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Texas Wind and Solar Energy
Texas generated a lot of wind and solar electricity during the heatwaves, but it had limits.
Electreck is a good site for information on electric cars, bikes, and flying cars, as well as solar and wind electricity generation. Of course, they are a bit biased in favor of wind and solar electricity. Consider the article Thanks to wind and solar, Texas has kept the power on and the costs down, (7/26/2023), which is a bit misleading.
We start by noting in Figure 1 that Texas has the most total wind and solar summer capacity of all states, by far. Texas is also the second-most populated state, with California first and Florida and New York third and fourth, respectively. Still, of the top 5 most populated states, Texas even has the highest per capita wind and solar generation capacity.
Back to the Electrek article and their first sentence:
Wind, solar, and nuclear generated up to 55% of total power in Texas in the record-breaking end-of-June heat – keeping the natural gas share below 50%.
All of this is literally true, and it sounds very good for wind and solar power. What is the real story? Figure 2 from the eia (7/26/2023) shows how electricity was generated by type from June 26, 2023, to July 21, 2023. The record for peak energy use was set on July 20, 2022, and it was broken on June 29, 2023. On July 18, 2023, a new record was set again. During this time period, the record for July 20, 2022, was exceeded 12 times.
It is true that nuclear, wind, and solar generated over 50% of the electricity at times. It is also true that it went below 25%, with wind and solar power being well below 25%. This points to one of the key problems with wind and solar: they can’t exist without something else. If we used some way to store energy, wind and solar would have to be at their highest levels above 100% of demand. That leaves us with the question of how much we have to store. In other words, what would be a reasonable worst-case scenario for shortfalls in wind and solar power? Solar and wind generation would then have to be built out to overproduce enough to keep the storage levels appropriate.
The other choice is to maintain other systems. More nuclear power, or more likely, keeping our ability for natural gas and coal electricity generation. It seems like a system like this would have to be able to meet at least half of our electricity needs when solar and wind generation aren't sufficient. This may be too optimistic, since we can't be sure that a fully built-out solar and wind system will always provide at least half of our electricity needs. But now we are maintaining two electricity-generating systems. This needs to be taken into account when figuring out how much wind and solar energy cost. I suspect this isn’t the case when we hear about the costs of wind and solar electricity. Our Finite World covers these issues and more in the Models Hide the Shortcomings of Wind and Solar:
One of the broader issues omitted is the fact that the electrical output of wind turbines and solar panels does not match up well with the timing needs of society, leading to the need for a great deal of energy storage. Another omitted issue is the huge quantity of energy products and other materials required to make a transition to a mostly electrical economy. It is easy to see that both omitted issues would add a huge amount of energy costs and other costs, if a major transition is made. Furthermore, wind and solar have gotten along so far using hidden subsidies from the fossil fuel energy system, including the subsidy of being allowed to go first on the electricity grid. EROEI calculations cannot evaluate the amount of this hidden subsidy.
Last thing: it is true that natural gas did stay below 50%, but both natural gas and coal went above 50%. I am not sure why this comment about natural gas was made. From the point of view of carbon emissions, I would rather have more natural gas than more coal.
To be clear, I’m not saying we shouldn’t add wind and solar capacity. What I would like to see is a more honest account of what wind and solar can provide and their costs, including eventual replacement. Research shows that we could, in theory, get enough power from wind and solar, but I think there are practical issues with storing power and having backup power to deal with the intermittent power generation at the top of the list. Also keep in mind that at the moment, Texas is really a best-case scenario.
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