Green Energy & Texas – A Heavenly Earth Day Match

In 2014, roughly 11.4% of electricity used in the ERCOT region of Texas came from green, renewable energy sources. While that doesn’t sound like a whole lot of electricity, the the actual generation amounts show something incredible:

  • 7 million ERCOT consumers used 340 billion kilowatt-hours; and
  • Green, renewable sources generated approximately 38 billion kilowatt-hours of that consumer demand.

That’s a HUGE amount of renewable energy being produced. Texas ranks second nationally after California in renewable energy production. While California has long been perceived as the renewable energy leader during the past 7 years, the output from Texas renewables has been catching up.

Texas is number one nationally for wind energy, with over 12,000 MW of operational wind capacity, and it has been setting new records for renewable production for the past three years. On March 26, wind generation in ERCOT reached 10,120 MW — about 38% of total load.

But besides wind power, many other green and renewable energy projects are operational and more are still being developed. Texas green energy has been so successful that the state ranks #2 nationally in total renewable energy employment with more than 102,000 Texans are directly employed in renewable energy sectors.

Still think it’s just a lot of wind? Here’s a quick summary of those other green renewable energy projects and how much they contribute the state’s energy. In fact, you could say that green energy and Texas is a heavenly Earth Day match.

Texas’s Other Green Energy Projects

Hydropower

Hydropower is the largest source for renewable energy in the US — particularly in the Pacific Northwest. That’s not so much the case with Texas where fickle drought conditions cause water shortages and leave turbines sitting idle. Texas generates 1 gigawatt hour (gWh) of electricity directly from water through 675 MW of hydroelectric power capacity.

In 2007, the state’s 23 hydroelectric dams provided only 0.3% of the total electricity generation — practically a drop in the bucket. Most water used for power generation goes toward cooling power plants. Hydrokinetic power offers another avenue for both river and tidal generation as it relies on turbines placed in water courses without a dam to generate electricity.

According to a 2012 report on US riverine hydrokinetic capacity, the Texas Gulf region has a capacity of generating 8.9 Terawatt hours (or 8.9 billion kilowatt-hours) per year. While this remains a small amount of power for the entire ERCOT grid, distributed hydrokinetic energy may offer a resource for small communities looking to augment their microgrid.

Geothermal

According to the EIA, Texas has a unique geothermal resource that is largely untapped. Both oil and natural gas wells tap deep underground hot pockets of water – equaling upto 12 billion barrels heated to nearly 400°F. The trick is to convert that hot water into electricity. Research has identified 17,000 wells in Texas with bottom temperature ranges above 212 °F. The hottest well, located east of Victoria, TX, was recorded at 510°F!

Southern Methodist University’s Geothermal Laboratory and the University of Texas at Permian Basin estimate that Texas could have 2,000 to 10,000 MW in geothermal generating capacity. There are three types of geothermal resources:

  1. Hydrothermal (hot water);
  2. Geopressured (hot brine saturated with methane under high pressure); and
  3. Hot dry rock (heated formation).

A geothermal power plant would use steam or heat directly from below ground to drive turbines. Generation capacity could be up to 250 MW and have ZERO fuel costs. Geopressured resources offer the thermal energy from hot water and also methane which can be used to drive a gas turbine, furthering electric generation.

Biomass

Logging in the Piney Woods of east Texas creates enormous amounts of waste wood. Instead of being left to rot, this renewable resource is shredded and used to feed 5 biomass generators, producing  200 MW of electricity:

  • Snider Industries in Marshall generates five megawatts with it biomass power generation facility.
  • East Texas Electric Cooperative’s Hilton Lively Renewable Power Project in Woodville generates 45 MW of electricity.
  • InventivEnergy’s Aspen Biomass Power Plant supplies Lufkin, TX with 50 MW of generation capacity.
  • Southern Power Company’s Nacogdoches Generating Facility, in Sacul, TX is a 100-megawatt biomass-fueled base-load facility providing enough power to supply approximately 60,000 homes with electricity. It is the biggest biomass generation facility in Texas.

While Texas has limited amount of forest, cattle may provide a far more plentiful source of biomass fuel. Texas A&M is part of a nearly $16 million nationwide grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purify waste water from cattle manure lagoons. The leftover cattle manure will be allowed to dry and then be used as a biomass fuel for heat and electrical power.

Solar

Texas may rank sixth in installed solar capacity, but in 2013, the state was reported by investment banker Ernst & Young as the “most untapped solar potential” in the US. That report might have helped stir up some action because Texas recently ranked eighth in states with the most new solar capacity added. 129 megawatts (MW) of newly installed solar brought the state’s total solar capacity to 330 MW. Not only is solar energy in Texas heating up, it’s been dubbed “the next wind power”.

Texas has three major utility scale solar projects underway:

  1. The 30 MW Barilla Solar Project in the Permian Basin;
  2. The huge 400 MW Alamo Project servicing San Antonio; and
  3. The 30 MW Webberville Solar Farm near Austin.

And there’s more: Austin Energy just announced it will add 600 megawatts of solar to its generation portfolio in two years.

While Texas isn’t the greenest energy state yet, it is certainly making other states green with envy.

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