“Clean energy is rapidly rising on the Texas power grid, but regulators in the Lone Star State are now considering a plan that could give fossil fuels a boost.
The zero greenhouse gas emissions trio — wind, solar, and nuclear energy — provided more than 40 percent of electricity in the state in 2022. It was a year when several Texas cities experienced their hottest summers on record, driving electricity demand to its highest levels ever as fans and air conditioners switched on. Winter proved stressful too, with freezing temperatures last month pushing winter electricity peaks to record-high levels, narrowly avoiding outages.”
“Texas leads the US in oil and natural gas production, but it’s also number one in wind power. Solar production in the state has almost tripled in the past three years. Part of the reason is that Texas is particularly suited to renewable energy on its grid. Wind turbines and solar panels in Texas have a high degree of “complementarity,” so shortfalls in one source are often matched by increases in another, smoothing out power production and reducing the need for other generators to step in. That has eased the integration of intermittent energy sources on the grid.
Coal, meanwhile, has lost more than half of its share in Texas since 2006. For a long time and across much of the country, the story was that cheap natural gas from hydraulic fracturing was eating coal’s lunch on the power grid. Coal was also facing tougher environmental regulations like stricter limits on mercury, requiring coal power plants to upgrade their equipment, and raising electricity production costs.”
“in Texas, natural gas’s share of the electricity mix has been holding around 40 percent for more than a decade. On the other hand, renewable energy has surged as coal withered. Wind alone started beating out coal in 2019 and is now the second-largest source of electricity behind natural gas in the state.
An important factor is that the state has its own internal power grid, serving 26 million customers and meeting 90 percent of its electricity demand. It’s managed by the nonprofit Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT. In the freewheeling Texas energy market, the cheapest sources of electricity become dominant, and wind and solar — with low construction costs, rapid build times, and zero fuel expenses — have emerged as winners.”
“Some lawmakers are now working to tilt the balance toward fossil fuels. “There are different political figures who are trying to incentivize gas power plants or deny, prohibit, or inhibit renewables,” Webber said.
Last year, the Texas legislature passed a law that would prevent the state’s retirement and investment funds from doing business with companies that “boycott” fossil fuels.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said one of his legislative priorities for this year is to secure more support for natural gas-fired generation. “We have to level the playing field so that we attract investment in natural gas plants,” Patrick said during a press conference last November. “We can’t leave here next spring unless we have a plan for more natural gas power.””
“While wind and solar power are ascendant, they are intermittent, and regulators want to make sure there is enough dispatchable power like natural gas to ramp up on still, cloudy days. The new proposal would create a credit scheme that would encourage more of these dispatchable plants to come online and extend a lifeline to some existing generators that are struggling to compete. But it would also raise the costs of electricity production.
Environmental groups like the Sierra Club noted that the proposal leaves the door open for other tactics for balancing electricity supply and demand, like energy storage, increasing energy efficiency, and demand response.”
“Greater reliance on green energy also requires a stupendous increase in mineral extraction to provide the needed materials. Even if the world unquestionably possessed the mineral capacity necessary for the global energy transformation envisioned by President Joe Biden, Democrats in practice are enemies of mining. The U.S. Mining Association estimates that the country has $6.2 trillion of recoverable mineral resources like copper and zinc available for mining on millions of acres of federal, state, and private lands. Unfortunately, our labor, health, and climate regulations often make it practically impossible to profitably mine. As a result, these precious resources stay in the ground, which explains why the United States went from being the world’s No. 1 producer of minerals in 1990 to seventh place today.
Democrats committed to a green energy transition should make it a priority to reform counterproductive regulations like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and to implement other permitting reforms. Yet for the most part they won’t do so, as we saw when they helped strike down the permitting deal cut last year between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D–W.Va.).”
“Two-thirds of the US population faced snowstorms, high winds, or frigid winter weather over the Christmas holiday weekend, leading to at least 52 deaths and pushing the electricity grid to the brink of failure. And in many instances, it did. At its peak on Christmas, an estimated 1.7 million businesses and homes faced power outages.
It was the coldest Christmas in recent memory, and that meant a predictable surge in heating demand as temperatures dropped. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which provides power for 10 million people, for instance, said demand was running nearly 35 percent higher than on a typical winter day.
In many states, utilities and grid operators only narrowly averted greater disaster by asking customers to conserve their energy or prepare for rolling blackouts (when a utility voluntarily but temporarily shuts down electrical power to avoid the entire system shutting down). Some of the largest operators, including Tennessee Valley Authority and Duke Energy, used rolling blackouts throughout the weekend. Others, like National Grid, experienced some outages and asked some consumers to reduce gas usage. Texas also barely got through the emergency. On Friday, the US Department of Energy permitted the state to ignore environmental emissions standards to keep the power on.
