By Maya Velis, Research Associate, Water-Energy-Climate Nexus
Is Texas ready for a brighter future in a warming world? As the saying goes, everything is bigger in Texas. This saying rings true not only for the impacts of climate change, but also for the benefits of climate action. Texas is a testbed for innovative climate solutions, thanks in part to its business-friendly environment and public-private cooperation model. Today we highlight four big climate opportunities that Texas is seizing to boost competitiveness and help communities thrive.
Texas is at the frontier of a green energy revolution and is a global leader in terms of electricity generation capacity from renewable sources. An ongoing wind boom puts Texas at number one for its installed capacity of 33 gigawatts, exceeding that of any other state and almost all countries. Texas also leads the nation in solar projects in advanced development or under construction, with more than 7 gigawatts of solar capacity in late-project phases. HARC supports ERCOT in tracking developments in renewable energy generation to assess the impact of policy and regulatory decisions on market trends and inform investments in future project development.
Texas has built extensive experience with electricity grid enhancements to absorb this rapid uptake of renewables, including both large-scale infrastructure expansions and cutting-edge innovations on distributed generation. Deployment of digital technologies, smart grids, and energy storage solutions are gaining ground. Renewable technologies are becoming ever more competitive from an economic perspective yet have long remained out of reach for part of the population. HARC is working with the U.S. Department of Energy and its partners to address barriers to continued uptake, such as high upfront capital investment costs and information gaps, to get renewable technologies to scale.
Enhancing the potential of natural ecosystems to sequester and store carbon can offset 21% of the net emissions of the United States. Most Texans know and appreciate the vastness and the diversity of the natural ecosystems found within their state. It may come as a surprise, however, that ‘natural climate solutions’ in Texas are estimated to reduce atmospheric carbon by a staggering 52 million tons of carbon per year, more than the potential contribution of any other state. What is more, there is a growing recognition of the extra benefits that come with protecting or restoring nature: clean water, clean air, and more biodiversity. For example, HARC is using satellite imagery to assess the role of urban greenspace to provide shade and reduce heat in the city.
Another example of the uptake of natural climate solutions is the Texas carbon market initiative, one of the finalists of the Climate Challenge Cup under the umbrella of the international convention on climate change in Glasgow this month. This initiative would see Texas landowners – such as farmers and ranchers – rewild some of their prairies and grasslands to absorb and store carbon in the soil. Following careful monitoring and measurement, these additional carbon stocks could then be used to offset emissions of participating organizations who want to reduce their carbon footprint. It is also intended to create jobs, increase rural land values, and help redistribute wealth to historically disadvantaged communities. Better mapping and valuing ecosystem services is critical to bolstering natural climate solutions.
Texas is booming with activity across its diverse economy, including the energy, advanced manufacturing, and information technology sectors. In addition to a burgeoning start-up scene, Texas has a strong industry footprint. Texas’ business-friendly environment and public-private cooperation model have recently attracted a string of Fortune 500 companies to the state, including renewable technology firms such as Tesla. The energy sector, which has historically been very strong, continues to evolve. The Gulf coast is currently among the world’s leading areas in terms of its hydrogen generation capacity. Renewable energy industry is blossoming meanwhile, including 46 wind manufacturing facilities and 1,200 companies in the electric transportation industry.
Some people still belief that climate action is expensive, but that could not be further from the truth. The transition to low-carbon energy systems provides huge opportunities for new jobs and business lines, where we have only just begun to scratch the surface of what is possible. Clean energy could create more than 1.1 million jobs in Texas over the next 25 yearsy . This includes good paying jobs for wind turbine service technicians, solar panel installers, and building retrofitters for energy efficiency. The national Bureau for Labor Statistics finds that some of the fastest growing occupations are in Renewable Energy.
Climate change is hitting Texas here and now. Over the past two decades, Texas has been hit by billion-dollar weather- and climate disasters more than any other state, but climate change is about more than extreme events and the loss of life and damage to There are growing risks of infrastructure failures that would leave Texans in the cold and dark or without water. A public health crisis looms, as Texas is among the most vulnerable and least prepared to manage climate-related health challenges. Vulnerable groups are hit first and most impactfully across the board. For example, a recent EPA-study finds that low income and historically underserved communities, individuals with no high school diploma, and the elderly in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas face outsized impacts due to air pollution, loss of labor productivity for weather-exposed workers, and coastal flooding.
Through targeted investments in resilient infrastructure and disaster preparedness, Texas can effectively address social vulnerabilities and boost community health. The Resilience Science Information Network (RESIN) Portal, led by HARC, lays the ground for tracking climate impacts across the Upper Texas Gulf Coast and for better understanding these in the context of exposure and social vulnerability. This will help decision-makers to identify big-ticket investment areas that yield outsized dividends and to ensure resources for disaster relief and resilience building gravitate towards those who need it most.
We are at the cross-roads. The question is no longer whether the climate is changing, but how we act on that change. Texas offers a glimpse of the country’s economic future, its engines of growth and innovation, and underlying demographic shifts. Extremely vulnerable to climate impacts, the Lone Star State is also equipped with a skilled workforce, vastly productive natural capital, and vibrant industrial hubs. Leveraging these assets to confront the climate crisis can hit triple dividends: to bounce back stronger from climate shocks and stresses, boost business and economic competitiveness, and help communities thrive. In other words, to build a brighter future in a warming world. For this to happen, Texans must position themselves and do what they do best: to come together and turn a challenge into an opportunity. If Texas is to lead the way, the time to act is now.