Solar energy in Texas rides into town

soalr cowboy

Yee-haw – the solar cowboys are comin’ to Texas!

Texas. Land of wide open spaces, cowboys, the Bush family, Tex-Mex food and barrels and barrels of oil. At least that’s the mental image I conjure up when I think of the state, mostly through memories of Dynasty ( the T.V show and the Republican presidents). Like all generalisations though, this is wildly inaccurate. Particularly the image of Texan energy. For there is a new power boom on the horizon as solar energy in Texas rides into town.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, companies such as First Solar, SunEdison and Recurrent Energy (a division of Canadian Solar) have staked their claims with a number of solar farms in the planning stage in and around famous oil fields in Texas. These will total around $US1 billion, according to State records.

At present Texas only has around 193 megawatts of large scale solar, enough to power around 40,000 homes, said the WSJ report. However with the boom in clean energy, this is expected to grow to 10,000 to 12,500 megawatts — a quantum leap in solar energy in Texas and one that will change the energy profile of the Lone Star State.

The Texan solar energy revolution is just part of the wider acceptance of solar energy that has swept the United States. According to a recent Gallup poll two in three respondents want more renewable energy with 76 percent of these calling for an increase in the availability of solar energy.

Interestingly the Texas model for solar success has not been driven by subsidies or incentives. While federal subsidies for solar production are available, unlike states such as renewables-friendly California, Texas does not provide any incentives such as subsidies for the production of solar power. Not surprising in an oilman/women’s town.

So what has caused the growth in solar energy in Texas? Simply economics. The cost of producing solar energy has dropped by so much as to be more competitive than fossil fuels. In a state famous for its support of big energy, its the bottom line of solar’s pricing compared to other fossil fuel rivals that has been the driving force behind the drastic change.

There is a definite shifting of support amongst Texan lawmakers towards solar. An example is a recent law change that has given homeowners more freedom to install solar panels, taking away developers’ right to prevent solar panels being added during the development stage of housing.

A lesson learned here for our own country? The similarities between Texas and Australia are irresistible. Wide open spaces and fossil fuel rich land. Yet also vast solar “capitals” and boundless clean energy potential. In other words the both have the opportunity to be leaders in solar energy in their respective regions.

Can we then take up the Texas model successfully? As the hottest and second largest of the U.S. states, it was inevitable that Texas turn to solar power as a source of energy for the future. This combined with breakthroughs in battery storage have made solar energy in Texas the energy source of the future. Will we be the same?

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