One major transmission company that regulators thought would be well-prepared for the winter storm was caught off-guard: PJM Interconnection, which serves 65 million people in 13 eastern states, faced triple the power plant outages than it expected.
Officials probably could have met the higher demand if not for another predictable event that overwhelmed the system. Because of the extreme conditions, coal and gas plants and pipelines froze up too, taking them out of commission to deliver energy in areas that run mostly on gas.
The events over Christmas show how utilities and regulators continue to overestimate the reliability of fossil fuels to deliver power in a winter storm.”
“It wasn’t that the country didn’t have enough gas to go around to meet the high demand. There was plenty of gas, but the infrastructure proved vulnerable to the extreme weather. Enough wells and pipes were frozen or broken to bring the grid to its brink.”
“Researchers at the National Ignition Facility in Livermore, California, home of the world’s most powerful laser, announced on Tuesday that they crossed the critical threshold in their pursuit of fusion power: getting more energy out of the reaction than they put in.
This is 1) a massive scientific advancement, and 2) still a long, long (long) way off from harnessing fusion, the reaction that powers the sun, as a viable source of abundant clean energy. On December 5, the team fired 192 laser beams at a tiny fuel pellet, producing slightly more energy than the lasers put in, “about 2 megajoules in, about 3 megajoules out,” said Marvin Adams, deputy administrator for defense programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration, at a press conference Tuesday.
To make fusion something that could actually produce electricity for the power grid, it can’t just inch over the ignition finish line; it has to blow past it. This announcement is an important incremental advance, but the breakthrough doesn’t go far enough to be of practical use. Because NIF itself is a research laboratory, its technology is not intended to produce power. So designing a fusion reactor to harness this new approach will be its own engineering challenge.”
“what happens inside doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Furnaces and water heaters have to vent their emissions directly outdoors, for example (stoves and ovens face no such requirements), and that pollution doesn’t just disappear. The consequences are exacerbated in communities of color, where homes tend to run on less efficient appliances and communities already bear the burden of greater outdoor particulate matter. One analysis by RMI found that Black Americans are 55 percent more likely to die prematurely from the impacts of fossil fuel appliance pollution compared to white Americans. Another study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances, found residential gas combustion and commercial cooking to be the largest drivers of the racial disparity in pollution exposure for people of color compared to white people.”
“As the grid is getting cleaner, buildings hooked up to electricity will also have a dwindling footprint and, hopefully, use less energy overall with more energy-efficient machines. But a building that runs on gas will always burn a fossil fuel for its heat. And today that footprint is considerably large: 13 percent of the nation’s climate pollution comes directly from these gas-burning machines.”
“when added up, thousands of small actions, like switching off lights during a heat wave, buying efficient appliances, or voting for politicians who will act on climate change, can become a larger force than what governments and businesses can muster on their own. Put another way, a comprehensive approach to climate change demands actions, both large and small.
“It’s a mistake to only focus on governments and big companies,” said Paul Burger, head of the sustainability research group at the University of Basel, who studies consumer decisions on energy. “It’s also a mistake to only focus on individuals.””
“Speaking of Fukushima, according to the Financial Times, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has announced that the government plans to allow the restart of at least 10 more of the nuclear power plants it shuttered after the 2011 disaster. In addition, Kishida is pushing for research on and the construction of new safer nuclear plants as a way to protect Japanese consumers from erratic global fossil fuel markets and reduce his country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Kishida foresees Japan becoming a major exporter of nuclear generation technology to power hungry developing countries around the world.”
From spinning turbines to hydraulic fracturing to refining fuel, the flow of water is critical to the flow of electrons and heat. About 40 percent of water withdrawals — water taken out of groundwater or surface sources — in the United States go toward energy production. The large majority of that share is used to cool power plants. In turn, it requires energy to extract, purify, transport, and deliver water.
So when temperatures rise and water levels drop, the energy sector gets squeezed hard. The consequences of water shortages are playing out now in swaths of the American West, where an expansive, decades-long drought is forcing drastic cuts in hydroelectric power generation. At the same time, exceptional heat has pushed energy demand to record highs. As the climate changes, these stresses will mount.
The United Nations Environment Programme warned..that if drought conditions persist, the two largest hydroelectric reservoirs in the US — Lake Mead and Lake Powell —could eventually reach “dead pool status,” where water levels fall too low to flow downstream. Lake Mead fuels the Hoover Dam, which has a power capacity topping 2,000 megawatts while Lake Powell drives generators that peak at 1,300 megawatts at the Glen Canyon Dam.”