The Rise of the Zero Emission Power Plant?


With recent declared emergencies from ERCOT, let’s talk about something a little more cheerful. According to various sources, the power plant builder Net Power recently demonstrated at their power plant in La Porte, Texas that producing electricity without CO2 emissions is possible and actually pretty scalable across the country.

As James Conca at Forbes says, “Not using air also avoids generating NOx, the main atmospheric and health contaminant emitted from gas plants.” So these net-zero plants are definitely a boon to our environment. Increased temperatures and climate change betray a large carbon footprint, and technologies like these are a telling sign that Texas is working hard to combat climate change. 

Designing Net-Zero Plants from the Ground Up

According to David Goldstein, achieving net zero (often also called ‘zero net’) production means that a power plant produces “as much renewable energy onsite as they consume in a year.” But greenhouse gas emissions can be a little trickier to reduce.

Often, plants added extra steps after the fact, which resulted in wasted, more expensive energy. But utilizing the Allam Cycle, Net Zero and other parties have designed the whole process anew and have actually lessened the cost of producing nearly zero emissions of harmful greenhouse gas. And because of this lessened cost, creating these power plants is actually less expensive than conventional plants.

And as the plant at La Porte, Texas shows, there is now no excuse to replace coal plants with these environmentally-friendly versions. Coal plants are already being phased out and not producing well, but is Net Power’s vision realistic? Or is it overly optimistic?

A Step in the Right Direction for Texas

Texas has been criticized for muddying the waters on the climate change issue. In this opinion piece by The Hill, Jeremy Symons states that the EIA data has shown Midwestern and Southeastern states are cutting the most emissions. As he says, “These states, which often had particularly high concentrations of coal-fired pollution, have benefited most from the shift to cleaner sources of electric power.” 

Seeing that Texas is the leading energy producer and consumer in the country, it’s common to expect that emissions might be highest here. But as Jeremy Symons states, the biggest changes in other states came from switching from coal plants to cleaner sources. 

If the plant in La Porte says anything about the future of energy production plants in Texas, then things are looking pretty optimistic. Hopefully this will be a strong move in making Texas a greener state.

What The Blistering Summer of 2019 Has Meant for Texas Natural Gas and Electricity Prices

The power sector has been vastly affected by this recent and unprecedented heat wave that has hit the United States. In fact, last month was historically significant as the hottest in recorded history

So, it comes as no surprise that energy demand and electricity usage soared  last month as a result, and demand is still high in August.

But as the EIA has stated in a recent report, the mixture of the high temperature and the low price of natural gas has proven to be a record-setting month for natural gas use in the country. And because Texas is already one of the leading energy consumers and producers, you can bet that this is affecting the Lone Star State heavily.

Quick Facts About Texas Natural Gas

In this overview, the EIA shows just how much oil and natural gas that Texas produces: in 2017 alone Texas accounted for 24% of the nation’s natural gas production. Additionally, the EIA has data that shows that “Texas is the largest energy-producing state and the largest energy-consuming state in the nation.” 

And as the Department of the Interior recently announced regarding the oil reserves in the Permian Basin, there is about 281 trillion cubic feet of natural gas stored there. These are technically continuous resources as well. 

Natural Gas Prices Are Extremely Low In Texas Right Now 

According to Reuters, Texas uses the most natural gas for generating power than any other state. To drive this usage up even more, there is a record-setting abundance of natural has in the Permian basin. So as demands for electricity generation increase because of the summer, cheap gas is being used to generate electricity more frequently. 

Reuters also states that “the Waha Hub in West Texas, which touched a record low of negative $9/mmBtu in April.” This is strongly correlated with the strong shift from coal to natural gas usage in recent years.

But how is this affecting electricity prices for consumers and wholesalers?

A Resultant Rise in Electricity Prices?

According to data curated by Bloomberg, “The unprecedented market rally highlights how volatile the Texas power market has become as coal-fired power plants, which have seen their profits squeezed by cheap natural gas and renewable energy resources, continue to close.”

So yes, because natural gas has been thriving, prices have been climbing. Because after all, in a July that has seen record after record, prices hit a record high this week with a 36,000% increase in wholesale electricity prices.

And this is all compounded by a smaller than usual amount of wind-generated electricity in the region. 

Overall though, with natural gas production as high as it has been this month, as per the previous EIA report, will prices continue to rise or will they soon level out? And just like the temperature, what goes up must eventually come down. Let’s hope that it’s sooner than later!