Texas has a long and rich history with electricity and energy production. The first electric lights in Texas were installed in 1883 and the state has remained a major consumer of electricity ever since. Texas has grown to become the country’s largest producer of electricity as well as its largest consumer. It’s also the only state in the contiguous 48 that has its own electrical grid. This provides most Texans with rare “energy shopping” opportunities that many other U.S. citizens don’t get to enjoy.
Compared to Florida, its closest competitor, Texas requires twice as much electricity. The majority of this electricity is provided through the Texas Interconnect, which is the private electrical grid that handles roughly 90 percent of the state’s electrical load. Texas burned through more than 383,000 GWh in 2019. But where is all of this electricity coming from?
How Does Texas Produce Its Electricity?
The state doesn’t rely on any single fuel source to produce its electricity. It balances the load with a number of different sources that all funnel their electricity production to the Texas Interconnect. The flow of electricity is managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and is ultimately provided to consumers through various retail electricity providers.
Electricity From Natural Gas
Nearly half of the state’s electricity is created from natural gas. The production from open-cycle and combined-cycle natural gas turbines accounts for roughly 47 percent of the state’s electricity production. Natural gas is a type of non-renewable fossil fuel and it’s responsible for the majority of electricity produced throughout the entire country. Natural gas is a considerable improvement over older fuel sources like coal, which produce nearly twice as much carbon dioxide when burned.
Coal And Wind Power
Texas has steadily reduced its reliance on coal in favor of more environmentally friendly fuel sources like wind which reduces the production of greenhouse gas emissions and not relying on other sources like crude oil. In 2009, coal was responsible for 37 percent of the state’s electricity production. By 2019, they reduced that percentage to 20. By comparison, their electricity production from wind rose from 6 percent in 2009 to 20 percent in 2019. That’s an incredibly positive change.
Texas has become the largest producer of wind power in the country. They have more than 150 wind farms working around the clock with a combined total capacity of 30,000 MW in electricity generated. Almost everywhere you look outside the cities you can see a wind turbine – producing mechanical energy 24/7. It is responsible for nearly 30 percent of all wind power in the country and a significant part of the Texas electric sector. There are only a handful of countries that produce more wind power than the state of Texas. They are constantly pushing forward new initiatives to increase their reliance on wind power while simultaneously cutting back on electricity produced from coal.
Nuclear Power in Texas
Despite sometimes having a bad reputation, nuclear energy production is cleaner than most alternatives. Nuclear power plants produce far fewer pollutants than power plants that rely on fossil fuels, and is one of the best energy sources available while the amount of energy generated is extremely high. That includes all of the harmful emissions that contribute to global warming, such as sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. Texas has placed a strong focus on strengthening its nuclear energy programs in an attempt to improve its overall air quality.
There are currently two nuclear power (or nuclear fission) plants in operation in Texas. One is located in Somervell County and the other is in Matagorda County. Combined, these two nuclear plants account for nearly 11 percent of the electricity produced in Texas. They are also responsible for nearly 5 percent of all nuclear energy produced in the country.
There are good reasons to support retail electricity providers that utilize energy generated by these two nuclear power plants. These two plants were able to prevent the emission of 30 million tons of carbon dioxide in the year 2010. That number has undoubtedly increased as the state’s energy demands have grown over the years as has their production of nuclear energy.
Solar Power Production
Solar power in Texas is still limited but there is a growing demand for renewable energy and Texas has great potential. Several large solar farms have appeared in the last few years and there are many new plants planned for the near future. There were thirteen new solar facilities built between 2017 and 2018, which increased their solar energy capacity by more than 57 percent, adding to the overall power system and eliminating more reliance on energy storage and power that comes from fossil fuel.
Currently, solar power accounts for roughly one percent of the state’s electricity production. That’s nearly 5 percent of all renewable energy in the state as well as 5 percent of all solar energy produced in the country. While this is different than a source of electricity that uses a gas turbine or other mechanical kinetic method to generate power like in a hydroelectric dam, the electricity coming from solar is very clean.
Texas is currently undergoing a “solar boom” by adding several GW of solar capacity each year and especially during the past decade. The state has tremendous potential for solar energy thanks to its wide-open terrain in the west. There are several incentives for companies to invest in solar energy. The most well-known is the solar investment Tax Credit. It’s estimated that the state will add another 10 GW of solar power over the next two years thanks to these initiatives.
Other Sources of Electricity
There are a few additional energy sources used to produce electricity in Texas. The most significant alternative sources include hydropower and biomass fuel. All of these alternative sources account for less than 1 percent of the total electricity production when combined.
Does Texas Have Enough Energy?
Many people are understandably worried that the Texas Interconnect cannot supply enough electricity to meet the growing demand and in general the global electricity demand is increasing year by year. Texas consumes around ten percent of all electricity in the country and it’s believed that the demand will increase by several percent over the following years. Combine that with the fact that we’ve experienced several outages in the last year and it may seem like there is a problem.
But the truth is that, for the most part, Texas maintains a higher supply than demand. ERCOT manages the production and supply of electricity on the grid and tries to maintain a constant reserve margin while managing the transmission and distribution of the various sources of electric energy. In some cases, the reserves have been large enough that the government has considered exporting electricity to neighboring states. In other cases, the reserve has dropped low enough to warrant controlled outages and conservation techniques. This is despite a record number of power stations, and increased generation capacity which equals more overall power produced.
In 2019, the ERCOT reserve dropped as low as 8.6 percent. This led to the enactment of “tight conditions”. During tight conditions, ERCOT controls rolling outages in key locations and asks consumers to conserve as much electricity as possible. Tight conditions are more common in the summer months when electricity usage peaks and the reserves drop at an alarming rate. However, it’s estimated that reserve margins will remain between 17 and 19 percent over the next five years. There are steps you can take at home to help keep the margin in this target range. Whether your monthly energy comes from wind, comes from hydropower, or comes from nuclear, we ideally want electricity from renewable sources and help to reduce consumption wherever possible. As fuel prices continue to rise, we see offsets that people are adopting such as choosing an electric vehicle, wind and solar, and helping to combat ongoing climate change.
Can You Help Conserve Electricity?
Texas may use more electricity than any other state, but they actually have very low residential energy usage per capita. The vast majority of the power they use goes to the industrial sector. But that doesn’t mean you’re powerless when it comes to influencing the reserve margins and keeping the grid online. Every Texas resident plays a part and can help conservation efforts.
One of the easiest, yet most effective, methods for conserving electricity is managing the thermostat at a reliable temperature. Most of the state’s residential energy usage goes to powering air conditioners during the summer. That’s understandable considering the extremely high temperatures we often experience. But you can remain comfortable and cool inside the home without setting the AC as low as possible.
Many experts recommend setting your thermostat to 78 degrees. This magic number is enough to keep the extreme heat at bay without constantly cycling the air conditioner and wasting electricity. Even slightly lower numbers between 74 and 77 are significantly more energy-efficient than temperatures closer to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s a small change that can mean the difference between a healthy reserve and rolling blackouts.
Choosing The Right Provider
The retail electricity provider you choose also has a major impact on the state’s energy profile. Each provider has something unique to offer and can benefit the Texas Interconnect in different ways. Some providers invest a lot of funding and research into safe, renewable sources of energy. Others focus on providing reliable and consistent transmission rates throughout the year. It’s a good idea to learn a bit about how each provider differs before making a selection. You may only be one person on a massive grid fueled by numerous sources, but your choices do make a difference in both homes and businesses’ total consumption.