Texas Solar: Riding the Alternative Energy Megatrend
Texas could surpass California and become the nation’s dominant solar energy producer by 2030.Achieving this goal will take hard work, smart policies, and better grid connectivity. We must ensure that Texas energy continues to lead the nation and the world: it’s time for Texas to ride the alternative energy megatrend.
Alexander Mirtchev writes perceptively of The Alternative Energy Megatrend: “The ongoing technological revolution bolsters expectations of turning alternative energy from a dream of clean, limitless, and affordable energy into a technologically feasible, commercially viable, and environmentally friendly solution.”This paradigm shift could benefit Texas, which enjoys some of the world’s best solar and wind resources. As Mirtchev notes, “solar power has the highest theoretical power generation capacity of all renewables.”
Texas is already the nation’s leader in renewable wind capacity, oil and gas production, and refining capacity. Texas trails California in solar capacity, however. The Golden State currently enjoys about 13.4 Gigawatts (GW) of installed, utility-scale PV solar, while the Lone Star State registers only about 5.6 GW, according to the EIA. Texas is poised to rapidly catch up, however: as Texas plans to add about 11.7 GW of new utility-scale solar; California only has in 6 GW in queue. Texas and California are in a competition to determine the solar energy industry’s future capital. Do we want solar firms to place their headquarters in Los Angeles and San Francisco, or Houston and Dallas?
The choice is clear: Texas needs to lead the solar revolution. But how? First, Texas shouldn’t use the tax code to subsidize oil and gas . While there’s a strong economic and social argument for using the tax code to lower emissions and save lives from pollution, these arguments do not apply for hydrocarbon production. Austin legislators should not make hard-working Texans subsidize inefficiency, waste, and pollution.
Second, the state should become a leader in solar-related research, especially storage technology. Solar can only provide electricity during daylight hours, necessitating the ability to “store” electrons over days and seasons. Storage technology is not a pie-in-the-sky solution: Texas alone has about 1.8 GW of battery storage capacity in development (versus California’s 4.3 GW).Turning Texas into the Silicon Valley of storage technology won’t be easy, but the state has already managed to attract some high-end technology, including a Tesla giga factory and, potentially, a Samsung chip factory.
Third, the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and the rest of the country need to dramatically expand inter-state and intra-state transmission lines. Solar generation faces economic “curtailment,” or when output is reduced to balance supply and demand, and physical curtailment, or when the grid can’t absorb all the electrons.
Transmission lines can help mitigate solar’s economic and physical curtailment problems. According to Mirtchev, “a lack of adequate transmission infrastructure poses a substantial challenge for the widespread applicability of alternative energy.” Greater intra and inter-state transmission connectivity would allow Texas to ship excess solar generation to other states, or even export electricity to Mexico. Connecting ERCOT to the national grid would also improve Texas’ resiliency, limiting the risk of another disastrous outage.
The Texas solar industry spurs billions of dollars in investment, supports tens of thousands of good-paying jobs for Texans, especially in rural communities, and could help to lower local and state property taxes. Most importantly, the solar industry is only getting started. If Texas can work hard, design the right free-market frameworks, and enhance transmission connectivity, we can ensure that Texas – and not California – remains the energy capital of America and rides the alternative energy megatrend off into the sunset.
Joe Webster is an energy consultant based in Houston, TX. He has consulted for both clean energy and hydrocarbon companies. This article represents his own personal opinion.