ERCOT’s Summer Peak Demand Forecast: New Investment, Generator Profits, No Blackouts

Wholesale electricity markets are in the news, as oversupplied markets drive prices down and force early coal and nuclear retirements. Companies like FirstEnergy have petitioned the federal government for regulatory changes and new market rules to drive up prices and profit margins — but the picture is different in Texas. 

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas’ “energy-only” market (EOM) model exposes the value of flexible resources without capacity markets, testing market design in a high-renewables future.  

Texas’ market model is working: Market forces are accelerating the transition from dirty, expensive plants to cleaner, cheaper resources including renewables, demand response and batteries. Avoiding capacity markets has saved ERCOT customers billions and kept the system reliable. 

The American Renewable Investment Goal

The American Renewable Investment Goal

On June 19, 2018, the American Council on Renewable Energy launched a new campaign that aims to reach $1 trillion in U.S. private sector investment in renewable energy and enabling grid technologies by 2030.

Through $1T 2030: The American Renewable Investment Goal, the country’s major providers of capital for energy infrastructure projects have now come together in a coordinated effort to accelerate the investment and deployment of renewable power as the sector moves to the next stage of market maturity.

Solar Power Capacity in Texas Expected To Double, Making Life Tougher For Power Companies

Solar power capacity in Texas is expected to nearly double this year, which would be the greatest increase ever for the renewable, according to the state’s grid manager. By the end of the decade, solar power is expected to triple here.

While solar represents just a tiny share of the state’s generating capacity — less than 1 percent — its rapid growth could further upset the state’s power mix and add to the downward pressures on prices that have buffeted merchant power companies. The massive amounts of wind energy that flow into the grid have undercut coal, nuclear and natural gas plants, and squeezed their profit margins, but solar has the potential to cause even more trouble for traditional power generators.

Solar Farms Are Popping Up All Across Texas

These are the BIGGEST solar farms in Texas

A new cash crop is blooming in Texas! In addition to rooftops across the state being covered with solar panels, land owners are designating portions of their properties to be blanketed with solar on the ground.

ERCOT, the state’s power grid operator, expects the number of Texas solar farms to double over the next 4 years to help replace coal plants and meet new demand. One megawatt of solar (1 MW) can typically power 200 homes on the hottest Texas days during “peak demand,” and 500 homes on average days during normal demand.

Largest Solar Farm In Texas Getting Battery System

Texas' largest solar farm will soon have a big battery to go with it.

FlexGen, an advance battery maker headquartered in Los Angeles, will supply a grid-scale battery to Vistra Energy's Upton 2 solar farm in West Texas that is capable of storing enough electricity to provide 10 megawatts an hour for more than four hours. One megawatt can power 200 Texas homes in the summer.

The Upton 2 solar farm, which has a generating  capacity of 180 megawatts, went online June 1 and is the largest in the state.

The battery system will be housed in 40 shipping container-sized boxes on the site, where work has been going on since May, said FlexGen CEO Josh Prueher. The battery is expected to be online by the end of 2018.

Vistra CEO On Markets: 'This Is A Fight We Must Win'

Consider Vistra Energy Corp. ready for a high-stakes debate about U.S. power markets and the role of government.

CEO Curt Morgan yesterday proclaimed a "dog fight" over markets, saying the importance of electricity means there's constant "intrusion and intervention by states and the federal government."

"This is a fight we have to fight," Morgan said. "This is a fight we must win. We have a good capability to do that, and we're building it."

Morgan's comments came during a webcast of Vistra's analyst day as the Texas-based power company laid out plans for its retail and generation businesses. The meeting drifted at times toward market and policy dilemmas, especially given the potential for the Department of Energy to try to help ailing coal- and nuclear-fueled power plants. A recently leaked memo has stirred talk of possible use of the Defense Production Act and the Federal Power Act (Greenwire, June 1).

Austin Energy: Demonstrating The Art Of The Achievable

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Austin Energy Highlight with Annemarie Diaz

Although Austin Energy represents only 4% of the total load represented within the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the municipal utility has always punched well above its weight, standing out for decades as a leader in the renewables space and customer programs supporting renewable energy and energy efficiency. Indeed, it was promoting energy efficiency as far back as the early 1990s, and was one of the earliest utilities to supply renewable energy to its customers, launching its GreenChoice program in the year 2000.  

Since then, directed by Austin’s City Council, the utility has continued to increase its renewable and efficiency targets.,

In a recent conversation, Annemarie Diaz, TREIA Board Member and Energy Development Program Manager with Austin Energy outlined some of Austin Energy’s current targets. These include developing 200 MW of local solar by 2025 (with 10 MWs installed by the end of this year), offsetting 65% of load with renewables by 2027, and accessing 100% carbon-free generation by the year 2050.

Although some might consider that an aggressive target, it’s also a feasible one. And the utility is already well on its way.  Consider the following:

Austin Energy’s electricity portfolio was already 60% carbon free as of the end of 2017.

