Texas Has Quietly Become a Leader in Renewable Energy

Renewable energy offers an enticing option — and understandably so. Conflict in the Middle East affects oil supply, environmental degradation inhibits new drilling sites, and increased carbon emissions drastically change global climate patterns. More and more, Americans consider other available fuel choices beyond the coal and gas relied on for centuries.

Renewable options such as solar, wind, and hydropower pose potential solutions to growing concerns surrounding fossil fuels. Only five states mine the coal for the rest of the country. Trains, trucks, and pipelines carry fuel thousands of miles for millions of consumers. But basic renewable infrastructures — specifically solar arrays and wind turbines — can be constructed in any state. The cost associated with solar and wind has dropped dramatically over the past few years, with solar reported as low as $.03 per kWh. So what’s holding the country back? Beyond politics, some significant hurdles face renewable options.

Because renewables face the laws of nature, they can be inconsistent. The sun doesn’t shine all day. The wind doesn’t blow all night. This leads to the need for storage solutions such as batteries for times of power source unavailability. The current grid infrastructure cannot handle such extreme storage flexibility by design. High-end batteries remain expensive and don’t last long enough to match current energy demand in the United States. And this form of energy storage doesn’t yet compete with today’s coal and gas plants that can fluctuate as needed with consumer demand throughout the day.

Private investors own most of the energy companies in the United States, creating an additional burden on the renewable industry. Private-sector investors must be willing to take on the financial risk associated with new technologies. One of the largest battery storage solutions is currently being constructed in the state of Texas to help balance out the contribution of renewables in the state’s electricity grid. But technologies such as better batteries for solar storage can’t improve without this economic gamble. On the individual level, residential solar panels come with an upfront sticker price of $10,000. The long-term savings more than make up for this investment, but this initial cost can turn the average consumer away. Americans, whether large corporations or small homeowners, thus hesitate to bet on renewables.

Renewable energy provides roughly 17% of the electricity generated in the United States.  In Texas that number is even larger.  In 2019 21.5% of Texas electricity came from renewable energy.  Yet a fully renewable system remains a long way off. Let’s consider the final hurdle: change proves inconvenient. No system remains perfect, but the one already set up often lends itself more user-friendly.

Why Retrofitting Turbine Batteries Can Lead to More Secure Grids

We have talked about the importance of beefing up our electrical grid with batteries before, and it’s still relevant today. Because of how uneven wind-generated power can be, equipping turbines with batteries is a surefire way to make consistent electricity

Take for instance Glidepath Power Solutions and their recent acquisition of 8 Texas wind farms for the purpose of retrofitting the older turbines with revamped amperage power. More specifically, Glidepath is equipping the turbines with batteries that will have much more electricity storage capacities to strengthen the reserves available to a dangerously depleted grid–as this summer’s heat has illuminated.

The Glidepath acquisition was from Exelon and totals 149 Megawatts (MW) in total. And according to Utility Dive, Glidepath wholeheartedly believes that retrofitting turbines with better batteries will prevent the problems that ERCOT faced this summer.

According to that same source, “GlidePath’s acquisition brings its operating portfolio to more than 445 MW, which is in addition to its development pipeline of more than 1 GW of battery storage projects across the country.” So they are doing a lot to make wind more efficient for Texas energy.

A Shift Towards Retrofitting and Battery Storage

Earlier this year, General Electric reported they would be scrapping a plant in California even though it had 20 years left in its lifecycle. Instead of getting its traditional use, it will be mothballed and turned into a battery storage site. This will most likely happen more frequently in the upcoming years as renewable energy continues to grow, meaning that a demand for battery storage will be needed to match the output.

In short, grids need more backup reserves to avoid blackouts and system failures. This push to retrofit legacy technology into something much more sustainable is going to only push smarter and stronger grids.

Storage Development Directions for Wind Farms

John Parnell, a contributing writer for Forbes, calls the scale the Glidepath’s acquisition a telling sign that storage development is only going to get bigger. And many are chiming in and agreeing that renewables can be even more powerful if wind energy can be stored more efficiently and longer in Texas.

So, all of this is obviously a positive thing. Retrofitting inefficient turbines will only strengthen the grid. But it also begs the question as to how much energy should be invested in retrofitting versus building new wind farms with the updated technology. We will see how this recent development unfolds in the years to come.