“We all know, deep down, that fossils will dry-up at some point, perhaps not in our lifetime but in our children’s lifetime.” -Rob Wetsel
These are some of the famous words of Rod Wetsel (a professor of Wind Law at the Texas Tech University) and a wake-up call to all energy consumers on the importance of renewable energy. These words sound so true especially right here in Texas where a whopping 79 percent of its energy production comes from non-renewable energy sources and only 21 percent comes from renewable energy.
In this post, we are going to give a brief situational highlight on renewable energy in the state of Texas i.e., the type of renewable energy produced and how renewable these sources are. But first things first, what is renewable energy?
Well, renewable energy is basically energy that is sustainable. As the name suggests, it is the energy that is endless – or can’t run-out or dry-up. It is sometimes referred to as alternative energy as it offers a different option to what we commonly use, which in most cases are non-renewable. Some examples of renewable energy are wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, hydro, just to mention a few.
How Much of Texas’ Energy Is Renewable?
As stated earlier, Texas generates a fifth (20 percent) of its energy from renewable sources (biomass, hydro, solar and wind). According to U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the most explored renewable energy source is the wind. In fact, wind contributes nearly all of the renewable energy used in the state, in addition to, contributing 30 percent of wind-generated power to the national grid.
In 2011, Texas had an impressive wind generating capacity of 10,000 megawatts becoming the first state to achieve this feat. It has since added more installations reaching a capacity of 24,185 Megawatts. The utility-scale wind farms (facilities with the ability to generate 1 megawatt or more) forms 20 percent of the state’s wind power generating capacity and contributed 17 percent of Texas’ total power generation in 2019.
While it might not be possible to generate enough wind power (the wind does not blow with the same intensity consistently) to supply at least 40 percent of Texas’s energy needs, the bottom line here is to gradually improve the amount of renewable energy produced yearly.
In regards to solar power, the state has more than doubled solar energy production between 2017 and 2019 to a capacity of more than 3,100 megawatts. A fifth of the energy generated from the solar plants in 2019, came from customer-sited, small scale facilities.
Biomass is another of Texas’ renewable energy and contributes approximately 0.5 percent of the state’s energy supply. However, the state has yet to produce liquid biofuel, though it has already installed four biofuel plants in the Texas Panhandle that have a capacity of producing 400 million gallons of ethanol a year. When it comes to hydroelectric power, the state boasts of multiple hydroelectric power plans that generate a disappointing 0.5 percent of the total state energy production. This is attributed to low rainfall and Texas’ gentle terrain.
Are Renewable Energy Resources Being Used in Texas?
Texas with its expansive landscape and a variety of renewable resources has also been blessed with other non-renewable energy such as oil, coal, and natural gas. In fact, most of its energy supplies are dependent on a non-renewable resource. However, as stated earlier, the state has incorporated renewable energy such as biofuel, biomass, hydroelectricity, and geothermal energy to meet some of its energy demands.
Hydropower, in particular, used to be one of Texas’ main sources of power in the 1930s, but that changed with the discovery of other energy-generating resources such as oil and natural gas. Nowadays, hydropower accounts for a paltry 0.5 percent of the total energy produced in Texas. It is even more perplexing to know that despite the gentle terrain and erratic rainfall experienced in Texas, the state still has the capacity to generate 2,900,000 megawatts per year of hydropower.
Is Renewable Energy a Renewable Resource?
One of the things that should be considered when choosing an energy resource is sustainability. For how long can the resource last? Is it self replenishing, or are we depleting it with every megawatt we produce?
While it is alright to use the available resource to generate energy or electricity to run our industries, light and heat our homes, and do all the wonderful things that electricity makes possible, it is also vital to consider its longevity. As mentioned earlier, there are some energy resources that no matter how much you use them never get depleted. This type of energy resource is what is regarded as a renewable energy resource.
Below are some examples of renewable energy and an explanation of why they are renewable.
Wind energy produces electricity by rotating the wind turbines. The wind exerts pressure on the turbine blades causing them to rotate. A generator connected to the turbines then converts the mechanical energy generated by the rotating turbine blades into electricity. The wind is a natural resource that is always available and can never be depleted, and therefore, it is a renewable resource. The only thing that changes is the intensity of the wind. Wind energy generation plants should be set-up in an area where the natural wind is plentiful
Biomass is another renewable resource derived from organic material either from animals or plants including ethanol (generated from corn and other plants), sewage, and wood. This organic matter contains energy that was absorbed from the sun which can then be converted to heat energy by burning them.
Geothermal energy is derived from the heat produced within the Earth’s core. Geothermal reserves are usually located at the edge of tectonic plates, close to volcanic activity. This energy resource can be utilized to generate electricity by drilling wells or boreholes that are used to pump steam or hot water to a power plant. This is then converted to either heat energy or electricity.
Solar radiation is another renewable resource that produces clean energy. Solar radiations can be utilized to produce power by using photovoltaic cells to transform solar energy to electricity. The photovoltaic cell as a unit can produce energy just enough to power a calculator. However, when they are merged together creating a solar panel, they can provide enough energy to run a machine or light-up your house.
One of the keys and most valuable characteristics of renewable energy is that they are clean energy. This means that they cause minimal pollution and greenhouse gases which are some of the causes of climate change. However, just like any other good thing, renewable energy also has its demerits. One of its main disadvantages is that unlike the non-renewable resource, renewable resources are not reliable as they change with seasons. Therefore, one of the challenges that we need to seriously think about is how to make renewable energy reliable and feasible. We need to stop over-reliance on coal, oil, and gas and all the other non-renewable energy.
Which States Have the Most Renewable Energy?
The state that produces and utilizes the most renewable energy is Washington with a net potential capacity of around 24 gigawatts (GW). Its main source of renewable energy is hydropower which contributes about 67 percent of its total capacity. It is followed by California and Oregon states with an installed capacity of 16 GW and 11 GW respectively. Wrapping-up the top four is Texas with a capacity of around 10-11 GW. Other states that produce a considerable amount of renewable energy include New York, Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, and Iowa.
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