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Renewable energy could replace coal power in Texas

Texas could potentially be a model for solar and wind energy, according to a new study led by environmental engineer Daniel Cohan and computer science student Richard Morse, both of Rice University. The researchers modeled the most cost effective combinations of wind and solar in Texas, noting that neither alone is a silver bullet.

“Simply put, it’s not always windy and not always sunny, but it’s almost always windy or sunny somewhere in Texas.”

The research builds on previous work by Cohan’s lab and shows the possibility of all coal being replaced by wind and solar in Texas. In fact, the researchers discovered that just a third of the solar and wind projects already proposed to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas would be enough to replace coal. 

“This paper is really about how we can transition away from coal as quickly as possible,” said Cohan. “Texas still burns more coal and emits more sulfur dioxide and other pollution than any other state. Even though a transition is inevitable, it’s urgent that we move off coal as quickly as possible to improve air quality and health.” 

In Texas, transmission lines are needed to connect the windiest and sunniest parts of the state where solar and wind projects would take place with the places where energy is consumed.

“In Texas, that’s the biggest bottleneck slowing the growth of wind and solar,” said Cohan. “The bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed last year is a good start, but doesn’t have nearly enough funding for transmission. Also, by not connecting to other grids, Texas has missed out on opportunities to sell surplus wind and solar power to other states.” 

Natural gas is still expected to be a necessary part of Texas’ energy mix for the near future. Solar and wind fluctuate on a daily basis and also throughout each day, while natural gas can be used at any time of day or night. Although different peaks in wind in different parts of the state combined with solar will cover much of the state’s power demands, it won’t yet meet all of them. 

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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