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Could rooftop solar and electric vehicles help power the Texas electric grid? Regulators want to know

The Public Utility Commission wants to know how the state grid could utilize distributed energy resources.

AUSTIN, Texas — The people in charge of regulating the Texas electricity grid want ideas on how the state system can utilize smaller, even personal, energy resources such as rooftop solar, batteries and electric vehicles.

The Public Utility Commission (PUC) will consider distributed energy resources (DERs) when laying out future plans.

"Distributed generation refers to a variety of technologies that generate electricity at or near where it will be used, such as solar panels and combined heat and power," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's website shows.

The PUC is redesigning the electric market in Texas. 

A deadly winter storm in February 2021 crippled the State's largest electric grid. Homes lost power as temperatures plunged into single digits. Some of those outages lasted nearly a week. The state grid was minutes away from total blackout.

PUC Commissioner Will McAdams filed a memo asking for ideas.

"This is a dynamic and evolving area of the energy industry that, as the memo alludes to, is growing leaps and bounds by the day and has only accelerated after a Winter Storm Uri. Because everybody is looking at trying to have some type of backup power source on their house," McAdams said in a public commission meeting Thursday.

McAdams wrote in the memo, "While power markets have historically relied on generation resources to supply power and provide grid reliability, we are at a turning point where consumers should be empowered to actively participate in the market to reduce local congestion and improve grid resiliency. At the same time, we should be able to build a grid that allows these resources to support our resource adequacy and resiliency goals."

McAdams said his memo was "a cry for help."

"There's a lot of technology and resources out there. But at the end of the day, as you've said, many times, we need to have the right level of command and control to ensure those resources can be utilized for a lot of things,"  Peter Lake, PUC chairman, said.

Typically, electricity starts with a generator like coal or natural gas. Then, the material gets processed and the electricity goes onto the power grid. Transmission and distribution lines take the energy to homes and businesses.

When connected to the grid, DERs can provide power to the owner and additional customers. DERs are found in residential, commercial and industrial sectors.

"It's the holy grail issue. If we can ever crack the code on that, then the grid has unlimited potential in terms of segmentation, in terms of resiliency capability, in terms of resource adequacy," McAdams said.

All three commissioners agreed to take submissions.

"These are important questions and I believe we ought to be going on with it and in the most expeditious way we can," James Glotfelty, PUC commissioner, said.

"Thank you for your leadership, Commissioner McAdams, on these issues. These are great questions and I like your focus on both inside and outside of ERCOT," Lori Cobos, PUC commissioner, said.

The filed memos show “this will require system-wide investments.”

Ideas must include:

  • Distribution planning and control
  • Transmission and distribution plans, processes and standards
  • Cost analysis
  • Data accessibility to set baselines, improve development and address security concerns

The commission will take ideas through June 15.

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