Renewable energy is 'bailing out' Texas as surging demand strains power grid: report

Renewable energy is 'bailing out' Texas as surging demand strains power grid: report
Solar panels against a blue sky with a picture of the flag State of Texas (Shutterstock).

Renewable sources of energy are "bailing out" the Texas power grid as early summer temperatures spike and demand surges, CNN reported on Tuesday.

The boost has prevented a recurrence of the blackouts which plagued Texas during the winter months of 2021 when electricity usage exploded, overwhelming providers and transmission networks.

"Several experts told CNN that it's owed in large part to strong performances from wind and solar, which generated 27 gigawatts of electricity during Sunday's peak demand -- close to 40% of the total needed," the outlet said.

CNN noted that while Republicans in the politically crimson Lone Star State have been reliably outspoken about their opposition to sustainable sources such as wind and solar, Texas "has a massive and growing fleet of renewables. Zero-carbon electricity sources (wind, solar, and nuclear) powered about 38% of the state's power in 2021, rivaling natural gas at 42%."

Michael Webber, an energy expert and professor at the University of Texas at Austin, explained that "Texas is, by rhetoric, anti-renewables. But frankly, renewables are bailing us out. They're rocking. That really spares us a lot of heartache and a lot of money."

Perhaps somewhat ironically, CNN pointed out, "Texas generates the most wind energy in the country: In 2020, it produced more wind electricity than Iowa, Kansas, and Oklahoma — the next three highest states — combined, according to the US Energy Information Administration."

Solar, meanwhile, is viewed as an invaluable power source during the summer due to there being less wind and because "there's a good chance the sun is beating down," experts told CNN.

Joshua Rhodes, an energy researcher at the University of Texas in Austin, confirmed that renewables "are acting as a hedge against high fuel prices." He added, however, that "about half of the solar that could be produced is not being produced right now because there's no more room on the lines. The numbers for renewables would probably be higher if we had the transmission capacity to move them around."

Renewables have driven down prices because they are generated naturally, unlike fossil fuels, which require massive industrial refinement operations and energy-intensive efforts to be delivered to consumers. Oil and natural gas are also finite resources, a fact that has contributed to the increased costs of fuel worldwide.

Yet even with their much-needed cushioning, renewables are not a complete fail-safe against future collapses of the power grid. Texas is currently experiencing sweltering heat that normally arrives in August, causing people to crank up their air conditioners earlier in the season than in previous years. And engineers are facing additional challenges, like designing batteries that can store enough electricity to sustain communities when sunlight and wind are not immediately available.

But the biggest variable by far is climate change, which scientists have for decades warned will get catastrophically worse unless humanity's addiction to fossil fuels is curbed. More than 107 million Americans are experiencing record-shattering heat in the waning weeks of spring.

Andy Dessler, the director of the Texas Center for Climate Studies at Texas A&M University, stressed to CNN that "everything's getting hotter. August is getting hotter; June is getting hotter. It is hot and this is the future."

CNN's full report is available here.

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