Wind power set a new record in Texas in 2017, generating more than 62 million megawatt hours of electricity, or 17 percent of all electric power for the grid, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
The ERCOT grid has 20,100 MW of wind power installed, the most of any state. Strong winds helped Texas set a record for wind generation at 17,541 MW on Feb. 19. Meanwhile, the use of natural gas has declined rapidly from 167 million MWh (48 percent) in 2015 to 139 million MWh (39 percent) in 2017, according to ERCOT.
But as wind outpaces fossil fuels, there are challenges to keeping the grid reliable and competitive.
Fossil fuels have historically provided the base load power while also responding to peak demand pricing while renewable energy provides power when the weather is right. But new battery storage technology is slowly turning the tide.
John Jung, president and CEO of Greensmith Energy, calls them electron time machines and they have two of them installed next to wind farms in West Texas.
“It allows you to keep your electrons when you don’t need them and release them when you do need them, like when you have peak load,” Jung said. “We’re solving a lot of problems with energy storage. We think there’s a huge future market.”
Greensmith’s two 9.9 MW battery projects in Roscoe County proved their worth when frigid temperatures sent Texans scrambling to their thermostats in late January. The Texas Waves project is connected to the 249 MW Pyron wind farm and the 197 MW Inadale wind farm, both operated by E.On Climate & Renewables.
“We are thrilled how well these Texas Waves systems performed during the recent weather spells,” Jung said. “It can respond in milliseconds. It’s not the amount of power but how quickly you can have access to that power that makes the difference.”
Looking at the big picture, Jung said he believes this could be the secret to making renewable energy not only reliable but price competitive with traditional energy sources.
Greensmith’s batteries are controlled by intelligent software that releases the energy at just the right time.
Greensmith is a Silicon Valley startup with less than 30 people but Jung said that doesn’t stop them from making a big impact. The company got the attention of Wartsila Energy Solutions, a multi-billion-dollar company based in Finland that acquired Greensmith last year.
Closer to home, Greensmith has partnered with Oncor to provide advanced software, called GEMS, for the utility’s microgrid project in Dallas. The microgrid consists of solar panels mounted on the ground and on a carport, a micro wind turbine, diesel and gasoline generators and battery storage.
Greensmith’s software replaces the old system, providing better responses to severe weather and peak supply and demand periods. The changeover was done last year without changing any hardware.
“When you look beyond the sum of its parts, a network of distributed energy resources orchestrated by advanced energy storage and software, is precisely where the energy industry is heading,” Jung said.
The Rocky Mountain Institute believes these microgrids will revolutionize the power industry by putting power closer to the end user. A recent study of community-scale solar installations found they could be the “killer app” for electric cooperatives that provides reliability to their customers, said Thomas Koch Blank, a principal at RMI.
Batteries could further reduce peak charges.
“If you have the ability to shift some of the solar generation to address those specific peak hours, that’s going to create substantial savings,” Blank said. “If it’s at the time when the wholesale price is high and you have the highest load, it’s a double whammy.”