The Texas Renewable Energy Ripple Effect

By Vernon Trollinger, April 6, 2017, Energy Efficiency, Green, News, Save Money

Welcome to Exploring Renewable Energy Technology from Bounce Energy! Because the ERCOT portion of Texas can be thought of as a “walled garden,” renewable energy sources in Texas now make up a significant portion of the energy supply mix. It’s also a dynamic technology with new innovations, discoveries, and issues arising every week. Each month, we will examine the latest news in the industry to better understand what (if any) changes might come to the Texas energy supply.

The Texas Renewable Energy Ripple Effect

Most discussions about renewable energy talk about the nuts and bolts of meeting demand and keeping consumer costs low. But renewable energy also produces wide-ranging economic ripples that effect investment in both multinational corporations and local towns.

The Texas Renewable Energy Ripple Effect | Bounce Energy Blog

Over the past two decades, large corporations have been increasingly tasked by their shareholders and customers to do more about climate change by reducing their carbon footprint. Last year some of the world’s largest investment funds excluded US power companies from their investment portfolios due to their reliance on fossil fuels. For  multinational companies that must comply with foreign regulations, being able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has ripple effects that affect the bottom line back here in the US and Texas. That has included things like buying electricity from more renewable and sustainable sources. Many big corporations with Texas offices have gone in this direction, including Toyota, Facebook, and most recently 7-Eleven which signed a 5 year contract to buy electricity from wind farms to power its stores in the state while reducing operating costs.

But the effects of wind power are not just about electricity. Wind energy offers a lot of economic benefit to rural Texas, too. In west Texas, land leased to wind turbine sites are paying farmers and ranchers during the current drought and helping them hold onto their land. How much do the leases pay? Sweetwater, Texas, hosts four of the biggest wind farms in the state. Since 2000, the tax base grew from $400 million to $3 billion. While that kind of prosperity sounds reminiscent of the oil boom years, there are no lasting, long term environmental impacts to water or air quality that could endanger livestock or people.

Interestingly enough, environmental concerns weren’t part of the decision making process in Georgetown, Texas, when the city’s electricity supply contract for its municipally-owned electric utility ended in 2012. What did matter at the time was the fluctuating cost of town’s electricity, particularly for senior residents living on fixed incomes. The city managers looked at the power options available and discovered that if they went with 100% renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, supplied to them by the CREZ power line system offered more stable, predictable pricing at a lower rate over the long term. A twenty year long contract, in fact.

But because the city will be 100% renewable this year, this little conservative bastion north of Austin is now attracting more investment and residential development.

UT Battery News!

Solid state batteries have been a pipe dream for years. Recently, the technology turned the pipe dream in to a technology that could enter the production pipeline with in a few years —if it turns out it actually works.

The Texas Renewable Energy Ripple Effect | Bounce Energy Blog

Professor John Goodenough of the University of Texas knows LOTS about the lithium ion battery because he co-invented it. Recently, though, the 94-year-old engineer teamed up with senior research fellow, Maria Helena Braga, to work on creating the first low-cost all-solid-state battery. A solid-state battery is unlike a regular battery in that the electrodes (both positive and negative) and the electrolyte are solid. Regular batteries usually rely on having a liquid to act as the electrolyte. Compared to liquid electrolytes, solid electrolytes have faster ion transport due to their crystal structure. The trick is to find a solid material that will let ions pass but not the electrons. When a lithium-ion battery is charged too quickly, it can grow whisker-like filaments, called “dendrites”, that reach across the liquid electrolyte. This creates a path for electrons and can lead to fires or explosions.

By using glass as the electrolyte and an alkali-metal anode, the risk for dendrites vanishes and so does the threat of fiery failures. The alkali-metal anode also increases the energy density. And since the glass electrolyte doesn’t freeze, this battery could work at subarctic temperatures. That’s —76°F. So, yes, you could have electric cars reliably touring around Montana during winter or electric airplanes flying over Siberia.

Just one problem — Goodenough’s and Braga’s research hasn’t been replicated, yet. The battery community is meanwhile battering each other with the feasibility of Dr. Goodenough’s work. One article observed that “The known rules of physics state that, to derive energy, differing material must produce differing electro-chemical reactions in the two opposing electrodes. That difference produces voltage, allowing energy to be stored. But Goodenough’s battery has pure metallic lithium or sodium on both sides. Therefore, the voltage should be zero, with no energy produced.”

Goodenough and Braga insist the battery works. Colleagues in the battery world can’t figure out how.

The battery industry is closely watching how things unfold. Dyson has already announced it will abandon it’s patents for a solid-state battery after buying a battery startup last year for $90 million. Elon Musk, owner of electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors, who is heavily invested in battery development quipped recently, “My top advice really for anyone who says they’ve got some breakthrough battery technology is please send us a sample cell, okay.”

 

Renewable energy can affect us in a lot of ways here in Texas, and Texans are helping to grow the technology behind it. As renewable energy continues to grow, be sure to look for our other posts about this technology.

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About 

A native of Wyomissing Hills, PA, Vernon Trollinger studied writing and film at the University of Iowa, later earning his MA in writing there as well. Following a decade of digging in CRM archaeology, he now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, DIY projects, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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