Texas’ energy market just got supercharged. Vistra Energy, owner of the state’s biggest solar power plant, will add the state’s biggest battery, a move that promises to help stabilize notoriously fickle renewable energy and reduce prices along the way.
It’s a dream come true for renewable energy, and a critical stamp of approval for Texas’ deregulated energy market.
Texas has a special place in the world of electricity. We are the first state to install 10,000 megawatts of installed wind generating capacity in a deregulated, free-market. Plus, those same windy West Texas plains have some of the highest solar power potential in the nation.
But renewable energy adoption has been constrained by two basic facts of nature: the sun sets, and the wind stops blowing. Unlike coal and fossil fuels, renewable energy can’t be physically stored, meaning that the wind and solar power is wasted if not used immediately. When there is too much supply and not enough demand, it’s even possible for wholesale power prices to go negative, creating a headache for the grid.
Batteries address this gap. Grid-grade batteries allow power companies to capture and store cheaply attained sun and wind power and sell it back into the market during times of day when power prices spike. Smoothing this cost curve makes a more reliable market and lowers prices for everyone.
If many in the industry consider this new kind of battery to be the “holy grail” of energy, its emergence in Texas is its own blessing. Texas is the only state to have its own independent power grid, and a deregulated environment has meant renewable energy providers can’t rely on ratepayers to pay the bills.
Without the safety net of consumers’ rates, energy entrepreneurs who want to operate on the Texas grid have to be darn sure that an investment in renewable energy can turn a profit. The fact that an investor sees an opportunity in Texas means both that the battery technology is mature enough to assuage these fears, and the Texas market is flexible enough to incorporate fresh technology without burdening ratepayers.
With the arrival of this big new battery, Texas moved out of photovoltaic purgatory to prove a hands-off approach yields big energy gains. We always knew Texas had a sunny disposition. Now we can use it.