As Texas’ power grid sears under an “oppressive and persistent” heat wave, it’s facing renewed strain to keep electricity flowing to households across the state. As the hot sun continues to blaze, eyes are turning to its growing battery storage capacity.
The National Weather Service has issued excessive heat warnings for the southwest, including most of Texas and parts of New Mexico and Arizona. Temperatures are expected to peak above 100 degrees Fahrenheit over the course of the week, with a small chance of rain at the weekend.
It said on Sunday that parts of the Lone Star state had already experienced a yearly record number of hours of “dangerously high heat,” with the greatest danger coming at the start of the July 4 holiday week.
Local experts are expecting Texas’ energy grid to face a “real test” in the face of the oncoming hot spell. Joshua Rhodes, a research scientist at the University of Texas’ Energy Institute, told the Washington Post: “Just about every single air conditioner in those regions is going to want energy at the same time.”
America’s electricity grid is already facing stress from increased electricity demand and a growing number of climate change-linked extreme weather events that impact power lines and energy generators.
Last summer, California told citizens to conserve energy to prevent strain on its grid, while a cold snap in December led to the temporary closure of oil refineries in the Gulf.
Grid stress is a growing concern. In 2020, U.S. households experienced an average of more than seven hours of power outages, the majority caused by extreme weather events, Energy Information Administration (EIA) data shows, compared with just over four hours in 2016.
Last Monday, after 300,000 homes went without power across Texas, the state’s power operator asked residents to cut back on air conditioning and appliance use to limit demand on its heat-stressed grid.
Despite having an economic dependence on fossil fuel production—accounting for 42 percent of America’s total production in 2022, according to the EIA—Texas is increasingly turning to renewable sources to boost its grid.
Research conducted in May by S&P Global Intelligence found that Texas is second only to California in battery capacity, with 2.2 gigawatts of storage and 29.2 gigawatts in the planning pipeline by 2030. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) already has the largest wind fleet in the U.S. and is planning on adding 78 gigawatts of capacity to its existing 12 gigawatt solar generation.
By 2035, S&P predicts wind generation will produce half of Texas’s storage capacity, with the other half provided by solar power. In 2023, solar and wind power will jointly account for 36 percent of the grid’s needs, rising to 43 percent in 2035.
Battery storage systems allow for the energy produced when demand is below supply to be stored and then released onto the grid during peak usage times. As renewable energy isn’t generated at a consistent level over time, they are playing an increasingly important role in the transition to green alternatives.
“Battery storage is a boon to wind and solar, as it allows them to store the energy and then make it available at peak hours,” John Raymond Hanger, Pennsylvania’s former public utilities commissioner, tweeted on Sunday. “But amid this heat emergency, batteries have also proved useful in bailing out more traditional power plants.”
Batteries matter: Battery storage is a boon to wind & solar, as it allows them to store the energy and then make it available at peak hours. But amid this heat emergency, batteries have also proved useful in bailing out more traditional power plants. https://t.co/9ZeLY9aNmk
— John Raymond Hanger (@johnrhanger) June 24, 2023
Some might think the Republican-run state would be averse to renewables, but Governor Greg Abbott is leaning towards them. “You can have fossil fuels while at the very same time be leaders in renewable energy,” he said in March last year, according to the Houston Chronicle. “We’ve got to be very clear that all forms of energy are essential.”
In 2021, it emerged that Tesla was building a 100-megawatt battery storage project in Angleton, south of Houston, Bloomberg reported at the time. Abbott and Musk were pictured together to celebrate breaking ground on a new lithium refinery in Robstown that will produce the key component in electric vehicle batteries in May this year.
“Texas is, by rhetoric, anti-renewables. But frankly, renewables are bailing us out,” Michael Webber, professor of energy resources at the University of Texas, told CNN in 2022. “That really spares us a lot of heartache and a lot of money.”
Newsweek approached ERCOT via email for comment on Monday.
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