Texas clearly possesses abundant renewable energy resources. The presence of a good resource area alone, however, does not guarantee that it will be exploited to provide useful energy services. Issues such as potential environmental and social impacts, public acceptance, and a host of technical and financial matters will dictate whether a site is acceptable for development. One significant technical issue relates to the ability to economically move energy from a good resource area to a location where it can be used.
Many technologies employing renewable energy sources are well suited to small-scale, distributed applications located where the energy service is needed. Examples include daylighting of structures, properly designed roof overhangs (to reduce cooling requirements), rooftop solar panels, ranch and farm wind turbines, and space heating from firewood or geothermal sources.
Distributed generation serving end-use loads incurs neither the losses associated with the delivery of electricity (losses of about 10%) nor the transportation energy required for the delivery of solid and gaseous fuels. Additionally, distributed generation frees up capacity of conventional energy delivering systems, thereby reducing the need for additional investment in transportation infrastructure.
In a study for the SEDC, several of the state's major electric utilities evaluated the cost of electric transmission facilities needed to transport electricity from five renewable energy resource areas to major population centers such as Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. Their results, summarized in Figure 16 below, indicate that renewable energy installations at different locations in Texas may incur significantly different transmission costs. For instance, transmission improvements needed to carry electricity from some areas of West Texas may add as much as 35% to the total price tag for a large wind power plant. Yet, if this same wind plant were located near Kleberg in South Texas, transmission costs would amount to less than 5% of the total project cost.
A second study that examined the Texas electric grid was performed by Electric Power Engineers (EPE) in conjunction with this resource assessment project. Their goal was to evaluate limits of the Texas transmission network in distributing electric power generated from renewable resources. Twenty-nine prospective renewable energy generation sites distributed throughout the state were considered. Even with no new power lines, the EPE load flow analysis suggests that many large renewable energy power plants could be added to the grid (Figure 17). The small numbers in the Panhandle and Trans-Pecos suggest that new transmission lines will be required to build sizable power plants in these good resource areas.
In addition to electricity, one of the most promising near-term market pathways for Texas renewables is in the transportation sector. A new federal regulation requires that a portion of the oxygenates used in the making of reformulated gasoline (RFG) be derived from renewable sources. RFG will be mandated in many cities with air pollution problems. Much of the nation's capacity for manufacturing fuel oxygenates is in Texas, and Texas biomass could someday be a source for the alcohols from which they are derived.