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Montana’s Clean Energy Profile

Montana MountainsI’m starting to wonder if ‘MT’ standing for both Montana and Mountain was intentional. On the way into Montana on our summer trip, we took Interstate 90 east, until heading north on Interstate 95 through the Kaniksu National Forest. I say this as an understatement, since even from the road, we saw chipmunks, a bald eagle(!), millions of pine trees, and wide, rocky streams passing through more mountains than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.

We finally got across the state, and into the dense Kootenai forest, we unpacked for one night, hoping we may still be able to acquire one of the non-reservable, first-come-first-serve campgrounds within Glacier National Park.

Having seen a large portion of the state at this point, I would have guessed there would be lots of hydro power and dams to utilize the rivers running rampant throughout the state – and, I would have been right! Check out the Chart below showing the Energy Generation of Montana per month, as of June 2021:

Montana Energy Generation

Montana Net Electricity Generation by Source, per Month (click on the photo to learn more).

While they aren’t producing quite as much Hydro electricity as Washington (see comparable chart, here: https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=WA#tabs-4), it’s certainly impressive that this beautiful state is leveraging it’s streams and rivers for even more than fly-fishing. Another impressive state from their profile on EIA.gov, was that “In 2019, Montana ranked among the top 10 states with the largest share of electricity generated from renewables, about 45%. Montana is also the sixth-largest producer of hydroelectric power in the nation, and 6 of the state’s 10 largest generating plants produce hydropower” (https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=MT#tabs-1).

I almost laughed out loud upon reading this ‘Quick Fact’ about Montana’s energy consumption: “Montana’s temperature extremes and its small population contribute to the state’s residential sector having the second-highest per capita energy consumption of any state, behind only North Dakota” (https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=MT#tabs-1) – because it couldn’t be truer than if I’d visited the Sahara desert (see what I mean, here: https://www.livescience.com/why-do-deserts-get-cold-at-night.html).

On our first day in Montana, the high temp was roughly 90 degrees Fahrenheit, however the very next day the temperatures had dropped drastically – to a high in the mid-sixties Fahrenheit, and lows in the mid-thirties Fahrenheit at night (in August no less!) – and that was before we even arrived in the mountains of Glacier National Park! Perhaps had I studied this information prior to visiting Montana, I would have known better and brought a few more long-johns and layers. Still, we survived snuggling through the nights with our two dogs, and spent the next few days walking the foothills of the Apgar campground within Glacier National Park – an undeniably gorgeous site – and well worth the temperature changes.

I fully understood why residents of this state were so keen on protecting it – via clean energy and hydroelectricity production, or through private and federal land protections, like those we were camping in (not to mention several throughout the state: https://www.visitmt.com/).

It’s a beautiful destination and as long as you have a small, butane stove for camping, or a well-ventilated fire place inside of your home, you should be set to stay warm in the cooler months, which apparently includes late August. In the cooler winter months, it’s likely you will need natural gas to power many appliances and heat your home. When it comes to finding a hot shower while camping in Montana however, you’re on your own! Good luck, and stay warm.

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Check Out Utah’s Energy Profile

Utah

In addition to the large, majestic rocky mountains and valleys throughout the state, not to mention the beautiful ranches and pastures everywhere, I was very excited to see a few large-scale solar farms during my time in Utah. Looking at the climate, which is certainly consistent with what we experienced, it’s not hard to see why (check out the following to see what I mean: https://www.visitutah.com/plan-your-trip/weather). There is plenty of sunshine in Utah, and while the temperature may fluctuate greatly throughout the year, or even throughout the day, because humidity is low, the climate can be fairly arid.

From the sound of it, and by the appearance of it, solar energy should be pretty wide-spread in Utah, right? Well, they’re certainly improving in the area of bio fuels anyway – check out the full report from Energy.gov, here: https://energy.utah.gov/wp-content/uploads/Utahs-Energy-Landscape-5th-Edition.pdf. According to the report, “Renewable energy has historically been dominated by hydroelectric power, but geothermal and wind have grown in significance over the past two decades. Nearly 1 gigawatt of utility-scale solar was built in 2015 and 2016, more capacity than hydroelectric, geothermal, and wind combined, creating a large spike in renewable energy production in recent years (but still only enough to increase renewables’ share from about 2% to 6%).”

For like comparisons from previous state energy profile blogs however (Texas, https://suntexllc.com/3673-2/; New Mexico; Colorado), let’s also check out the following link and see what we can find: https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=UT:

  • “Utah accounts for 1 in every 10 barrels of crude oil produced in the Rocky Mountain region. The state’s five oil refineries, all located in the Salt Lake City area, can process nearly 200,000 barrels of crude oil per calendar day.”
  • “In 2020, 61% of Utah’s electricity net generation came from coal-fired power plants, down from 75% five years earlier, while natural gas-fired and solar power generation increased.”
  • “Utah’s per capita energy consumption in the residential sector is the third-lowest among the states, after Hawaii and California.”

Utah

Looking at the full picture, it seems as though Utah has a pretty healthy energy system, particularly given their lower demand for energy overall in comparison with the other 49 U.S. states, and has rapidly begun to increase the use of renewable energy sources. Given the state’s particular climate, and wide-open mountain views, it’s easy to see that while they’re not the large drivers of climate change, we would be remiss not to consider the land here a vital environment worth protecting. As for me, I can’t wait to go back and see it someday in the near future! Feel free to add your favorite destinations in Utah in the comments below.

