“Texas problem with wind and solar generation has been growing for years. In 2022, wind farms generated 25% of the electricity used in ERCOT. Solar farms generated 5.65%. Ten years earlier, wind’s market share was 12.25% and solar’s 0.03%. This has placed a great strain on the grid because neither of these generation sources can be counted on when needed.
Reuters recently ran a story highlighting wind generation’s failure through the early months of 2023:
The Texas power grid operator urged homes and businesses to conserve electricity on Tuesday as the first major heat wave of the season spurs residents to crank power-hungry air conditioners. Power prices for Tuesday topped $2,500 per megawatt hour (MWh) in the state’s day-ahead market on expectations that demand would reach record levels later in the day, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).
In addition to the heavy demand for cooling, the Texas grid is also under strain from a recent dip in power generation from wind sources, which if sustained may deprive the ERCOT system of a key source of clean power when it is needed most. Wind power is Texas’ second largest source of electricity behind natural gas, so any prolonged drop in wind generation may leave the ERCOT system under strain just as the peak demand season kicks off.
Reuter’s columnist Gavin Maguire continues:
In May, the total amount of wind power generated in the ERCOT system was just under 310,000 megawatts (MW), which is down 40% from the nearly 520,000 MW generated in May 2022…. In the first 19 days of June, around 185,000 MW of wind power was generated, which is down 45% from the 336,000 MW generated in the same period in 2022.
A look at a recent day confirms the problems with wind generation. Wind peaked at 15,131 MW at 1:19 a.m. on Wednesday, June 21, and dropped throughout most of the rest of the day. When Austin temperatures peaked at 102 degrees around noon, wind generation was down to 7,016 MW on its way toward its low of 5,947 at 2:09 p.m. It did not reach 15,000+ MW again until 7:44, when the temperature in Austin had dropped to 73 degrees.
Texas’s problem with wind and solar generation has been growing for years. In 2022, wind farms generated 25% of the electricity used in ERCOT. Solar farms generated 5.65%. Ten years earlier, wind’s market share was 12.25% and solar’s 0.03%. This has placed a great strain on the grid because neither of these generation sources can be counted on when needed.
Wind’s market share is far higher in temperate months than in the hot summer months or the cold winter months when loads are heavy and generation is needed. In March, April, May, October, and November, wind’s market share is 31.7%. In the winter months of December, January, and February, wind’s market share drops to 25.7%. In the summer months of June, July, August, and September, wind’s market share plummets to 18.1%.
Source: ERCOT; Author’s Calculations
Solar has been proclaimed to be the savior of the electric grid because it tends to generate more electricity when it is the hottest. While that is sometimes the case, Texas has already experienced scenarios when solar failed to produce because clouds covered solar panels in West Texas while the rest of Texas was simmering in the summer heat. In addition, as expected solar generation drops precipitously during the winter. Its market share in December is almost half of what it is in June and July.
Reuter’s claims that more wind capacity will solve wind’s intermittency problem:
A rebound in wind generation levels due to new capacity and greater wind speeds will provide a major boost to ERCOT resilience and may enable the Texas grid to avert any further power scares from upcoming heat waves.
It is unclear why Reuter’s believes that wind speeds will magically pick up in the future and solve wind generation’s problems–perhaps this is the result of global warming? In any case, more wind capacity will exacerbate the problem of wind’s intermittency. The simple truth is that the more Texas relies on wind generation, the less reliable the Texas electric grid will be; the more Texans need electricity to protect themselves from weather extremes and keep their lights on the less electricity wind and solar will provide.
One last thing. Beyond the problems of intermittency and unreliability, wind and solar generation is vastly more expensive than natural gas, coal, and nuclear generation. The 2023 cost in Texas of renewable subsidies and protecting the grid from renewables will exceed $2.7 billion (it was 2.04 billion in 2021).
The Texas Legislature this session did nothing to address Texas’ decades long support of wind and solar through subsidies and benefits. Instead, it doubled down on subsidies by authorizing $8.9 billion of subsidies and loans to traditional thermal generation. But Texas, or more accurately, Texas taxpayers, can’t buy their way out of the problems caused by renewables. The only way out is to end subsidies for all generators and let market participants use market prices to figure out what energy sources best meet our needs.