First, the good news: Wind and solar power are experiencing rapid growth, and their costs have been plummeting. But here’s the bad news: In general, the sun shines only during the day, and the wind blows at its swiftest during the evening — and there are few places where both happen in abundance and with dependability.
The one notable U.S. state that has an abundance of both, ironically, is the fossil-fuel-rich State of Texas, the country’s biggest producer of oil and natural gas. Then again, Texas is also a renewable dynamo, with 17 percent of its energy coming from wind power. Though very little is generated from solar, its potential is manifest.
Rice University researchers produced a report on the yin and yang of the Lone Star State’s sun and wind “complementarity,” as they dubbed it, suggesting even as one of those two energy sources goes fallow, the other asserts its power.
An article by Vox, based in part on the Rice University study, emphasized the researchers, findings do not suggest Texas is capable of creating a 100 percent renewable energy grid yet, but they do show renewables could replace a large segment of its fossil-fuel energy matrix. Indeed, the City of Georgetown, Texas, is already running on 100 percent renewable energy from wind and solar power. What’s more, a 2015 report from The Brattle Group for the Advanced Energy Economy concluded the state could feasibly integrate 50 percent of its renewable energy generation onto its existing energy grid with “modest operational changes.”
As renewable-rich as Texas is, not everything in the state is perfectly aligned for the task at hand. The best sites for wind turbines — with the most consistent and highest speeds — are in the western part of the state, including the Texas Panhandle, where trees literally grow sideways because the wind blows so hard and consistently. Alas, the state’s biggest, most power-hungry cities, Dallas and Houston among them, are situated in the eastern half of the territory.
As Vox writes: “The Public Utility Commission of Texas decided to create regions designated as Competitive Renewable Energy Zones to bridge that gap. It led to the construction of more than 2,300 miles of transmission lines at a cost of nearly $7 billion. This buildout helped make Texas the king of wind in the United States while still maintaining some of the lowest energy prices in the country.”
It is a feat other states would be hard pressed to emulate. Consider that sun-drenched Arizona, which gets 5 percent of its electricity from solar, is largely windless, and Iowa, which generates a whopping 37 percent of its electricity from wind, is not a place one would seek to worship Ra, the mythical sun god.
Mike Consol (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter @mikeconsol to read his latest postings.