Texas is a viable host for a variety of energy generation methods, with wind and solar leading as the state’s largest sources of green energy. While Texans have already made strides in producing green energy for consumers and businesses alike, there may still be a lot of potential for green energy production advancements. Read on to learn about the wind and solar energy technology that could be in Texas’ future.
Feeling the Breeze from the Wind Industry in the Lone Star State
In December 2016, the Block Island Wind Farm began producing power off the coast of Rhode Island. Small by utility company standards, the five-turbine 30-megawatt (MW) project is the very first offshore wind farm in the United States. Deepwater Wind, who owns the project, has since developed two other offshore wind farms off the coasts of Long Island, New York and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
What does this have to do with Texas?
Simply put – the potential for 10 to 200+ gigawatts of wind generation capacity. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, uses up to about 70 GW of electricity to power Texas during the summer peaks. Unfortunately, efforts to build offshore Texas wind farms haven’t progressed much since the state’s first offshore wind leases were awarded in 2007, for projects planned near Galveston. Problems facing Texas offshore wind include the sheer expense, especially with threat of hurricanes.
Offshore wind turbine foundations closest to shore are those sunk directly into the bedrock. Further out, the foundations become bigger and more complex. Turbines need to stand nearly 200 feet tall to harvest offshore winds, and those bases must be more robust, and in some cases, they need to reach 150 feet below surface to endure the waves and tides.
But wind energy is now a more competitive investment, and offshore wind projects are big business with plenty of big players ready to get their feet wet. In Europe, the oil and natural gas giant, Royal Dutch Shell, is developing the world’s largest offshore wind project, the Borssele wind project, in the North Sea off the coast of the Netherlands.
Ironically, this is exactly where offshore wind generation in Texas could benefit from the expertise of folks already looking for more work — the offshore Gulf oil rig building companies.
Cheap Solar May Depend on Scientists Finding the Right Stuff
In terms of solar energy generation, Texas is consistently near the top of the state rankings. With over 2,000 MW of solar already installed, Texas is looking to install an additional 4 GW in the next five years. The biggest obstacle is cost. One way of reducing that cost is to find something cheaper than silicon crystal to make panels. That’s been a vexing challenge because there’s a material that’s tantalizingly close to being perfect.
Calcium titanium oxide – also know as “Perovskite” – is highly efficient at converting sunlight to electricity — up to 26 percent efficiency. For comparison, the internal combustion engine in your car has an energy conversion rate around 25 percent. It can even be made transparent for use on windows.
The problem with the stuff is… well, there are problems with the stuff. Perovskites are a type of crystalline material that can be formed using a wide variety of different chemical combinations. Specifically, methylammonium lead iodide perovskite (MAPbI3) has been the most widely studied and shows much promise at becoming highly efficient. However, it has a very short life span when used “in the wild.” Perovskite crystals are very reactive and delicate to handle, which makes it risky to expose them to the elements. Moisture, heat and ambient oxygen all cause these crystals to break down.
Recent research into Perovskites revealed some important findings:
- Researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands found that a coating of aluminum oxide only a few nanometers thick not only protected the Perovskite solar cell from failure due to humidity and extended their lifespan, but also boosted the power yield from 15 percent to 18 percent. At the end of two months of exposure to humid atmosphere conditions, untreated cells were down to just 12 percent of their original yield while the treated cells were still putting out 60-70 percent.
- At the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST), researchers examined the Perovskite solar cell degradation process itself. They discovered that even if the cells are kept at ideal conditions and safe from humidity, oxygen and heat, the MAPbI3 version destroys itself as it gradually degrades to lead iodide (PbI2). Little by little, MAPbI3 releases iodide gas. The more iodide gas the Perovskite releases, the faster it degrades. In time, no matter how well protected, the Perovskite degrades to uselessness.
As a result, iodide-based perovskites will either need tinkering to be made stable or be replaced with something more promising. The technology is there, but efforts will still need to be made to make it more sustainable and durable for public consumption.