Summer may have just begun in the United States, but Texans are already wilting under a serious heatwave – and its power grid, already compromised thanks to the incredibly severe winter of 2021, is struggling to keep working under worsening climatic conditions.
As Texan energy consultant Alison Silverstein puts it, the recent heatwave sweeping through the state has formed a heat dome, leading to higher temperatures and extreme conditions that have occurred more frequently in recent years. However, the state has yet to change its electric system and state-wide power grid effectively.
But there is a glimmer of hope here: the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the grid that serves much of the state, claims that it has begun to get up to 20% of its generated power from renewable sources like solar facilities and wind farms, with an increasing dependence on the former. Indeed, it has been estimated that Texas added around 4.4 gigawatts of solar power to its grid since the summer of 2022 to prevent outages during the worst dry season days.
According to electricity data aggregator Grid Status, approximately 15% of the power generated by ERCOT in the afternoons has been derived from solar sources. This makes solar power the state’s largest electric power source, second only to natural gas. Likewise, solar power has filled the gap that occurs whenever outages hit the state’s nuclear- and coal-powered facilities.
Seeing the Limits
However, more frequent heat waves also show the limits of solar as a power source. As June drew to a close, the statewide demand for electricity peaked at over 79 gigawatts at 5 pm on June 26th, just as solar output began to go down.
Experts see this as proof that the way the Texas grid is operated must change. If operators sought to hit peak power demand by midday, they now have to plan for surges hitting at sunset when the temperature remains warm despite the decrease in solar output. In fact, it was noted that the riskiest hour for ERCOT would be at 8pm, especially in the summer.
Other than solar power, Texas has been trying to improve its power grid’s reliability by constructing additional natural gas-powered facilities. However, experts feel that implementing more effective power efficiency strategies and measures to manage overall demand would be more helpful to the state in the long run.