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Is Texas Ready to Take on Solar?

Ryan Ayers's picture
Researcher , Consultant

Ryan Ayers has consulted a number of Fortune 500 companies within multiple industries including information technology and big data. After earning his MBA in 2010, Ayers also began working with...

  • Member since 2018
  • 6 items added with 9,456 views
  • Mar 24, 2021

The unprecedented cold, ice, and snow that surprised Texas a few weeks ago opened up a lot of eyes to the idea that climate change might just be something worth preparing for, even in places in the United States that historically maintain moderate temperatures. Solar power, and other renewable energy sources are not only infinite, unlike their fossil fuel counterparts, but also can serve as backup plans in the near future, while the U.S. (and most of the world) continues to rapidly diminish the amount of accessible crude oil left on the planet while still being heavily dependent upon it.

The U.S. produces 35% of the world’s crude oil and consumes almost 20% of the oil consumed on the planet. Texas is responsible for the most oil production in the U.S., by a significant amount, producing more than the next three states combined.

As the adage goes, the longest fall is from the top, and with such an enormous dependence on oil, Texas also stands to lose the most when the reserves to dry up. Expert analysis is quite varied regarding the amount of oil left on the planet, but some say it cold be gone in less than 50 years. Others believe that oil may not ever actually run out, but it will continue to be more difficult to access, further damaging the planet.

With all of those things in mind, and a very recent storm that proved to be deadly, there has never been a more sensible time for Texas to seek out legislation and funding for green energy and construction engineering practices that set up for a future dependent more upon renewables than fossil fuels.

What are Power Grids?

The United States is split into two power grids, with Texas choosing to provide and control their own energy production, importation, and consumption legalities. Generally, when we hear the phrase “off the grid” it pertains to these power grids. Many people who decide to move off the grid, don’t physically do so, but they switch to energy sources devoid of government control or regulation, with the most common being solar in 2020.

In most of the country, citizens are able to create a kind of hybrid situation for themselves where they produce their own energy, but remain on the grid for emergency situations. Additionally, most states allow for these homesteads that produce their own energy to “sell” their excess energy to the grid, often winding up in a situation where they are getting paid to power their homes.

Given Texas’ reasons for staying off the U.S. grid system, this opportunity for individuals to make money off their own grids may open up some ears to the thought of Texas producing solar power on a much grander scale than they currently are, and ultimately powering their own grid and selling excess to the other U.S. grids.

Looking Forward

In addition to the financial selling points (important for Texas), having hybrid systems of energy production and storage also mean security blankets for situations such as the one that just occurred, causing catastrophic losses both financially and even with human life. Energy storage is also a green topic of discussion, and excess production from renewable sources is being stored in gigantic batteries, another business opportunity for Texas that can double as a means for protecting their citizens from future freak storms caused by climate change.

Physically speaking, Texas has everything they need to create a hybrid energy system that can serve their people, as well as provide financial opportunities beyond their borders. With so much oil production being done in the state, storage can be more easily accomplished with green initiatives like the batteries, and progressive construction can help set up new infrastructure to be set up for renewable adaptation when the time comes.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 24, 2021

Physically speaking, Texas has everything they need to create a hybrid energy system that can serve their people, as well as provide financial opportunities beyond their borders. 

They did it incredibly effectively with wind-- solar seems to be on the docket next!

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 24, 2021

Ryan, the unprecedented cold, ice, and snow in Texas a few weeks ago opened up my eyes to the idea ERCOT has no intention of preparing for climate change - that west Texas could be covered with solar panels, and they wouldn't lower carbon emissions a whit.

On the graph below, note that before Feb. 15 ERCOT had been curtailing solar (yellow bumps at the bottom) to reward gas generators (corresponding dips in brown line at the top) with more generation. After the near-collapse of its grid during the early morning hours of Feb 15, engineers realized they needed all the generation they could find ASAP, and opened the gates on solar (with corresponding generation shaved from the top of gas).

Suggesting solar is, and will always be, merely window-dressing in a state economy driven by sales of natural gas and oil.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 27, 2021

"With so much oil production being done in the state, storage can be more easily accomplished with green initiatives like the batteries, and progressive construction can help set up new infrastructure to be set up for renewable adaptation when the time comes."

Ryan, which scenario results in more natural gas consumption: 1) build huge grid-scale batteries that waste anywhere from 20-40% of the gas-fired energy stored in them from efficiency losses - over and over and over again - or 2) build huge grid-scale batteries and charge them exclusively with solar energy?

Wouldn't it be most profitable for oil companies to build huge grid-scale batteries (and have electicity customers pay for them), pledge to build solar farms "when the time comes", then never build them?

Leave it in the ground.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Mar 29, 2021

Even though the game is just getting started in Texas - it's obvious that solar will be a winner.  The loser - over the next few years - coal.

By 2021 - solar will routinely be generating more than 100,000MWh per day on the TX grid and there will be many days where its generation is greater than coal. 

By 2022/23 solar will pass coal for full year generation on TX grid. By 2030 coal generation on the TX grid will be near zero.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 29, 2021

For sure coal is on its way out-- and it's definitely a tug of war between gas and wind/solar to take over where it leaves off. The renewable penetration in TX has been impressive, but the collective power of the oil/gas industries in the state are certainly not going to let that fight go quietly!

Dudley McFadden's picture
Dudley McFadden on Mar 30, 2021

I am not so sure there is enough area, or willingness, to cover vast swaths of our world's land with photovoltaic panels, and install massive utility-scale batteries composed of minerals unsustainably mined from developing nations, to reliably accommodate the odd cold-storm event.  Assuredly, the construction equipment would not be solar powered, and all this would be financed by earnings by industry, which in places like Texas and California, includes oil and gas.  Those who make money don't just stack gold bars in their living room; they pay their living expenses, they spend it back into the economy, they save for their retirement so they're less of a burden on the young, and they take risks investing in other enterprises.  Green investment requires funding; it all can't come from Silicon Valley multinational corporations. Texas ain't going socialist anytime soon.

Dean Elkins's picture
Dean Elkins on Jul 2, 2021

Finally, a rational response to the naive, "pie in the sky" thoughts from the imagineers of the religion of Climate Change.  It is sheer folly to pursue "saving the planet" without considering the carbon cost of the extremely inefficient wind-solar-battery-electric vehicle panacea.  Texas' electric deregulation law which unbundled (broke up) the utilities connected to the ERCOT grid that opted-in (they had the choice to participate or not) also set the stage for the incredible penetration of renewables in the ERCOT market.  Texas has more wind generation capacity than most, if not all, countries in the world, all because of the renewable requirement in Texas Senate Bill 7 which began by deregulating the wholesale market, then the retail market, and brought consumer choice (on January 1, 2002) and COMPETITION to the market.  I know competition seems foreign to the Monday-morning quarterbacks living in utility monopoly regions (the rest of the country, for the most part) commenting here about Texas' failure and what Texas needs to do to break "Big Oil's" control of the energy market in the state, a ridiculous but well-worn battle cry.  Please, do some research before you follow the renewables-battery herd off the cliff.

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