Texas has seen a boom in solar power in recent years, and experts say that’s helped the state grid weather an intense June heat wave.
The heat pushed demand to a new record — topping 81,000 megawatts on Tuesday — but the state’s grid operator has only requested that residents lower their power use one day during the heat wave, when electricity from wind and power plants that use coal, nuclear or natural gas fell short of their past output.
Solar power provided nearly 20% of the Texas grid’s power needs on Tuesday before demand reached a new high.
A so-called “heat dome” has settled over the state, meaning an area of high pressure sits above while the area bakes, Houston-based meteorologist Matt Lanza said. This means June hasn’t been very windy.
The heat has been punishing. Local officials have opened cooling centers while people working outside struggle to avoid heat-related illness. A postal worker died in Dallas last week as the heat index reached 115 degrees, and a teenager died while hiking in Big Bend National Park on a day when the temperature hit 119 degrees, according to news reports.
Experts credit the state’s diversity of energy sources for keeping the lights on. The significant increase in solar power generation in recent years has helped meet the growing demand for electricity in Texas, which operates its grid largely independently of the rest of the country.
Some 16,800 megawatts of solar power could be produced on the state grid as of the end of May, compared with 2,600 in 2019, according to data from the grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
“The solar we’ve added in the last year has been tremendously beneficial, and the solar we will continue to add will also be beneficial,” said Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “Solar is such a boon for us, for grid reliability.”
Aaron Zubaty, chief executive officer of clean energy investment company Eolian, said solar power correlates with Texas’ hot, sunny days. But like any power source, solar has limits — it can’t produce power 24 hours a day.
Conditions on the electric grid often grow tightest when people get home from work, crank up their air conditioners, turn on televisions, do laundry or cook — often as the sun sets and solar power production drops.
Batteries and natural gas plants help in those critical hours before the winds typically pick up and wind power increases.
“Across the system right now, every resource is using its different attributes and working together throughout each 24-hour period,” Zubaty said in a statement, adding that “without this amount of added solar resources, the grid would be in dire straits during midday hours.”