The clean energy advocacy group Texas Clean Energy Coalition (TCEC), in a new report entitled Exploring Natural Gas and Renewables in ERCOT II, Future Generation Scenarios for Texas, provides an in-depth analysis of the future energy supply prospects of the State of Texas, based on existing technology, with a realistic and somewhat conservative analysis. It is the first report of its kind, overshadowing previous somewhat simplistic modeling, and utilizing high-end modeling techniques and highly developed statistical analysis.
The study examines the current Texas electricity grid, based on the current power supply supplied through the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) —power grid. ERCOT manages electricity provided to 23 million Texas residents, supplying 85% of the state’s electric load. Varied energy sources are considered in the present grid, from coal-fired electric plants, electricity supplied by natural gas, as well as renewable energy’s current contribution to Texas power in the form of wind-powered electricity and solar energy.
Texas is already the state producing the most wind-powered electricity in the country, with more than 12,000 megawatts of current capacity, more than double that of any other state in the U.S. 40% of Texas’ electricity is currently produced from natural gas plants, while the state itself is the leading producer of natural gas in the United States. Additionally, the state of Texas has an abundance of natural sunlight all year round, which makes increased reliance on electricity through solar power both a reliable and economically advantageous proposition. Texas currently gets 10% of its energy from renewable sources, and the study suggests an increase in reliance on renewable resources prospectively reaching between 25% to 43% over the 20 year scope of the report.
Using various scenarios and models with major factors considered such as possible public environmental policy, the likelihood of a slight decrease in the cost of producing electricity through renewable sources, relative stability in the cost of natural gas vs. significantly higher prices for natural gas, and the required power reserve margin, the topic is examined not in the context of a “tree huggers” utopia, but realistically, and more importantly, in terms of costs and profits for power companies—how planning for the future, based on numerous likely scenarios and variables, may make investing in facilities for renewable resources along with an increase in reliance on natural gas powered plants, a strategy with long-term economic benefit for the state. The report, then, takes a pragmatic approach rather than taking on the tone of an environmental crusade.
A by-product of the report, is that it can provide incentive for policy makers who are interested in reducing reliance on “dirty” energy, such as supplied by coal powered plants, to pursue a stricter policy in reduction of carbon emissions, with a resultant increase in reliance on wind, solar and natural gas. Such an incentive for policy makers is not directly insisted on by the report, but it could be a beneficial by-product, in that a stricter policies on carbon emissions, one of the scenarios explored here, while perhaps making coal-fired plants less profitable, or in the strictest scenario, making them unprofitable and essentially forcing coal-operated plants closed, would not necessarily result in higher energy prices or loss of profit as a whole to the industry. With planning, low-cost energy could be maintained with clean energy supplies, alongside a stable profit margin for power producers, by investing more heavily in renewable energy resources, alongside an increase in reliance on the clean energy produced by natural gas fired power plants.
Through the study all involved can take a realistic look at the next 20 years of increasing energy needs in Texas, and while the study does not focus on environmental benefits, the thrust of the report is that there are both economic benefits to a greater investment in renewable energy and gas, with the implied side benefit of less impact on the environment (less pollution). If power companies can maintain profits while saving the environment, why not? It is a win-win situation for everyone involved. This is especially poignant in view of the fact that Texas’ energy requirements are expected to double over this same 20 year time period, placing a tremendous demand on existing resources. The topic of how to meet future energy demands is something that needs to be addressed regardless of the one’s environmental position, so the question becomes, simply, which direction to point the arrow. The report implies that pointing in the direction of clean energy makes economic sense for everyone involved by adequately covering a wide range of possible scenarios including future technological developments.