The future of solar power in Texas over the next couple of decades is projected to shine bright. Given its location, Texas is as well-suited as any state in the country to harness the rays of the sun.
Dramatically Declining PV Costs
It is amazing to consider that silicon-based photovoltaic (PV) cells have dropped in price by a factor of over a hundred since 1976. The cost per watt was then $76.67, today it is 73-cents, and dropping. The expected future cost reductions in PV cells should make the installation of solar panels on the rooftops of both homes and businesses an increasingly popular option.
A Massive Project for San Antonio
The economics of solar power are accelerating interest in large projects. Texas is uniquely positioned to install projects that produce megawatts of electricity. Enough less-developed land remains to accommodate the more massive solar projects of the future. San Antonio just broke ground on what will easily dwarf all other solar projects in the state constructed thus far. CPS Energy inked a comprehensive deal with OCI Solar that appears to be a winner for all involved. OCI agreed to move its corporate headquarters to San Antonio and to guarantee the creation of a minimum of 800 jobs. It will actually build the panels for the massive 400 MW project right in San Antonio. To put the upcoming project in perspective, the state currently generates a total of less than 100 MW of power. The one OCI installation will more than quadruple that. The undeveloped potential for Texas solar power is one key reason for its likely success. At present, 34-percent of Texas’ electricity comes from coal, 45-percent from natural gas, and 9-percent from wind. Less than one-percent of the Lone Star State’s current electrical production comes from solar.
New Technological Breakthroughs
The prospects of continuing technological breakthroughs in solar also bodes well for this form of renewable energy. If homeowners and major organizations alike are already seeing the visibility of solar, imagine the potential as the cost of panels drops further. Also, inverters and batteries that allow for more efficient use of solar energy continue to get better and better. Although silicon-based PV cells dominate now, there is the prospect of new PV technologies, like gallium arsenide cells, that could allow a quantum leap forward in solar energy production. If newer technologies like these are able to optimize their manufacturing process, thus reducing the cost to make them, they may be able to take a stronger hold in the market.
Significant Future Growth Projected
ERCOT, the Texas electric grid operator, has issued a report that suggests that renewable energy will actually become more economically viable than natural gas sometime in the next 20 years. ERCOT projected in a 2013 report that 10,000 MW worth of projects may go online over the next decades. As massive as the San Antonio/OCI project is, it will represent only 4-percent of the solar projected to go online in the state over the next 20 years. Those figures assume steady prices for natural gas throughout that period. ERCOT projects that a price rise from $3.50 to $5.00MMBTU (Million Metric British Thermal Units) would raise the total solar power generated by about 30-percent.
Always the Antidote the Brownouts
Solar is, and will always be, perfectly positioned to help Texas to avoid brownouts. Solar’s peak midday production coincides perfectly with peak demand. Rolling brownouts rolled into California some years ago, and it is likely that in Texas, the political will is going to be applied in such a way that Texas avoids brownouts. Inevitably, solar will be a big part of the solution.
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