Texas is going to face a shortage of electricity in the coming years, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the nonprofit corporation that oversees the operation of the electric grid for about 85 percent of the state.
There are traditional ways to meet greater demand for electricity – building new power plants, for example – and there are newer, more energy-efficient and conservation-minded ways.
Low natural gas prices today make it less profitable and increase risk for companies willing to invest in and build new power plants.
One of those promising new methods is to store energy. Some of the technology to do that – flywheels, batteries or compressed air – has been around for years, but hasn’t been widely used in Texas.
That may be starting to change.
According to a report in the Austin American-Statesman, Chamisa Energy, a New Mexico-based company, is developing a site near the Panhandle town of Tulia where wind-generated electricity produced during periods of low demand and prices (such as late night) will be used to store compressed air in salt caverns. To create electricity, the compressed air would be released from the caverns, combined with natural gas and used to turn a turbine attached to generator. The stored energy would be used to generate electricity during peak times, when demand and prices are high.
Mark Patterson, ERCOT’s manager of demand integration, told me that energy storage technology, like compressed air, increases reliability on the electric grid and can lower energy prices during peak periods.
“Compressed air has a longer duration than batteries and flywheels, and therefore more closely resembles traditional generation,” Patterson said.
According to the Statesman’s story, Chamisa Energy’s salt caverns will initially store enough energy to generate electricity for about 36 hours, and could be expanded to store enough for up to 100 hours.
Using compressed air to generate electricity during peak times can also lower the price of electricity.
“Anytime you add more energy to the grid and it’s offered at a reasonable price it has the potential to lower the cost of energy to all consumers,” Patterson said.
Another way to ensure there’s enough power to meet demand is to reduce the amount of electricity needed. Energy management solutions, like the one from Consert, Inc., that some Bluebonnet members have been testing for more than a year, can lower energy consumption by controlling when and how often heating and cooling systems, electric water heaters and pool pumps operate.
Both energy storage and energy management, also called demand management, can be used to avoid rolling blackouts like the ones we experienced last February and narrowly avoided during last summer’s record-setting high temperatures.