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Texas Set to Smash Clean and Dirty Power Output Records in 2024


These translations are done via Google Translate

(Reuters) – The operator of the Texas power system, one of the largest in the United States, is on track to smash generation records from both clean and fossil fuel sources in 2024 as total power needs continue to grow.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) clean power generation total through May 27 was a record 3.35 million megawatt hours (MWh), according to LSEG.

That tally marks a 7.5% advance over the same period in 2023, and highlights the rapid pace of power sector decarbonization efforts in key markets across the United States.

ERCOT set to post record clean & fossil power output in 2024
ERCOT set to post record clean & fossil power output in 2024

However, over the same period ERCOT output from fossil fuels expanded by nearly 9% to 3.73 million MWh, which is also a new high and underscores the challenge facing power producers to continue to lift overall supplies while reducing system emissions.

CLEAN PROGRESS

The ERCOT system uses four main sources of clean power: nuclear reactors, hydro dams, solar parks and wind farms.

Wind farms are by far the largest source of clean power, and accounted for around 29% of total generation year-to-date.

Nuclear plants have historically been the second largest clean power producers, accounting for around 9% of total power this year.

Solar parks are the third largest source of clean power, and by far the fastest growing source in the ERCOT system, so far in 2024 accounting for around 8.9% of total generation.

Hydro dams account for only around 0.1% of total power, LSEG data shows.

Combined sources of clean power accounted for a 47.4% share of total generation so far in 2024, which is down slightly from a 47.7% share over the same period in 2023.

ERCOT clean vs fossil power generation from Jan 1 to May 2027
ERCOT clean vs fossil power generation from Jan 1 to May 2027

However, total clean generation looks set to climb during the peak solar output period over the summer.

In 2023, solar output increased by 28.6% from May’s total to the monthly output peak in August.

If solar output expands by the same degree in 2024, solar generation in August will top 190,000 MWh, setting a new monthly record for ERCOT solar production and handily overtaking nuclear that month to become the second largest clean power source in the ERCOT system.

However, ERCOT generation from wind farms tends to decline sharply over the summer as wind speeds slow, which means that drops to wind output could offset the expected increases in generation from solar assets, and may leave total clean generation levels largely flat.

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FOSSIL FOUNDATION

To accommodate the volatility in clean power output levels, ERCOT operators maintain large volumes of fossil fuel-based power round-the-clock.

So far this year, natural gas has been the primary power source in the ERCOT system, with the 2.9 million MWh of gas-fired generation through May 27 a new system record for that period, and marking an 11.6% gain over the same period in 2023.

Natural gas accounted for around 41% of the total power generation so far this year, which is the highest share in at least three years.

Coal-fired plants have accounted for around 11.6% of the total through May 27, which is the smallest coal share since at least 2021 and marks a 0.2% decline in total generation from the same period in 2023.

But given the likelihood of a decline in output from ERCOT wind farms this summer, power producers will likely need to dial up output from both coal and gas plants over the coming months, when high temperatures boost use of power-hungry air conditioners and lift overall power demand to annual highs.

In 2023, ERCOT gas-fired power generation increased by 54% from the total generated in May to the peak generation month in August, while coal-fired generated increased by a third.

If output patterns follow the same path in 2024, ERCOT gas-fired output could easily top 1 million MWh in August, while coal-fired generation could add another 200,000 MWh or more.

Power sector emissions in Texas tend to peak during summer in response to the higher use of fossil fuels during that period, and in August 2023 neared 24 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and equivalent gases, according to think tank Ember.

Emissions tallies this summer could scale even higher levels if gas and coal-fired output hit new combined records.

But those emissions totals would be higher still were it not for the recent rapid expansions in clean power generation, which have outpaced growth in fossil generation in the ERCOT system in recent years.

Continued growth in total electricity demand in the ERCOT system means that both fossil and clean power output will likely keep climbing over the coming years, until a planned combination of renewables plus storage systems can set the stage for a gradual decline in fossil-based output.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.

 



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