Everything is bigger in Texas and never more so than the devastating impact of winter storm Uri, which blew through the state leaving hundreds of thousands of power consumers still without electricity as Agenda went to press today (19 February), although the cold weather-spurred grid crisis was easing as temperatures rose and more generation came back on line.
Within hours of the collapse of the ERCOT network, which serves 90% of Texan demand, and with millions trapped in their homes in near-Arctic conditions, a blame-game erupted among pro- and anti-renewables frontliners. Wind critics including the state governor, Greg Abbott, reheated baseless claims that “unreliable” renewables technologies were to blame – though wind flow onto ERCOT was down only 1-1.5GW on forecasts for this time of year, while 30GW of gas-fired power blacked out – and US clean-power industry body ACPA hit back that this line of argument as “a politically opportunistic charade misleading Americans to promote an agenda that has nothing to do with restoring power to Texas communities”.
The truth will hopefully out with a joint investigation into ERCOT’s winter preparedness and its handling of the grid crisis that was launched by the federal regulatory bodies that oversee interstate transmission and sale of power and gas.
Recharge is reluctant to call it a gusher, but the flow of capital from the oil industry grows steadily by the day. The latest to put the ‘green’ in their investment greenbacks is US major Chevron, which with BP this week become part-owners of Eavor, the Canadian geothermal start-up whose technology offers nothing less than “unlimited, on-demand renewable energy anywhere in the world”.
Total, meanwhile, following a frenzied acquisition spree over the last 12 months, aims to have almost 100GW of renewables capacity online by the end of the decade, a target that would put it in the clean-power sector’s front rank. Research group Westwood places the French energy giant second only to renewable power titan Enel – which has a 145GW target – in terms of its headline ambitions for 2030, and ahead of the likes of Orsted and Iberdrola.
And Italy’s Eni this week committed to the full decarbonisation of all its products and processes by 2050, announcing plans to merge its renewables and retail businesses and expand its clean-power fleet to 60GW.
The ramp-up of capex from Big Oil into renewables is an encouraging sight – despite the outlay being still a single-digit percentage of total spend. But while the trend toward high clean-energy project investment is clear, as our new regular columnist Gerard Reid spelled out, oil & gas majors might be best off spinning out their clean-energy businesses given the increasing numbers of investors that are blocked from buying in to renewables due to their being parented by ‘high risk’ oil companies.
Energy storage, as we know, is going to be existentially important connective tissue for the wind, solar and other renewables technologies that are going to drive the energy transition, providing the flexibility and stability needed for clean energy to become the dominant source of power production globally in the years ahead.
But after years of market near-monopolisation, lithium-ion batteries – field-proven and scaleable and with costs dropping fast – are going to have to share some of the wealth with new ‘longer duration’ technologies, as the audience for Recharge’s latest digital roundtable heard. How this industrial landscape will take shape remains to be seen but the panel agreed, as we reported, ‘LD’ is heading for “very steep” growth as the sector enters its commercial phase.
Why not start your weekend by, ahem, ‘recharging’ with a viewing of the playback of the event here.
· This article was updated to reflect a more accurate phrasing for the drop in wind power seen on ERCOT during winter storm Uri.
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