Over the past fourteen years, from 2008 to 2022, Texas has been riding a wave of exponential population growth. The Lone Star State has seen its population expand by a staggering 24%. But with such rapid growth comes an increased demand for resources, most notably energy. However, the state’s dispatchable power supply, the backup when all other sources max out, has seen a meager 1.5% growth during the same period. This disparity poses a potential challenge to the state’s energy security, especially during peak demand times.
Texas’s power portfolio is primarily fueled by coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy. Under normal conditions, this triad provides a stable and reliable electricity supply. When routine demand surpasses the capacity of these primary power sources, Texas turns to its secondary heroes: renewable sources like wind and solar.
Yet, even these renewable sources have their limitations. When both the primary and renewable supplies are running at full capacity, the state falls back on its dispatchable power supply. Essentially, these are “peaker” power plants, primarily natural gas-fired, which can quickly ramp up and supply energy for short periods, usually between 1 to 3 hours.
The tricky part comes during the summer months when the evening hours put the power grid to the ultimate test. As the sun sets between 8:30-9 pm, the sweltering Texas temperatures often linger above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Solar power, inherently reliant on sunlight, ceases to be a viable option. Wind energy, too, begins to wane as the heating of the earth’s surface lessens and wind generation decreases.
There’s some good news amidst these challenges. According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the power grid is well-equipped to distribute electricity across the state. The crux of the issue, however, is not about distribution but availability. The real risk lies in the potential shortage of electricity supply, particularly during those scorching summer evenings.
To address this, Texas has a new peaker plant under construction, but it isn’t expected to be online until 2025. This new addition to the state’s energy armory is anticipated to power 38,000 homes. Yet, with a population surge of over 470,000 in 2022 alone, one wonders if the state’s power infrastructure can keep up with this growing demand.
The great Texan energy saga continues, as the state grapples with finding a balance between its booming population and its power supply capabilities. As we look toward the future, it’s clear that strategic planning and forward-thinking energy solutions will be key to ensuring the lights stay on in Texas.