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Posted on 11-30-2016


by Shen Ge

Texas is an energy superpower. Not only does the Lone Star State produces more natural gas than any other state, but it also leads the nation in renewable energy. Texas is one of 29 states with a renewable-energy standard—a goal for getting a certain amount of its power from sources like wind, solar, and other fossil-fuel alternatives. When the standard was signed into law in 1999 it called for 2,000 megawatts of additional renewable power generation to be brought online within a decade.

Already, it is the number one state for wind energy. It also has the greatest potential for solar energy according to an Energy Department report. Texas, the report says, is home to a full 20 percent of total U.S. potential for concentrated solar power. Currently, only a tiny percentage of its solar potential, has been exploited. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Texas has only about 200 megawatts worth of solar-power panels installed. The state is only ranked 8th for actual solar energy generation, behind Delaware and New Jersey. So what’s stopping Texas?

Mostly, it comes from no state-wide incentive to adopt solar. Much of the policies and investments have gone into wind energy. For instance, Texas lacks “net-metering,” a policy that has helped solar flourish elsewhere. Net-metering allows residential solar customers to earn full retail credit for excess electricity that they sell back to the grid. It’s a policy that’s on the books in 43 states, but doesn’t exist at the state level in Texas.

Brighter Cities

Although the state of Texas has done very little to incentivize solar, Texas cities have shown tremendous leadership. By setting bold goals for solar, San Antonio now ranks sixth in the nation for total installed solar. Austin doesn’t lag far behind.

San Antonio has 90 megawatts of utility-scale solar online with another 15 megawatts from direct generation, and utility CPS Energy estimates there’s another 385 megawatts coming online over the next two to three years. That’s been enough to rank the River City sixth nationwide in solar capacity, according to an April report from Environment Texas, and has attracted solar companies to set up shop in the city.

Austin has 16 megawatts online but is undertaking a more active approach in solar. Last year [2014], Austin Energy finalized a contract to purchase 150-megawatts of solar energy for less than the average cost of natural gas. After witnessing the recent success of Austin’s solar investments, the Austin City Council voted 6 to 1 on December 11, 2014 to boost the city’s solar goals, from 200 to 950 megawatts. This level of commitment to solar power means that by 2025, if Austin were a state it would be second only to California for total solar capacity.

Austin also undertook an innovative approach to provide financial incentives for residential solar adopters. Instead of net metering, Austin introduced a “value of solar” tariff. Austin Energy established a price for solar even higher than that assigned by a net metering rate, helping to increase adoption of solar panels on Austin Energy’s grid. As another incentive for residential homeowners, Austin implemented one of the largest customer-driven smart grid experiments in the world. In partnership with EDF, Pecan Street Inc. has provided solar rebates to hundreds of Austin-area homeowners. The center of this project, Austin’s Mueller neighborhood, now has solar panels installed on 200 of its 250 homes. In exchange for the incentives, Pecan Street is collecting detailed electricity data from each of the homes in its study, proving analysis of the energy potential of rooftop solar in Austin and other communities.

Both of these cities have municipal utilities that had more freedom to set independent renewable goals and offer rebates than the deregulated markets elsewhere in the state, notably Houston and Dallas. Lanny Sinkin, executive director of the nonprofit Solar San Antonio, said the ability of a municipal utility to “look at values beyond the bottom line” has made city-level initiatives more successful.

A Brighter Future Ahead

There is no indication that the growth of solar in Texas is slowing down. In Texas, solar energy grew 84 percent per year since 2010. “Star Power: the Growing Role of Solar Energy in Texas,” a recent report by Environment Texas Research & Policy Center, shows that growth could actually slow down to 61 percent and solar would still provide 20 percent of our power in the next decade.

Despite the current lack of a state-wide policy, the reducing costs in solar installation – both in terms of hard costs (equipment) and soft costs (process of installation) ensures continued solar growth in Texas. For hard costs, the cost of solar panels is falling precipitously, as scientists develop more efficient manufacturing models and cheaper Chinese models hit the market. Retailer companies such as SolarSyz is able to tap into this and sell solar packets at ever lower prices to a larger market providing the same amount of power. Startups such as Simplify Solar are reducing soft costs in installation through an automated software and a streamlined approach.

Just ten years ago flat-screen televisions were a rare luxury item, and there were no smartphones. Video chats happened mostly in ‘‘Star Trek’’ reruns, and few homes had broadband Internet service. Just imagine ten years into the future where solar panels are on almost every rooftop.

Do you live in Texas? With this information, you may feel ready to commit to a residential solar panel. Allow Simplify Solar to help you save up to 30% in residential solar installation costs. Furthermore, our turnkey solution saves you a lot of time — typically one to two months is sufficient for you to get a system up on your roof. Start with Simplify Solar and see how well you can benefit from solar.

For more information on solar energy in Houston go to. simplifysolar.com  Interested in more of Shen Ge’s posts on solar energy and other energy-related posts? Follow the author on Twitter @shenge86

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