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Texas Energy: Riding through Texas with my Woes

If you’re a Drake fan you’ve likely heard this line, but in all reality we were too excited about the month long adventure to focus on any ‘woes’. Since I promised Alejandra (my boss) I would relate these posts back to the energy grid somehow, today we’ll explore the energy make-up of Texas, and then we will focus on New Mexico, and finally the Colorado energy grid — with a particular emphasis on green energy production in each state.

TEXAS ENERGY PROFILE 

As a Texan working for a Texas-based energy company, we’ve focused a lot on the local energy grid and how it’s managed in previous blogs – see below links for reference:

Including where we currently stand and what updates (if any) have happened to improve the grid since the February freeze, here…

Texas Energy Grid Updates

 

However, today we’ll focus on the energy grid at large, and really highlight the major benefits of the Texas energy market as a whole.

For starters, say what you will about the climate crisis (and there is a LOT to say for sure), however since in the past century we’ve been collectively focused as Americans on mass production, much of the economic gains could not have been possible without the Texas oil and gas industry. For an interesting history of the oil boom, check out the following article from the Texas Almanac: https://texasalmanac.com/topics/business/oil-and-texas-cultural-history. To see a little more about oil production in the Lone Star state, I turn to our friends at the Energy Industry Administration, https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=TX.

As stated before on this blog (), the EIA.gov website is an incredible useful source of information when it comes to US energy production and consumption rates, and there are a few bullet-points on the Texas Profile & Energy Estimates page that bear repeating (https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=TX):

  • “In 2020, Texas accounted for 43% of the nation’s crude oil production and 26% of its marketed natural gas production.”
  • “The 31 petroleum refineries in Texas can process almost 5.9 million barrels of crude oil per calendar day, which was 31% of the nation’s refining capacity as of January 2020.”
  • Texas produces more electricity than any other state, generating almost twice as much as Florida, the second-highest electricity-producing state.”

While the “oil and gas state” is certainly an accurate trademark, Texas is starting to make waves in the renewable energy market as well, as EIA.gov will also tell you:

“Texas leads the nation in wind-powered generation and produced about 28% of all U.S. wind-powered electricity in 2020. Wind power surpassed the state’s nuclear generation for the first time in 2014 and produced more than twice as much electricity as the state’s two nuclear power plants combined in 2020.”

It goes without saying that I have to quote the most recent numbers for the amount of solar capacity in the state, however sadly I must report that while we are improving, the total solar energy production in the state is still pretty dismal (see photos to right and left, or check out the original charts in the following link: https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/solar/where-solar-is-found.php).

If you have been following along with this blog for some time, you already know the capacity this state has for solar power. Why aren’t we achieving that yet? Feel free to post your ideas below, and hopefully together we can find the solution to getting more solar installed in the state of Texas! In the meantime, I’ll continue to support solar growth by: 1) working for a reputable solar company with a drive towards superior products and outstanding customer service, i.e. SUNTEX, and 2) continue my civic engagement by contacting local and state representatives to help support solar policies that help home owners like myself go solar. I hope you do the same, so that we can continue to support the nations’ energy demand as we move into the next phase of the Texas energy future.

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The Energy Grid: How Does It Work?

You may have a general understanding of the energy grid, though if you do not work in the industry it would be tough to understand the intricacies of the equipment and those in charge of regulating said equipment. At a basic level, energy is generated by a power plant, then transferred to a substation via power lines (for aggregation and distribution), then distributed to local power substations and energy regulators, until finally traveling through local power lines to your home. For a helpful graphic on how this works, check out the following link: https://www.choosetexaspower.org/energy-resources/how-the-power-grid-works/. The more power is generated, the more likely we are to be able to address high demand – like during the summer when temperatures increase to triple digits, or alternatively when – like we saw last week – they dip down to the single digits, and we all turn on our heaters at home. If there is too much energy demand on the grid, and demand surpasses supply, the entire grid could shut down or “fail,” causing systems to crash, which would require weeks or possibly months worth of infrastructure work to bring the power back online. Because of this delicate balance, there are several governance bodies in charge of regulating the grid – and making sure that we can meet demand for the entire state equitably. This is why when you decide to “go solar,” the company you work with will need to communicate your power production with the local utility via an “interconnection agreement” which allows them to plan ahead for your power generation to be connected to the grid.

Energy production in Texas comes from a variety of sources, including: Natural Gas, Coal, Oil/Petroleum, Nuclear energy, Hydro-electric power (dams), and Renewables such as Wind and Solar energy. The breakdown of how much of each material is used to power the state of Texas is as follows (chart found on U.S. Energy Information Administration, here: https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=TX):

The more energy is produced, the more is available for consumption, which is why solar plays such a pivotal role in the summer time when Texans use their air-conditioners to moderate the hot temperatures inside their homes – the more solar energy we harness in the summer time, the more equipped we are to deal with energy demand. As you can see, this type of energy currently makes up the smallest portion of our energy production equation – ergo, there’s nothing but potential for additional energy to enter the market if we all “go solar” – the real issue here is information, and the money to implement it. This is why things like the Federal Tax Credit or local utility incentives for solar energy are so important because they help consumers like you and me afford the ticket price of a new solar energy system, while allowing us to pay no more than our current electric bill.

What about in the winter time, when the days are shorter and there is less sunlight to turn into power? Well, you’re not wrong to be skeptical – solar panels do typically produce less energy in the winter than in the summer – however they are not obsolete. More energy production allows for more energy consumption, so even if your solar panels produce less in the winter, if we all had solar energy on our roofs, can you imagine how much more energy we might have had last week to power the grid when the natural gas and coal plants froze? What’s stopping you from helping power the grid?

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