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As climate-intensified heatwaves strike the Texas grid, renewables step up to the plate

sun over buildings
Image Credit: Vincent Lin // Unsplash

“There’s really no end in sight for the excessive heat that has plagued particularly Texas/southeastern New Mexico in recent days,” the National Weather Service wrote in its online forecast, putting the plight of the region bluntly.

Right now temperatures are teetering around 100°F and according to the service, they will only go up. Some Gulf Coast cities reached temperatures as high as a sweltering 125°F.

As many Texans and southerwesterns know, the staggering heat isn’t just a matter of staying inside with a bottle of ice water and the fan on high. Instead, these high temperatures can and have triggered massive blackouts.

The heatwave, which is fueled by climate change, isn't stopping at Texas and Mexico either. It is currently traveling across New Mexico, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas, and is also targeting the Southwest.

In the Lone Star State, however, residents have been urged to conserve power, and may be surprised to find that when a coal plant struck out and went offline amid the heat, battery storage from renewable energy instantly stepped to the plate, knocking a homerun to replace 75% of power lost from the coal within minutes.

As Doug Lewin, author of the Texas Energy and Power Newsletter, explains via Twitter, “This illustrates yet again that flexibility is the key to the grid. You need fast-acting, dispatchable resources. Batteries are perfect. So is demand response; we should get more of it.”

According to Lewin via a tweet, “This happens a lot during extreme temperatures. We’ll know in a few days which plant it was. Happily for Texans, battery storage filled in the gap.”

As avid readers of Foot Notes are already sure to know, battery storage technologies are essential to ramping up the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy.

Batteries store energy from intermittent renewables like solar and wind and release them when that power is needed most, usually during times of storms, heat, and blackouts, to ensure grid stability.

While Texas produces the largest portion of the nation’s crude oil — roughly 22% according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration — Texas is also the nation’s top wind power producer.

As renewables again come to save the Texan grid, state lawmakers are pushing for bills to support fossil fuel-burning power plants and restrict renewable energy development.

In 2022 as renewables saved the Texas grid from another looming blackout, Lewin pointed out how lawmakers mislead the public on renewables, saying that in Texas, “Unfortunately, there’s this sort of effort to try to make renewables look worse than they are.”

In addition to Texas leading the nation in wind production, it also is a frontrunner in solar power, with a total of 17 gigawatts of solar power operational this year, which is equivalent to 17 nuclear power plants.

According to Lewin via Inside Climate News, solar also played a role in preventing the likelihood of a blackout, and while he doesn’t expect lawmakers and state leaders to tout how clean energy essentially saved the grid from going offline, these systems are expected to, again and again, prevent outages in the state.

solar panel
Image Credit: Chelsea // Unsplash

Southern states like Texas could benefit most from the incentives and tax breaks in the Inflation Reduction Act when it comes to installing green energy, and while some Texas cities are already taking advantage of the IRA, advocates argue that the state could be installing much more if the political opposition was replaced with an embrace of the IRA.

As Lewin, who hosts the Texas Power Podcast, put in a recent blog post, Texas has never had a summer blackout. But without renewables, that could change.

“The current heat dome sitting over Texas would be “basically impossible” without climate change,” he writes, linking meteorologist, Jeff Berardelli, who explains how climate conditions made the current intensity of the heat wave possible.

However, “keeping the air conditioning on through these hellish heat waves requires the state to do a lot of things right,” he says. These “things” include letting solar do its thing and adding more battery storage, while diversifying energy sources, among others.

More and more startups are moving to address Lewin’s goals in Texas outside of the political arena, and as Time Magazine puts it, with the influx of green tech startups and nonprofits, the Lone Star State could be a clean energy capital, but only if it wants to be.

From those creating networks of virtual power plants and bringing community solar to low-income areas, to others tackling the “sleeping giant” of geothermal energy and the first reportedly grid-scale next-generation nuclear reactor coming to the Gulf, the region could be a green Silicon Valley in the south.

Even Houston’s Rice University most recently launched a clean energy accelerator program dedicated to building the technologies to needed to accelerate the energy transition.

Millions of dollars in funding are going toward everything from hydrogen storage tech to microgrid solutions.

While venture capital is not a replacement for political will (exemplified by how a Texas bill attempted to effectively kill the booming renewables sector in May) the momentum from the private sector around Texas clean energy couldn’t come at a better time. And as battery storage and solar are showing, renewables are needed in the Lone Star State more than ever.

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