintain existing fossil fuel-fired power plants. But the recent events in Texas actually proved what some renewable energy advocates had suspected -- that wind and solar generation can compliment each other and when one source of power drops, the other can rise to take its place.

"While everyone is focused on ERCOT, let's check out this one incredible thing: solar and wind, diurnally opposite, working together to keep the lights on," wrote Simon Mahan, the executive director of the Southern Renewable Energy Association, on Twitter. "We've said it for years, and it's happening."

Texas has so much renewable power potential that it could completely replace its coal-fired power plants (which are the dirtiest and most polluting sources of power), according to a March 2022 study published by students from Houston's Rice University.

"This paper is really about how we can transition away from coal as quickly as possible," Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and one of the paper's authors. "Texas still burns more coal and emits more sulfur dioxide and other pollution than any other state. Even though a transition is inevitable, it's urgent that we move off coal as quickly as possible to improve air quality and health."

Concerns over reliability aren't unfounded and both wind and solar generating capacity can vary, but with the addition of other types of power and energy storage, zero emission power can replace the fossil fuels that the nation relies on for much of its power.

In that future, Texas could be an example of how to move forward.

"Simply put, it's not always windy and not always sunny, but it's almost always windy or sunny somewhere in Texas," Cohan and his co-author Richard Morse wrote.

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