Texas has planned enough solar and wind power to stop coal altogether – pv magazine USA
Texas could meet the state’s energy needs by replacing coal with a fraction of what’s on offer in solar and wind, according to researchers at Rice University.
A Rice University research team is modeling the lowest-cost paths to a renewable energy future for Texas, a state that burns more coal and emits more sulfur dioxide than any other. The myriad of health and climate-related issues night caused by anthrax no longer need to persist, researchers say.
The research team found that only one-third of the wind and solar projects proposed to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) by June 2020 could replace nearly all of the state’s coal generation. Since June 2020, dozens of these projects have been built and the queue of proposed solar projects has doubled.
“It’s almost always windy or sunny somewhere in Texas,” said Daniel Cohan, an environmental engineer at Rice University’s George R. Brown School of Engineering.
Cohan conducted an analysis of production peaks from renewable resources in West and South Texas and suggested that the state’s power generation can be made more reliable by adjusting where and when these resources are deployed. As a least-cost path, the model showed that 72 of the 108 wind projects and 42 of the 262 proposed solar projects in the queue could replace most of the coal in ERCOT. This would leave about 10% of coal production uncovered in some seasons and generate surplus energy at peak times of solar and wind harvesting. Previous work by Rice researchers has shown that wind and solar power are generated at complementary times, with west Texas winds blowing strongest at night, south Texas sea breezes peaking in the aftermath. summer noon and solar power peaking at noon.
“Even with a complementary location, there will still be hours when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing,” Cohan said. “Historically, the main challenge has been summer afternoons, when air conditioners were running at full blast, and occasional freezing. Solar and coastal winds work well during summer peaks, but can have lulls on some evenings when we need something else to get going.
Change of generational mix
The state of Texas does not have a clean energy mandate, and as a deregulated jurisdiction, market forces determine competition between energy sources. ERCOT is largely independent of other U.S. and Mexican power grids, according to the report, with little scope for wholesaling with other system operators. For this reason, any withdrawal of fossil fuel capacity must be met directly by new generation of clean energy.
In 2019, ERCOT’s generation mix was 47% natural gas, 20% coal, 20% wind, 11% nuclear and 2% solar and other. Coal consumption reached its peak for ERCOT in 2011 with around 110,000 tons of coal burned during the year. This number has dropped significantly to around 61,000 tonnes in 2021. ERCOT processed 14 GW of utility-scale solar interconnection requests last yearso that the profile of the generational mix is set to fundamentally change.
The challenge in Texas, as in many other parts of the United States, is the transmission lines: expansion is needed to connect the sunniest and windiest parts of the state to the cities.
“In Texas, that’s the biggest bottleneck that’s slowing the growth of wind and solar,” Cohan said. “The bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed last year is a good start, but it doesn’t have enough funding for transmission. Additionally, by not connecting to other grids, Texas has missed opportunities to sell surplus wind and solar power to other states.
Large coal capacity plans were retired to Texas in 2018, and many have operated with limited capacity for February winter storms that knocked out power to much of the state earlier that year. Cohan said natural gas pecking plants will still be needed for the time being to cope with extreme weather events. However, a report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electrical Reliability Society found that natural gas supply issues caused 87% of outages during the February storm, as did wells and pipelines frozen, and uninsulated gasworks were not working.
As for coal, Cohan thinks the end of time has arrived. “I don’t think any of the power companies want to run coal-fired plants long term,” Cohan said. “They are dirtier and more expensive to operate than building wind and solar projects from scratch, and most utility companies now have plans to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, if not sooner. “
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