Last summer, Texas’ electric grid was put to the test by scorching temperatures that sent power demand soaring and raised the specter of potential brownouts. Thankfully, the grid did what it was designed to do and pulled through without any major issues.
This week, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas released its projection for how we’ll fare this summer. Thanks to massive growth of solar and wind resources made possible by Texas’ competitive electricity market, the outlook is much improved.
What the numbers say
Texas’ economy has seen robust growth, and so has the demand for electricity to power our homes and businesses. In fact, ERCOT, which manages our state’s grid, projects a peak demand this summer of 76,696 megawatts, that’s 2,000 MW higher than it projected ahead of last summer, and nearly 2,000 MW higher than ERCOT’s all-time system peak demand that was reached last summer.
Fortunately, solar and wind resources have grown even faster. They’re projected to deliver an additional 2,097 MW towards meeting the peak demand of the grid and increase the reserve margin by approximately 2.8%, or more than 25% of the projected reserve margin.
By comparison, only 101 MW of natural gas generation are expected to come online to help meet peak summer demand.
It’s clear that Texas’ renewable energy resources, which represent over 95% of new generating capacity, are doing the heavy lifting to keep the lights on and serve Texas’ rapidly growing demand for electricity.
The benefits of solar and wind
Some have levied the criticism that because solar and wind don’t work when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow, they’re a poor investment. But the reality has proven to be far different.
Solar is particularly well-suited for meeting peak demand, as it performs best when the sun is hot and shining bright — the same time that people are cranking the air conditioning and driving up the need for more power on the grid.
Similarly, coastal wind resources (projected to grow by 743 MW) ramp up during the heat of the day when they’re needed most. That makes them ideal for meeting the needs of Texans during stretches of high summer temperatures when West Texas wind tends to ramp down.
Investors also clearly see solar and wind as wise economic choices. These resources’ ability to deliver cheap, abundant power helped Texas’ utility scale solar market grow by 32.7% in 2019 and wind to grow by 9.7%. At this rate, Texas is expected to expand its national leadership in wind and climb to No. 2 in solar generation by 2021.
While wind and solar generation are a major part of a stronger, more robust electric grid, investments in energy efficiency and solutions to help Texas consumers manage their energy demand are equally important.
According to the Department of Energy, Texas has more energy efficiency potential than any other state. Investing in this potential would save consumers billions of dollars, reduce pollution and add to the over 100,000 energy efficiency-related jobs in the state.
Other solutions include demand response, which rewards people and businesses that reduce energy use when the electric grid is stressed, and distributed energy resources, such as rooftop solar.
A 2014 study showed that expanding CPS Energy’s demand response program statewide could help cut peak demand by over 6,000 MW. Demand response is already employed to a smaller degree and has helped Texas avoid blackouts during critical weather conditions. ERCOT calculates that last summer, up to 3,384 MW of demand response was simultaneously deployed to stabilize the grid — more than the generating capacity of both units of the South Texas Nuclear Project.
By the end of 2019, ERCOT estimated over 638 MW of distributed energy resources — primarily rooftop solar — were helping pump electricity onto the grid. Continued investment in these resources not only benefits customers who are generating electricity for their own consumption, but all Texans, as overall demand on the grid is reduced.
Texas prides itself on being an energy leader on a global scale. Thanks to our competitive electricity market and the innovation it’s unleashed, we have everything we need to expand abundant and reliable clean energy in a way that benefits consumers, companies and our state’s economy.