By Peter Kelly-Detwiler - Storyteller in Residence
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.
Is 50% An Achievable Goal?
Looking out into the future, and specially eyeing ERCOT’s Interconnection Study, there are are several reasons for considerable optimism. First, wind has grown rapidly to date, demonstrating the wind industry’s remarkable capabilities. Second, there are 10s of gigawatts of additional wind facilities waiting in ERCOT’s interconnection queue. Third, the solar industry behemoth is just about to awaken.
Wind Energy Could Get Us Much of the Way
The chart below from ERCOT demonstrates the incredible pace of growth for installed wind in Texas. Nearly 20,700 MW of wind has already been installed by the close of 2017, with another 4,000 MW of projects expected to be installed this year. These projects will be followed in 2019 by approximately 4,650 MW of additional developments in the queue. Looking further out, ERCOT shows another 15,800 MW of wind with Full Interconnection Studies either pending or completed, and yet another 5,700 MW in the screening study phase. In total, if all of this capacity were to be built, it would get us an additional 31,000 MW to a total of close to 52,000 MW.
If capacity factors were fixed, though we know that new facilities are much improved, and all 31,000 MW were to be installed, wind energy would leap from 17.4% to somewhere on the order of 45-46% of today’s total consumption.
Solar Energy Could Help Put Us Over the Top
Solar energy is about to join the fray and make its mark as well. Starting from a much lower base of 1,000 installed MW as of the end of 2017, the industry has demonstrated ambitious goals – as evidenced by the ERCOT interconnection requests. This year should see installations double to over 2,100 MW, and jump to exceed 2,900 MW by 2020.
That’s a big increase, but not a game changer. However, the out years are where the ambitious targets lie. ERCOT reports almost 13,000 MW of solar projects with full interconnection studies pending or completed, and another 9,300 MW in Screening Study phase. That would bring the total of solar to 24,000 MW. Solar capacity factors are significantly lower than that of wind, averaging somewhere on the order of 21.7% for Texas. 24,000 MW of capacity would yield approximately 12.8% of current load – a meaningful contribution to the total.
A note of caution: not all solar and wind projects get built. The ERCOT study showed 908 projects canceled by developers after the Full Interconnection Study was requested.
It’s Important to Raise the Bridge AND Lower the River
It should be noted that ERCOT load growth grew by 1.6% in 2017, as the economy continued to surge forward. Thus, the percentage contribution of renewables meeting total load growth will be slightly smaller, depending on the future annual load growth rate.
At the same time, though, load growth is not an immutable given. In fact, in nearly every other state, and for the U.S. as a whole, recent growth in electricity consumption has been negative. As rooftop solar (not counted in the Interconnection Study) begins to make its way into Texas, and investments in on-site storage and energy efficiency come into play, the load growth curve may flatten somewhat.
In the end, meeting TREIA’s 50% renewable goal is demonstrably achievable. But it will require a focus on both the supply AND demand sides of the equation. That’s where the broad range of TREIA’s members will be important. It will take focus and expertise across the entire energy spectrum to achieve the 50% goal by 2030, but there should be little doubt that it can indeed be done.