Texas keeps getting greener: Solar power, like wind a decade ago, is about to soar
For years, Texas consumers have been buying electricity through renewable energy plans. Now TXU Energy, the state’s largest electricity retailer, has added a twist: 100 percent solar power.
For those who want to support solar, it’s an alternative to investing in a rooftop system, the company said in a release this week. But if you want solar panels, TXU has a program for that, too, which it launched in November with partner SunPower.
As a marketing campaign, this isn’t groundbreaking, given that consumers have so many choices already. But the push says much about the coming boom in Texas energy.
“Solar is poised to take off in Texas,” said Peter Sopher, a policy analyst for the Environmental Defense Fund in Austin.
He compared it with wind power a decade ago, when turbines were popping up in West Texas. In 2005, wind generated 1.4 percent of electricity on ERCOT, the grid that handles most of the state’s electric load. For the first 11 months of 2015, wind’s share was over 11 percent. And in November, it was over 18 percent.
Texas is easily the No. 1 state in wind, with more than twice the capacity of California.
On solar, however, Texas has been lagging. It ranked No. 10 among the states in solar as of September 2015. Texas doesn’t match the incentives of some states and has an abundant supply of other cheap energy, including natural gas.
But prices for solar panels have fallen over 80 percent since 2009, making it competitive with fossil fuels. That’s ramped up the outlook in Texas, because there’s plenty of sun, a growing population, a huge electric load and a hyper-competitive electricity market.
Last year, solar installations on ERCOT grew almost 50 percent. This year, solar generation could jump six-fold, according to ERCOT projections, which are based on developer agreements to connect with the grid.
By 2030, solar will add 14,100 MW of power if proposed rules to cut emissions and haze remain in place, ERCOT estimates. That could power over 2 million homes in the summer. And if solar builds out as projected, it would account for more new capacity than wind and natural gas plants combined, ERCOT said.