Wind and solar power deserve a frosty reception after last month’s freeze in Texas.
Since the fatal winter storm in February 20201, Texans have been apprehensive about the state electrical grid’s reliability in extreme weather. The grid primarily relies on coal and natural gas, but new investment to meet growing demand is skewed toward renewables.
While the grid did perform during the recent three-day freeze, it highlighted the potential pitfalls of over-dependence on wind and solar.
Recent weather conditions should serve as a warning to those pushing dependence on renewable energy: Texas must bolster its dispatchable, reliable energy sources to avoid future grid reliability problems.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, provides about 90% of the state’s electricity. In 2023, wind and solar accounted for about 39% of ERCOT’s electricity supply, while natural gas and coal accounted for nearly 53% percent combined. During the recent cold spell, renewables significantly underperformed, leaving Texans to rely on coal and gas. Clean energy advocates love to highlight when wind and solar account for 40% of ERCOT’s generation.
During this cold spell, climate activist groups and national media praised wind and solar for helping sustain the grid, pointing out that on Jan. 17 (when temperatures were rising), wind, solar and nuclear were responsible for nearly 59% of state power supply. Nevertheless, during times of peak demand, wind and solar were virtually nowhere to be found.
ERCOT sustained six peak demand hours between the evening of Jan. 14 and the morning of Jan. 17. Consumer demand for energy is the highest in the morning and evening. It’s during these hours in the winter that solar power is largely or entirely absent, and wind isn’t at its strongest. At the highest demand hour between 7 and 8 a.m. Central time on Jan. 16, when temperatures dipped to a low of 18 degrees, wind and solar produced less than two-thirds of expected generation. Wind provided about 12% of total generation, and solar provided none.
Even though winter demand reached record levels three times over the three-day freeze, Texas’ grid held up. The grid’s stability came down to the fact that coal, natural gas and nuclear energy were above 90% availability the entire time.
If gas, coal, and nuclear operated at the level of wind and solar, this mild freeze could have resulted in a situation similar to the 2021 winter storm. Although coal and natural gas deliver the power necessary to sustain the grid through winter storms, wind and solar have gained support from both state and federal authorities.
The Biden administration has heavily subsidized clean energy through measures like the Inflation Reduction Act. Meanwhile, Texas has sunk nearly $100 billion dollars in wind and solar infrastructure, and the ERCOT grid has added 10 gigawatts of wind and 15 gigawatts of solar over the past four years.
This has done nothing to alleviate ERCOT’s grid reliability problems. If Texas had put a fraction of that $100 billion into reliable, dispatchable energy — coal, natural gas and even nuclear — Texas’ grid would be far more secure. Wind and solar pull their weight during the warmer months, but the past three years have shown renewables alone will never be able to sustain Texas’ grid year-round. Wind and solar are inconsistent and non-dispatchable in real times of need.
Contrary to fantastical progressives’ wishes to phase out fossil fuels, Texas is a case study in why both states and the federal government must stop overinvesting in wind and solar.