Texas’ Permian Basin has led the U.S. in its oil-production boom.

The state also plays a leading role at the other end of the line—a growing base of energy consumers.

Over the next five to six years, the power demands on the Texas-only Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) grid are expected to grow from 85.5 gigawatts (GW) to potentially 150 GW, said Kristi Hobbs, the organization’s vice president for system planning and weatherization. Hobbs shared her perspective on May 17 at Hart Energy’s SUPER DUG Conference & Expo in Fort Worth.  

The state is seeing large-scale population and industrial growth and is preparing for a predicted artificial intelligence (AI) data center boom. Everyone will need a dependable source of electrical power, and a large proportion of it is likely to come from gas-fired generation plants — even though the state’s fastest-growing sector in power generation is solar.

“We know the sun goes down at night, batteries only last for so long. We know on those winter days, the sun may not be shining all day,” Hobbs said. “So, it’s going to take all types of generation to be able to meet the needs of Texas.”

ERCOT is the non-profit grid operator controlling 90% of the state’s electrical load for more than 27 million customers.

The grid operator is in the initial stages of designing a 2030 transmission plan. Thanks to the addition of AI data centers to the grid, utilities in parts of the state along the I-35 corridor are anticipating a large increase in load.

Over the last few years, Texas has seen rapid growth in the solar power generation sector, and the trend is expected to continue through at least 2025, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Currently, natural gas provides 44.3% of the state’s power generation, compared to 25.2% for wind, 13.2% for solar and 9.8% for coal.

Power plant developers plan to add around 24 GW of solar power for net summer capacity to the grid in 2024 and 2025, compared with only 3 GW of additional wind power capacity during the same period, according to the EIA.

Solar’s primary advantage over other forms of power generation is that it can be added quickly; a large solar farm does not require the same lengthy development process as a gas or nuclear plant. However, solar and wind energy are also intermittent, and the inconsistency complicates the task of the people who control the grid.

“We're no longer in a stage where we can just rely on flipping the switch of the natural gas plant or the coal plant or the nuclear plant to serve our needs,” Hobbs said. “We're having to manage daily whether or not when the sun goes down, will the wind be blowing, will the batteries be charged, to be able to meet the needs of the demand.”

Hobbs said that, while new solar projects still lead, there’s been a large uptick in requests for more natural gas power generation within the last six months. Also, Texas voters approved a new $10 billion energy fund in November 2023, with most funds going to the repair and construction of natural gas power plants. Hobbs said ERCOT will have a much clearer picture of the state’s future gas-powered generation at the end of May.