It is engaging with the local community, making 3.2 MW of community solar available to residential customers who cannot install systems on dwellings.

The utility has supported over 6,000 customers to install solar energy systems on their homes, and is looking for ways to make solar available to customers in multifamily dwellings.

How much efficiency in 2017?

Its efficiency and demand response goals are no less lofty. In 2018, the utility plans to achieve over 46 MW of energy efficiency and demand response, adding to the nearly 660 MW achieved since 2007 and well on its way to a 2025 objective of 900 MW.

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Such achievements can only occur when leadership and institutional culture communicate clearly and provide the requisite resources and support.  

Diaz indicated that the utility recently undertook an ambitious planning effort to develop a new strategic plan to achieve the company’s vision to drive customer value in energy services with innovative technology and environmental leadership. This new vision puts the focus on achieving customer value by leveraging existing and emerging technology and maintaining our environmental leadership. With the current rapid pace of change, Diaz observed it is important to consistently refer to the plan and use it as a north star, rather than have it “sitting on the shelf.”

Like many utilities and organizations, we are still working to break down our internal silos. Achieving our vision requires us to do just that, and have everyone playing from the same playbook.  The organizational vision and goals established in our strategic plan are helping us get there. It has been something employees have really embraced.”

In addition to renewables, efficiency, and demand response, Austin is wading into the relatively new domain of energy storage, and has been working with the Department of Energy on its SHINES program (short for Austin Sustainable and Holistic Integration of Energy Storage and Solar Photovoltaics). As the amount of intermittent renewables in the system increases, storage will become increasingly more important.

The 39-month SHINES program will involve co-locating a 1.5 MW/MWh LG Chem lithium-ion storage deployment with a community solar array. It will also see the addition of a 1.75 MW/3.2 MWh Younicos lithium-ion battery paired with 2 MW of rooftop solar. Diaz indicated that work on these programs is already well underway,. The SHINES project also foresees the joining of solar with storage at other residential and commercial sites.  These deployments will assist Austin Energy in meeting its longer-term goals of having 10 MW of battery storage and 20 MW of thermal storage integrated into its system by 2025.

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Diaz commented that one of the benefits of the SHINEs project is that it necessarily requires an integrated approach across departments. As a consequence, various groups that don’t normally interact have begun coordinating on various aspects of the undertaking and benefiting from a sharing of perspectives.

“SHINES has provided a fantastic opportunity for us to start crossing silos within the utility between the electric service delivery side and the customer delivery side.”

The focus and collaborative approach demonstrated at Austin Energy serves as a helpful beacon to the rest of the state’s utilities and stakeholders in the ongoing energy transformation. It serves as a motivational example of what can be accomplished – a useful lesson as we strive to achieve TREIA’s vision of ‘50% renewable energy by 2030.’

Environment Texas Profile With Luke Metzger: Speaking For The Environment

As Director of the not-for-profit group Environment Texas, Luke Metzger has been a leading voice for the environment in Texas for nearly two decades. It has not always been an easy task and many of the challenges have been significant. However, they have not been insurmountable, and Luke can point to some big victories during his tenure here.

Among these wins, Metzger has orchestrated campaigns to gain permanent protection for Big Bend’s Christmas Mountains, helped to force several large oil conglomerates to cut air pollution at three refiners and chemical facilities, and consistently advocated for clean energy in Texas.

Meeting TREIA’s Goal Of 50% By 2030

Meeting TREIA’s Goal Of 50% By 2030

When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, TREIA’s members have an enormous opportunity to effect positive change. That’s because – based on the latest available EIA 2015 data (released January 2018) Texas emitted over 11% of total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. The state’s 213.6 million metric tons (mmt) of carbon dioxide also represented approximately 4.1% of the nation’s total 2015 emissions. Texas owns the unfortunate distinction of the being the largest emitter at the state level, with the next closest contender being Florida, at 107.6 mmt.  Part of that ranking is simply due to the size of the Teas economy. The state’s $1.6 trillion economy is second only to California.

Whatever the reasons, Texas is a big CO2 emitter and what Texas does matters. If we can meet the TREIA goals of 50% renewables by 2030, the gains will be felt at a national – and even global – level.  It’s a big goal. However, that emerging energy economy has a lot of momentum; the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) indicates that renewables now constitute approximately 18% of the energy that was dumped into the grid last year.

Getting Hot - and Bothered - by the Possibility of High Prices This Summer

By Peter Kelly-Detwiler

On the first day of May, the Texas Senate Committee on Business and Commerce took up the issue of electric reliability and questioned Texas grid operators about their plans to deal with the coming summer. Recent media reports of declining reserve margins – driven by recent retirements of over 5,000 MW of electric generating capacity – have been warning of a potential perfect energy storm: expected record high demand, limited excess generating capacity, and heat that could drive prices towards the upper end of the $9,000 per megawatt-hour (MWh) range.

If all of those factors – excessive demand, tight reserve margins, and blistering heat - conspire at just the wrong times, we could see significant volatility in our electricity market with prices pegged out at on the high side.