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Welcome to Texas – America’s energy storage laboratory

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Texas is well-known as the home of the oil and gas industry. Over the last decade it has also become the nation's wind power leader. Today, it is poised to be America's testbed for energy storage technologies.

The state’s image as the home of big oil and gas has been cultivated over the years through scenes with James Dean (Jett Rink) in Giant and Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing) in Dallas. Truth-be-told, much of the economic development in the past 100 years in Texas can trace its roots back to 1901 when Spindletop came gushing in and the real-world Jetts and J.R.s found their strides.

More recently, Texas has been finding strength in renewable energy. The state is currently home to more than 12 Gigawatts of wind power, which supplied 9.9% of total electricity demand in the state in 2013. The Lone Star State has become a model for rapid renewable energy expansion in the US, in part because of its unique, self-contained electric grid.

Operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, this grid allows for regulation of transmission on a state basis, as intrastate activities are not overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commissions (FERC). This means that, if Texans want to test the limits on how much renewable energy they put on the grid or see how energy storage technologies perform in a grid system, they can do so without waiting for Washington’s approval.

In other words, Texas is like a 100+ million acre test lab that the entire nation is benefiting from.

Today, Texas is using its unique autonomy to test a large variety of energy storage technologies, including five new lithium-ion batteries being installed in south Dallas. This project will help Oncor, the state's largest transmission company, figure out how to best manage their electricity portfolio including increasing shares of intermittent wind and power.

Oncor's latest project includes a set of five lithium-ion batteries that are stored in seperate green refrigerator-sized containers. These batteries will be installed over the summer to provide backup power to traffic lights, schools, and a fire station. All told, this $500,000 project includes 250 kilowatts (kW) in battery capacity - capable of storing enough electricity to power critical infrastructure when something unexpected happens.

On a much larger scale, Duke Energy's 36 Megawatt (MW) Notrees Energy Storage Project is testing lead-acid battery projects to back up wind power. Commissioned in 2012, the system is designed to compliment the 153 MW Notrees wind farm. The Texas energy storage portfolio also includes a 4 MW sodium sulphur battery in Presidio, Texas (to support the aging transmission grid and reduce power outages) and numerous other thermal energy storage projects aimed at reducing peak cooling demand in buildings.

As the nation moves toward a more sustainable energy future, it has certainly found a leader in Texas.

Photo credit: Photo by Frauke via Creative Commons.

H/T to Tali Trigg @talitrigg

Note: This article was edited post-publication to clarify that the new Oncor project will have 250 kW in rated battery capacity.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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