Non-fossil fuel energy resources significantly contribute during extreme heat wave
During an exceptional heat wave that hit Texas in late June and July this year, demand for electricity reached an all-time high. With homes and businesses intensifying the use of cooling equipment to combat the heat, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT)—the entity responsible for the majority of the state’s power grid—increased production.
Although natural gas was still the most common source of electricity generation during most hours, non-fossil fuel resources—wind, solar, and nuclear energy—played an essential role in meeting this demand.
Non-fossil fuels take center stage
ERCOT’s highest hourly demand record was previously set at 79,830 megawatt-hours (MWh) on July 20, 2022. However, this year, from June 26 to June 29, the record was broken each day, with the highest demand each day exceeding 80,000 MWh.
A new peak was reached on July 18, when demand soared to 82,579 MWh in the 6:00 p.m. hour, central time (CT).
The growing role of renewable energy
During this high-demand period, non-fossil fuel sources—namely wind, solar, and nuclear—made significant contributions.
On June 28 and 29, non-fossil fuel resources accounted for up to 55% of total generation and between 43%–47% during the evening peak load hours of 4:00–8:00 p.m. CT. This was primarily due to increased wind generation during these peak demand hours.
Reduced costs thanks to renewables
Non-fossil fuel resources, particularly wind and solar power, have low to no fuel costs. As a result, their increased utilization during the heat wave led to smaller increases in the wholesale price of electricity than might be expected given the high demand levels.
Meeting growing demand with renewable energy
The fuel mix in ERCOT has undergone significant changes in recent times. Between September 2022 and May 2023 alone, more than 4,000 megawatts (MW) of wind and solar capacity were added.
Dependence on self-generation
ERCOT, unlike many other power grids, predominantly relies on its own generation resources and has limited capacity to import power from neighboring systems. This design adds to the importance of developing and utilizing innovative strategies to meet demand, particularly during periods of high stress on the grid.
Embracing renewables for a sustainable future
As Texas confronts the dual challenges of intense heat waves and escalating electricity demand, the importance of renewable energy resources has never been more apparent.
ERCOT’s effective use of wind, solar, and nuclear power during this crisis provides a promising blueprint for how power grids can not only respond to immediate challenges, but also prepare for a future where such extreme weather events become more commonplace.