Tacos and Friday Night Football aren’t the only things fueling Texas. The Lone Star State is a resource for many types of energy production. With wind and solar energy alone contributing to 18 percent of Texas’ energy in 2017 and carbon-free energy accounting for more than 30 percent of Texas’ 2018 energy consumption, the state stands as a leader of renewable energy commercialization.
Texas produces six major types of electricity:
- Natural Gas
There are four electricity grids in Texas. The main grid, operated by the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), serves 75 percent of the state and stands isolated from the interconnected power systems that serve the eastern and western United States. Because of this, the grid is not subjected to federal oversight and is the only one among the 48 contiguous states that has a stand-alone electricity grid.
At the current rate, Texas’ production of clean renewable energy and big profits are not slowing down any time soon. That’s good news for us, because rapid population growth means the demand for electricity, especially in the hotter months, is higher than ever.
Let’s take a look at the types of electricity we are generating in Texas.
1. Wind Power
Producing more wind power than any other state in the country, Texas generated 18.6 percent of its 2018 electricity from wind.
The “wind boom” of recent years was noted in the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard. A Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) requires energy companies to source a specific amount of electricity they sell from renewable resources.
Where there’s no oil and no water, there is wind, and the expansiveness of Texas’ landscape offers the space and speed of wind needed to start up these machines. The Roscoe Wind Farm, located in Roscoe, TX, is the world’s largest wind farm with 627 wind turbines and the capacity to power 265,000 Texan homes.
How do wind turbines work?
Wind turbines produce energy when wind turns its massive blades around a rotor connected to a main shaft, which spins a generator to create electricity.
2. Solar Power
Texas’ investment in solar is still small — it accounted for only 1.3 percent of the state’s energy production in 2018 — but solar generation estimates for 2019 show Texas growing that share to 2.1 percent. So while it’s a small part of the energy mix now, it’s growing fast.
High levels of direct solar radiation in West Texas and wind power’s unreliability make solar power a more reliable source for meeting peak electricity demand during those warm summer months.
While solar generation is still relatively small in Texas, the state ranked 6th in the nation for cumulative solar capacity in 2018. Texas’ large solar capacity combined with rapid growth in production creates the potential for solar energy to catch up to traditional power generation.
3. Natural Gas
Natural gas is one of Texas’ geothermal superstars, and the state holds 25 percent of the nation’s natural gas reserves. Used for heating and generating electricity, the natural gas industry is also an important contributor to Texas’ economy, employing more than 218,000 people.
These natural gas reserves are predominantly found in the Permian Basin of west Texas, in north east Texas, and in the south-central part of the state.
How do natural gas generators work?
The natural gas-fired electric generators include a steam generation unit, where water is heated to produce steam that turns a turbine to create electricity. Natural gas is also used in gas turbines and combustion engines, where hot gases are used to turn the turbines to generate electricity.
4. Coal Power
As the nation’s largest producer of lignite coal, 40 percent of Texas’ electricity is generated by these coal-fired power plants. Lignite coal is a soft brown sedimentary rock made from naturally compressed peat, and is found in narrow bands predominantly near the Texas Gulf Coast region.
These lignite-fueled power plants are generally located at the site of a surface mine. But the rising concerns of health and environmental pollution that surrounds the coal mining industry, coupled with competitive prices of other energy resources such as natural gas and renewable energy, is contributing to a downturn in Texas’ coal power industry.
5. Nuclear Power
Texas has two nuclear power plants located in Bay City near the coast and in Glen Rose, 40 miles from Fort Worth. These two plants supply about ten percent of the state’s electricity. Their two reactors generate 2,700 megawatts of electricity, delivering clean energy to over two million Texas homes.
Generating electricity with nuclear energy prevents the emission of pollutants like sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and greenhouse gases that are associated with burning fossil fuels.
With less than two dozen generating units, hydroelectric power makes up less than one percent of Texas electricity production. While this power source does contribute to the Texas grid, it does so on a low scale due to our vastly dry climate and lack of rainfall.