Solar power to push much of remaining Texas coal fleet offline: IEEFA

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Image: Innovative Solar Systems.

A surge in new utility-scale solar is poised to push much of the remaining coal-fired power fleet in Texas into retirement in the next few years, according to a report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).

The research describes the increasing vulnerability of coal plants across the power generation market managed by the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), an area that covers most of the state. It sees upward of 70% of daytime coal-fired generation in ERCOT being at risk by 2022.

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According to IEEFA, wind-fired generation has set the stage for the rise of utility-scale solar, in effect delivering a one-two punch to a coal fleet that is down to 11 plants and will number ten by October.

“Coal-fired power generation in Texas, pummelled by clean, no-fuel-cost wind over the past ten years, is about to be hit by a second wave of competition from renewables as utility-scale solar power stands to gain significant market share over the next few years,” said Dennis Wamsted, an IEEFA analyst and lead author of the report.

He added that while installed solar power capacity in the US has grown by almost 4,000% over the past ten years, its growth rate across ERCOT has been even faster, with installed capacity increasing from just 15MW in 2010 to 2,281MW at the end of 2019, a 15,107% increase. ERCOT’s installed capacity could climb at a comparable rate this year, with current projections showing solar topping 5.8GW by the end of 2020.

The report concludes that the gathering utility-scale solar surge will irreversibly alter the market’s daily dynamics and drive more coal plants offline by 2025.

“This June, for example, solar generation supplied 4-5% of daytime electricity demand on many occasions,” the report states. “Given its low cost and given the Texas grid’s energy-only business model, which pays for electricity produced rather than mere generation capacity, solar is gaining – and will continue to gain – market share. This will come at the expense of more costly generation, most likely coal-fired, which will be backed out of the ERCOT generation mix by a comparable amount.”

The report underscores the importance of the rise in battery storage technology, which is evolving quickly and is being adopted by a growing number of utilities and independent power producers.

Publication of the report comes a week after solar and storage developer 8minute Solar Energy announced the completion of its first utility-scale solar project in Texas. The 280MWdc/200MWdc Holstein solar farm, built alongside Duke Energy Renewables, marks a “significant milestone” for 8minute, the company said.

8minute currently has a further four projects in late stages of development in the Lone Star state, representative of nearly 1GW of capacity. Tom Buttgenbach, president and CEO of 8minute, said the company was bringing its solar and storage development expertise to “forge a new energy model in Texas”.

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