The State of Solar in the Lone Star State

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Is solar starting to pick up in Texas? The state has over 200 days of sunshine and large amounts of land. If you include all the usable land (not just rooftops) in Texas, it has twice the solar potential of any other state, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

But at #8 in the list of top solar states, Texas is not where it should be.

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What’s stopping solar in Texas from getting bigger?

Everything’s big in Texas, so why isn’t solar? A few factors are at play:

  • Grid electricity is still relatively cheap in Texas.
  • Policy in the state doesn’t encourage solar, especially in the residential sector. In many states, utilities have to buy back the power a homeowner produces at the retail rate. In Texas, on the other hand, homeowners often can’t full credit for the power they produce — and that varies from utility to utility.
  • Texas doesn’t have as favorable incentives for solar as some states.
  • Texas, like most states, has a renewables portfolio standard (RPS). But it’s small, at about 5.5 GW, and had no solar requirement. It was met ahead of schedule mostly by wind power, which till recently was more cost-effective than solar.

What positive developments are happening in Texas?

There’s plenty of light at the end of the tunnel for Texas solar. Some think the solar industry there will follow the pattern for wind, which was slow to start but grew more quickly when penetration got high enough to attract some notice. For now, there have been a number of positive signs recently for solar in Texas:

  • As in other places, the plummeting price of solar will help it compete with grid electricity. The Union of Concerned Scientists even says we’re already at grid parity in Texas.
  • According to Greentech Media, the city of Austin’s recent resolution to make solar a “default” generation resource could provide a huge boost to the state’s solar market.
  • When Texas does go solar, it tends to go big. Commercial and utility-scale solar have been growing in the state more rapidly than residential, with help from companies like Meridian Solar. Solar developer OCI Solar Power and its partners are bringing 400 MW of clean energy to Texas as part of a solar agreement with CPS Energy. And First Solar’s Barrilla Solar Project, one of the largest in the state, just added about 18 MW of solar capacity to the state’s grid.
  • More residential solar options are entering the market, which is of course helped by falling prices. Texas homeowners, as in other states, are now finding they can save money with solar.
  • Demand for new energy in Texas is expected to grow, at the same time as coal plants there are retired. Solar will still have to compete with natural gas, but of course the falling price of solar will help yet again.
  • Wind development in Texas led to the creation of transmission lines that can also be used for solar.

With this much going for it, we feel confident saying that before long, solar will be the new wind in Texas.