Experts watching Houston's energy industry say the pandemic has accelerated the transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy — and demand is growing worldwide for clean, affordable energy.
It comes as leaders in Texas are working to increase reliability of the electric grid after last February’s deadly winter storm caused widespread outages across the state.
Growth in renewable energy will be key making the grid better able to handle sharp increases in energy demand, like what happened during Winter Storm Uri.
To learn more about what's expected in 2022 for clean energy, Houston Public Media spoke with Gavin Dillingham, Vice President of Research for energy with the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC).
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What's one area of focus that people should be paying attention to when it comes to renewable energy this year?
One of the key areas that we really think people are paying attention to, or should start paying attention to, is more grid flexible buildings, better understanding the interaction between energy consumption in buildings and how the buildings can actually serve and help support the grid through energy efficiency, of course, so whether weatherizing residential properties, but also improving the efficiency and operations of commercial spaces.
And so better understanding the interactions between our buildings and the grid, and that dynamic between supply and demand, is really an area that’s going to continue to grow and expand quite a bit and complement the deployment of solar plus storage.
On the topic of storage, in the past it's been cited as a challenge for renewable and clean energy. What do you expect to see in terms of storage?
Storage continues to come down significantly in price, especially when you look at larger utility scale storage systems. Storage is competing very well against natural gas peaker plants and actually are lower cost than the natural gas peaker plant.
And so you see a significant growth in interest in storage. Some of it’s co-located with renewable systems, with solar systems or wind farms. Others are located independently and kind of strategically placed in areas where there’s congestion or other types of grid constraints.
And when you look at the interconnection queue for ERCOT, there’s a significant dramatic growth in the amount of storage projects that are coming online.
What about the trend of people bringing renewable projects, things like solar panels and electric vehicle plug-ins, to their homes?
I think resilience is going to really drive a lot of people’s desire around this, and I think people are looking at different models to fund it. One of the projects we are finishing up now is with the DOE (U.S. Department of Energy) Solar Energy Technology Office that provides micro solar plus storage.
And so these are 1,000 watt systems – so fairly small systems – but they can provide basic necessities during a short power outage, one to two day power outage. And so in lieu of, say, a natural gas generator or a gasoline generator, you can have these systems on site and they can provide some pretty significant benefits in that regard.
A lot of people can’t afford right now that whole house (solar) system, but these smaller ones can at least provide the basic necessities.