Power plants work by converting energy into electricity, which is then fed into electric grids. The most common way to generate electricity is through fossil fuels sources, such as coal and natural gas, but renewable sources, such as solar and wind power, are becoming more popular.
Each type of power plant has its own unique way of generating electricity, and each comes with its own set of benefits and drawbacks.
The different types of power plants vary in their size and type of fuel used, as well as the infrastructure needed to run them. Here we will look at the different types of power plants and what role they play in the Texas electricity market.
Coal Power Plants
Coal power plants work by burning coal in a furnace, which heats water to produce steam. The steam is then used to turn turbines, which generate electricity.
Coal power plants are a reliable source of electricity, and they are relatively cheap to operate. Production in coal power plants can be ramped up quickly , and they can be shut down completely. They also require a relatively small amount of infrastructure to run, so it is easy to set one up in a new location.
However, coal power plants have their drawbacks. Coal has a low energy density, which means the plant needs a lot of space. The burning process also emits pollutants into the air and water.
Coal is the largest source of electricity worldwide. But, in Teas, coal is the 3rd most common source of electricity. Coal is responsible for 16.74% of Texas electricity. That works out to about 1 out of every 6 kilowatts of electricity. Because of their expense, many older coal plants lay dormant much of the time. When demand for electricity increases on the grid it becomes economical to bring the older less efficient coal plants online to contribute to the grid.
Natural Gas Power Plants
Natural gas power plants are the most common type of power plant in Texas. They use natural gas, a fossil fuel, to generate electricity.
Natural gas is a combustible hydrocarbon that is used to generate electricity because it is relatively cheap and releases a large amount of energy when burned. Like coal, natural gas is used to turn turbines to generate electricity. However, the process of burning natural gas produces less pollutants than coal. They are also less expensive to operate than coal power plants. The main drawback of natural gas power plants is that they require a lot of infrastructure to run.
52% of Texas electricity comes from natural gas.
Nuclear Power Plants
Nuclear power plants use uranium to generate heat that is then used to turn turbines that generate electricity. Nuclear power plants are unique in their method of generating electricity. They use heat generated by splitting atoms to turn turbines that generate electricity.
Uranium is a metallic element, and it is mined from the ground for use in nuclear power plants. It is used to create fission reactions, which release heat. This heat can be used directly to turn a turbine or transferred into another medium, such as water or gas.
When uranium undergoes fission, atoms are split into smaller atoms. This process releases a large amount of energy that is used to generate electricity. However, it also creates dangerous byproducts that must be properly disposed of.
Texas has just 2 nuclear power plants. One is the Comanche Peak Power Plant run by Luminant Generation LLC and located near Glen Rose, TX. The other is known as the South Texas Project. It is run by STP Nuclear Operating Co and is located near Wadsworth, TX.
Despite the fact that there are only two nuclear power plants in the state, Texas gets 8.8% of it’s electricity from nuclear.
Solar Power Plants
Solar power plants use solar panels to generate electricity from sunlight. They can run directly from homes or buildings, or they can be connected to a main electric grid.
Solar panels use semiconductor materials to generate electricity from sunlight. They are made up of many solar cells, and each cell generates a small amount of power. A group of solar panels can be hooked together in an array, and they will produce enough power for homes or buildings.
Solar energy represents the biggest untapped source of electricity for Texas. Currently less than 2% of Texas electricity comes from solar power. But that amount is growing rapidly.
Wind Power Plants
Wind power plants generate electricity by using wind turbines to change the kinetic energy of moving air into mechanical power. The mechanical power is then used to turn a generator that produces electricity.
Wind turbines use large blades, similar to airplane propellers, to capture the kinetic energy of moving air and convert it into rotational energy. This rotational energy can be used to generate electricity, drive a pump, or propel a sailboat.
Wind turbines are built on tall towers to take advantage of high altitude winds. They also require a large amount of infrastructure to operate, so they tend to be used in rural areas with consistent wind patterns.
Texas has over 17,000 wind turbines contributing power to the electricity grid. The Aviator Wind Farm in Coke County Texas is one of the largest projects with 191 turbines. Wind is the second largest source of power for the state contributing 19.63% of the state’s electricity.
Abundant wind capacity is one of the major reasons Texas enjoys such cheap electricity rates at night. Wholesale electricity rates have been know to drop to negative pries overnight in zones with large amounts of wind power.
Hydroelectric power plants
Hydroelectric power plants use the kinetic energy of moving water to generate electricity.
They work by using large dams to contain and control a body of water (most commonly a river). The dam creates a headpond, which is an area with no outflow. A turbine can then be placed in this area to generate electricity when the water moves past it.
The flow of water is controlled by gates that can be opened or closed. When they are open, more water enters the turbine and creates more rotational energy; when they are closed, less water moves through them and produces less rotational energy.
Texas get’s a tiny fraction of its power from Hydro.
Biomass Power Plants
Biomass power plants use organic materials, such as wood or plant waste, to generate electricity. The organic material is burned to create heat, which is then used to turn turbines that generate electricity.
Biomass is a renewable resource and it can be burned to create heat without producing any harmful emissions. However, biomass power plants are not as efficient as other types of power plants and they require a lot of land to operate.
Texas get’s a tiny fraction of its power from biomass power plants.
Geothermal Power Plants
Geothermal power plants use the heat of the Earth itself to generate electricity. They are unique in that they can produce electricity around the clock, since the Earth’s core does not switch off at night.
Geothermal power plants take advantage of naturally occurring underground reservoirs of water or steam that have high temperatures. A system of pipes is used to take advantage of this heat and convert it into electricity.
Texas gets no electricity from geothermal power.
Grid Scale Battery Storage Projects
Battery storage at the grid scale are a relatively new technology that is being used to store energy from renewable sources, such as solar and wind power.
This kind of storage works by using large banks of batteries to store energy. This energy can then be used to feed electricity to the grid when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.
Battery storage plants are becoming more popular because they allow for a higher percentage of renewable energy to be used in electric grids. They are also helpful in reducing the amount of emissions that are produced from traditional power plants.
Texas get’s a tiny fraction of its power from large scale battery storage facilities.
Petroleum Power Plants
Petroleum power plants are a type of fossil fuel power plant that uses oil to generate heat. The oil is burned in a furnace to create heat, which is then used to turn turbines that generate electricity.
Petroleum power plants are the most common type of fossil fuel power plant and they are used all over the world. They are cheap to build and operate, and they do not require any special infrastructure. However, they do release large amounts of carbon emissions when they are burned.
Texas get’s a tiny fraction of its power from Petroleum power plants.
Pumped Storage Power Plants
Pumped storage power plants are a type of hydroelectric power plant that use water to generate electricity. They are unique in that they can store energy and then use it to generate electricity when it is needed.
Pumped storage plants work by using two reservoirs: a high-level reservoir and a low-level reservoir. The high-level reservoir is filled with water and the low-level reservoir is empty. When the power is needed, the water is released from the high-level reservoir and flows through a turbine to generate electricity. When the power is not needed, the water is pumped back up to the high-level reservoir using a pump.
Texas gets no electricity from Pumped storage power plants.