As of the end of 2010, Texas had more renewable energy generating capacity, excluding hydropower, than any other state, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory [PDF]. Nearly all of it was wind, around 10,000 megawatts on most days (depending on how much is actually in service). PV capacity, meanwhile, was a paltry 34.5 MW – a tiny fraction of California’s 1,021.7 MW or even New Jersey’s 259.9 MW.
Wind has helped in Texas, but it tends to be at its weakest in summer, and in the middle of the afternoon – exactly when power loads are highest. Take last August 22, when the high temperature in Dallas was 104 degrees and the low was 85. That’s a day in which air conditioners were no doubt working furiously. Wind power surged in the wee hours of the morning, but by 1 p.m. and throughout the afternoon, as load climbed toward its 5 p.m. peak, wind could never meet more than 1-3 percent of that demand, according to the state’s system operator [PDF]. Solar sure would have come in handy then.
“Solar delivers on peak, it doesn’t use water and it doesn’t create any smog pollution,” said Pat Wood, former chairman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas and of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. “It is increasingly affordable, competing favorably with other peak-of-the-day resources.”
In the end, the point might be that diversity is the key, as no power source is perfect. After all, in early February last year, Texas experienced rolling blackouts when a cold snap put around a quarter of its coal-fired plants, as well as a substantial portion of its gas capacity, out of service [PDF]. And last summer, “high temperatures caused about 20 power plants to stop working, including at least one coal-fired plant and natural gas plants,” the Dallas Morning News reported.
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