Texas turns to giant batteries to keep power grid going as heat dome lingers

The punishing heat dome that has settled over Texas puts unprecedented strain on the state’s electrical system, leaving officials scrambling to keep lights on and air conditioners running.

The oppressive heat has been going on for days and it may get worse before the heat dome lifts. Some forecasts show temperatures exceeding 100 degrees in all three major metropolitan areas – Houston, Dallas and Austin – at the same time in the coming days. Tens of millions of people in Texas and neighboring states have been on extreme heat advisories since June 14.

But Texas is particularly vulnerable to blackouts because it cannot draw electricity from its neighbors in a crisis. It is the only state in the contiguous United States disconnected from the national grid, a deliberate decision to avoid federal regulation.

“Next week will be the real test,” said Joshua Rhodes, an energy researcher at the University of Texas at Austin. “Almost all of the air conditioners in these regions are going to need power at the same time.”

Government officials are increasingly turning to an unexpected technology: giant batteries.

These Mack truck-sized systems, which can quickly spit stored electrons onto the grid when power plants sputter, have played a crucial role in avoiding outages over the past week as scorching temperatures battered records across Texas. And they’re reigniting the debate about the role of clean energy in stabilizing the Texas grid, as batteries are ideal for harnessing wind and solar power.

Electric grid operators across the country are watching closely to see how Texas handles this crisis. While the perilous combination of prolonged triple-digit temperatures and overloaded power plants and transmission lines is plaguing Texas right now, it could hit most areas at any time. Climate change and the deteriorating state of regional power grids are making the whole country increasingly vulnerable to outages for longer periods of the year.

“Texas is going through what everyone in the country is going to be going through in one form or another in the years to come,” said Aaron Zubaty, CEO of Eolian, which owns and operates large energy storage projects. “Not all systems are necessarily designed to operate in these types of extended events at the limit of design and engineering specifications… These are the types of weather events that can cause weird things that no one has ever thought of all types of plants.”

The National Weather Service has warned that “the oppressive and persistent heat will become increasingly dangerous and life-threatening” across much of Texas, and that many areas of the state “have already experienced record hours of dangerously high heat index reading”.

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That scorching weather is expected to extend into next week, with the service warning that the length of the heat wave threatens to make it particularly deadly. Towns in Texas are reporting the breaking high temperature records. At San Angelo airport, the the thermometer reached 114 degrees midweek, surpassing the record – set only a year ago – by three degrees.

High temperatures are compounded by thick humidity, which intensifies the impact and health risks. It keeps heat trapped in buildings that might otherwise cool overnight, leaving them still cooking when the sun comes up in the morning and temperatures rise again.

On the other side of the Mexican border, the situation seems even more dire. The country’s power grid is on the brink as temperatures have soared well over 100 degrees in several regions. Several deaths have been reported, according to local reports, which also relayed that people were sleeping rough in the town of Huetamo, where power outages persisted for days.

In Texas, the grid has held up so far despite more extreme heat than many parts of the state have ever experienced.

The outsized role battery storage plays in sustaining power is good news for clean energy companies, which are battling the fossil fuel lobby’s efforts to shift the blame for Europe’s electricity woes. Report on the growing share of renewable energies in its energy mix.

Battery storage is a boon for wind and solar because it allows them to capture and store the energy created at times when it may not be needed and then make it available to taxpayers at peak times.

But amid this thermal emergency, batteries have also proven useful in bailing out more traditional power plants.

When a large coal facility was taken offline during peak hours this week amid extreme heat stress, power that was stored in batteries elsewhere in Texas was quickly sent to carry the grid all day. evening. Batteries were also crucial for maintaining power when a nuclear plant hiccuped and went offline earlier in the week, said Doug Lewin, a Texas energy consultant.

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The power grid quickly becomes vulnerable to outages when a power plant is taken offline unexpectedly. Batteries, like small, fast-reacting gas generators, are able to sustain this electricity immediately. This kind of backup power was unavailable in Texas in 2021, when winter storm Uri caused several power plants to shut down, leaving millions of Texans frozen in the dark for days in one of the largest blackouts in recent US history. At least 246 people died during this storm.

Texas has since become a national leader in battery storage, with nearly a third of the country’s capacity, according to S&P Global Commodity Insights. Only California has more. Texas plans to nearly double the amount of battery storage on its network over the next year, Lewin said.

The proliferation of such storage is likely to spur wind and solar development in the state, even during a time when technologies are under siege on the Texas Capitol.

“A lot of this storage is brought online as a kind of insurance policy in case of failure,” Rhodes said. “But once it’s on the system, it can do more than just help us out in an emergency. This can help support renewable energy.

Wind and solar power, Rhodes said, can be packed into batteries when the sun is beating down and the wind is howling but demand for electricity is low, then sold to ratepayers when they need it. Battery units come online as Texas dramatically expands its use of solar power, with the state on track this summer to overtake California in generating electricity from solar farms in large scale.

“It’s a good thing to have on the Texas grid,” Rhodes said. “It allows us to harness for energy that same sun that superheats our buildings and generates such a demand for electricity to cool them.”

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