Written by: Michael Gonzalez, Senior Director of External Affairs, Laredo College
A few weeks ago, Texans experienced one of the coldest and longest-lasting cold snaps in the past several decades. The crisis this storm created, layered with the crisis associated with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, became known by some as “snow-vid”, and left many in our community without power for several days. According to ERCOT reports, more than 180 state power plants were unable to withstand the wintery conditions. Additionally, even when power was restored, millions remained without safe drinking water for many days as treatment plants and water pumps that were affected by the loss of power returned to service.
There has been much written about the many errors committed by the Electrical Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, as well as the Texas Public Utilities Commission in the days since power was successfully restored. The reliability of our electrical grid looks to certainly be a significant issue to be debated and acted upon during the upcoming state legislative session in Austin.
When considering all of the research available, I believe that the answer is clear, albeit somewhat unpopular with those who would like to expedite the adoption of the greenest available energy sources – natural gas is the best choice for energy production today.
For comparison, ERCOT reports that during normal conditions, natural gas-fired power plants provide 51% of the state’s power, wind generates 25%, coal produces 13%, nuclear generates nearly 5%, solar is at nearly 4%, and all others account for nearly 2%.
Bright Future for Renewables
The future is bright for renewables. As they are able to increase their production capacity, lower costs associated with technology adoption and further refine their efficiency regarding the use of land and resources, renewables will continue to become even more attractive.
Texas looks to lead the way in renewables. According to a 2020 ERCOT report, wind power has been the fastest-growing source of energy for Texas’ power grid. Wind energy has been doubling in the last few years since it represented just 11% of power generation, recently surpassing coal as the second-largest source of electrical power generation in the nation’s most energy-rich state. In fact, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (US EIA), Texas leads the nation in wind-powered electricity generation producing 30% of the total nationwide.
Solar energy shows signs of promise in the future as well, with Texas amongst the nation’s best. Texas, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, ranks fifth amongst all states in installed solar capacity. According to the same report, Texas also ranks second nationally for projected growth during the next five years.
Natural Gas Leads the Way
Renewables such as solar and wind have a bright future; however, natural gas is still paramount in terms of energy generation in Texas and nationwide. According to the US EIA, Texas leads the nation in natural gas production accounting for 25% of U.S. gross withdrawals in 2019. In terms of power generation, natural gas accounts for more than half of Texas’ net generation of electricity in 2019. ERCOT reports that approximately 57% of the available on-peak summer and winter capability is from gas-fired generation.
Energy experts agree that natural gas is the best choice for energy generation currently. A recent report from the Baker Institute for Public Policy Center for Energy Studies at Rice University reports that until long-duration battery storage is available, grid operators should continue to rely on natural gas. Chanan Singh, a grid reliability expert and electrical and computer engineering professor at Texas A&M University, recently wrote that “without storage, there is no way that we can have that high level of generation from wind and solar.”
The effects of “snow-vid”, from electrical power generation reliability to economic implications, will be something that we will have to wrestle with and solve over the next few months. In my review of the available data, I have found that natural gas is currently the most economically viable and most reliable energy source for electrical power generation, while also being comparatively clean. While cleaner and fast-growing, renewables continue to have obstacles that prevent their implementation when power generation matters most. Again, natural gas is now, but renewables are the future – how far into the future remains to be seen.
Michael Gonzalez provides commentary on local business. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.