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More than 80% of electricity on the Texas grid was carbon-free at one point Sunday

Windmills on a wind turbine farm
Courtesy of Gabriel C. Pérez

Over 70% of the energy Texans used Sunday came from wind and solar power — a record for the state power grid. And that's not the only record the state energy system broke: When you add nuclear power generation into the mix, about 83% of the electricity used Sunday came from non-carbon-emitting sources.

That lower emissions profile is a positive sign for efforts to combat climate change. It will also become ever-more common as additional solar, wind and battery-storage facilities are added to the state grid.

“I think we’re rapidly moving toward a world — we might already be in it — where a vast majority of the hours [in a week] are supplied mostly by renewables at very very low prices,” Doug Lewin, author of the Texas Energy and Power Newsletter, said.

Lewin said there were times Sunday when renewable energy was also trading for free on the Texas grid thanks to federal tax incentives. That should, eventually, help bring electricity bills down for consumers, he said.

Electric utilities and retail electric providers “are paying very close attention,” Lewin said. “They know they can buy power at those prices, and if it’s zero, they know they can obviously sell it quite cheaply to their customers and still make a profit.”

The challenge ahead

These grid-wide wind and solar records are often set in Texas when weather conditions are just right for renewables. Energy demand is also typically lower on Sundays, so robust wind and solar generation will make up an even larger share of the power that is online.

Energy and climate change experts say the challenge is to continue integrating renewable power while ensuring electric reliability at times when weather conditions are not amenable.

Texas political leaders have created policies to incentivize the building of more natural gas power plants to be on hand during those times. Some even think the state should play a more active role in building plants.

“If we can’t get an incentive program to attract investors to build, then the state will have to build [the power plants] ourselves,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick recently told reporters in Houston.

Others have proposed connecting the Texas grid to other grids to help ensure reliability without contributing to more emissions. A larger power grid, they say, could import more renewable energy from places farther away.

“You’ve got to have the ability to move the clean electrons to market,” Michael Webber, a mechanical engineering professor at UT Austin, said recently. “You want a grid that is bigger than the weather.”

Energy efficiency, smart metering and improved energy storage technology could also help ensure grid reliability while allowing the amount of low-cost renewable power on the grid to grow.

“If we can integrate these resources in a cost-effective way, which is entirely possible, there’s just huge implications for the future of our state and our economy,” Lewin said. “And they are very, very positive implications.”

Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.
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