The United States Department of Energy is doling out over $200 million for grid improvements — and one of the largest portions will be coming to Texas. Photo via Getty Images

Texas is getting $60.6 million in federal grants to bolster the state’s frequently taxed power grid.

The funding, announced July 6 by the U.S. Department of Energy, totals over $200 million to be distributed across the country. The Lone Star State's chunk will be earmarked for pinpointing gaps in the grid’s dependability and reducing weather-related grid disruptions. The Texas Division of Energy Management will decide how to dole out the money.

“By itself, is $60 million going to be determinative to make our grid reliable? Of course not,” Doug Lewin, president of Austin-based energy consulting firm Stoic Energy, tells the Austin American-Statesman. “It’ll cost more than that, but every bit counts, and $60 million is not a small amount of money, so [the state] could probably do a lot of good with that.”

The Texas grid infamously came under intense scrutiny in February 2021 during and after the statewide deep freeze. The cold snap caused power plants and natural gas facilities to fail, leading to blackouts around the state and at least 200 deaths.

The February 2021 disaster “exposed the inability of the state’s energy supply chain to withstand extremely cold temperatures,” the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas observes. The bank adds that “questions remain whether the electrical grid is now more resilient to winter weather.”

Although the grid has held up during this year’s heat wave, some observers wonder how long the grid can handle record-setting demand and still keep the lights (and air conditioning) on. So far, an abundance of wind and solar power has rescued Texas from the same fate that crippled the state in February 2021.

All eyes then and now are on the quasi-governmental Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which delivers power to about 90 percent of the state.

Since ERCOT’s winter debacle two years ago, state officials have beefed up weatherization requirements for power generation, power transmission, and natural gas facilities. Meanwhile, ERCOT underwent a management overhaul and bumped up its backup supply of thermal power.

During the state legislative session in 2021, a measure that would have earmarked $2 billion for weatherization of Texas power facilities passed in the House but stalled in the Senate.

This year, Texas lawmakers created a fund containing as much as $10 billion for loans and grants to encourage construction and maintenance of gas-fueled power plants. Gov. Greg Abbott signed that bill. But separate legislation that would have set aside billions of dollars to build a network of gas-powered backup plants died in the House.

A report published in 2022 by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy faulted ERCOT for the previous year’s winter chaos but didn’t pin sole blame on the organization. The report recommended better coordination among state regulators regarding the power grid, including potential formation of a state agency dedicated solely to energy issues. Today, the Texas Railroad Commission and Public Utility Commission of Texas largely share oversight of energy matters in the state.

“All forms of generation capacity experienced failures,” says the institute’s report on the 2021 winter catastrophe, “but bureaucratic failure in identifying and addressing risks along fuel supply chains was a major failure.”

Rising temps could result in rolling brownouts this summer–unless we work together to reduce the strain on the electric grid. Photo via Shutterstock

NERC warns of summer energy shortfalls–what you can do now

THINGS ARE HEATING UP

The North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) issued a warning with the 2023 Summer Reliability Assessment yesterday – energy shortages could be coming this summer for two-thirds of North America if temperatures spike higher than normal.

“Increased, rapid deployment of wind, solar and batteries have made a positive impact,” Mark Olson, NERC’s manager of reliability assessments says in the release. “However, generator retirements continue to increase the risks associated with extreme summer temperatures, which factors into potential supply shortages in the western two-thirds of North America if summer temperatures spike.”

For Texans, the combined risk of drought and higher-than-normal temperatures could stress ERCOT system resources, especially in the case of reduced wind. But before there’s a mad rush on generators, keep in mind, electricity consumers can take simple actions to minimize the possibility of widespread shortfalls.

Electricity demand begins rising daily around 2 P.M. in the summer and peaks in the final hours of daylight. These hours are generally not only the warmest hours of the day but also the busiest. People return from work to their homes, crank down the air conditioner, turn on TVs, run a load of wash, and prepare meals using multiple electric-powered appliances.

If everyone takes one or two small steps to avoid unnecessary stress on the grid in the hours after coming home from work, we can prevent energy shortfalls. Modify routines now to get into the habit of running the dishwasher overnight, using the washer and dryer before noon or after 8 pm and pulling the shades down in the bright afternoon hours of the day.

Try to delay powering up devices – including EVs – until after dark. Turn off and unplug items to avoid sapping electricity when items are not in use. And if you can bear it, nudge that thermostat up a couple of degrees.

Energy sustainability demands consistent collaboration and coordination from every consumer of energy. Let’s get in the habit of acting neighborly now with conservative electricity practices before we start seeing temperatures–of both the literal and figurative kind–flare.

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ExxonMobil revs up EV pilot in Permian Basin

seeing green

ExxonMobil has upgraded its Permian Basin fleet of trucks with sustainability in mind.

The Houston-headquartered company announced a new pilot program last week, rolling out 10 new all-electric pickup trucks at its Cowboy Central Delivery Point in southeast New Mexico. It's the first time the company has used EVs in any of its upstream sites, including the Permian Basin.

“We expect these EV trucks will require less maintenance, which will help reduce cost, while also contributing to our plan to achieve net zero Scope 1 and 2 emissions in our Permian operations by 2030," Kartik Garg, ExxonMobil's New Mexico production manager, says in a news release.

ExxonMobil has already deployed EV trucks at its facilities in Baytown, Beaumont, and Baton Rouge, but the Permian Basin, which accounts for about half of ExxonMobil's total U.S. oil production, is a larger site. The company reports that "a typical vehicle there can log 30,000 miles a year."

The EV rollout comes after the company announced last year that it plans to be a major supplier of lithium for EV battery technology.

At the end of last year, ExxonMobil increased its financial commitment to implementing more sustainable solutions. The company reported that it is pursuing more than $20 billion of lower-emissions opportunities through 2027.

Cowboys and the EVs of the Permian Basin | ExxonMobilyoutu.be

Energy industry veteran named CEO of Houston hydrogen co.

GOOD AS GOLD

Cleantech startup Gold H2, a spinout of Houston-based energy biotech company Cemvita, has named oil and gas industry veteran Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon as its CEO.

Sekhon previously held roles at companies such as NextEra Energy Resources and Hess. Most recently, he was a leader on NextEra’s strategy and business development team.

Gold H2 uses microbes to convert oil and gas in old, uneconomical wells into clean hydrogen. The approach to generating clean hydrogen is part of a multibillion-dollar market.

Gold H2 spun out of Cemvita last year with Moji Karimi, co-founder of Cemvita, leading the transition. Gold H2 spun out after successfully piloting its microbial hydrogen technology, producing hydrogen below 80 cents per kilogram.

The Gold H2 venture had been a business unit within Cemvita.

“I was drawn to Gold H2 because of its innovative mission to support the U.S. economy in this historical energy transition,” Sekhon says in a news release. “Over the last few years, my team [at NextEra] was heavily focused on the commercialization of clean hydrogen. When I came across Gold H2, it was clear that it was superior to each of its counterparts in both cost and [carbon intensity].”

Gold H2 explains that oil and gas companies have wrestled for decades with what to do with exhausted oil fields. With Gold H2’s first-of-its-kind biotechnology, these companies can find productive uses for oil wells by producing clean hydrogen at a low cost, the startup says.

“There is so much opportunity ahead of Gold H2 as the first company to use microbes in the subsurface to create a clean energy source,” Sekhon says. “Driving this dynamic industry change to empower clean hydrogen fuel production will be extremely rewarding.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.