AUSTIN (KXAN) — More and more Texans are switching to solar power as prices drop and historic storms become more common. As part of Earth Week, we wanted to take a closer look at the trend to understand what’s happening.
When you hear discussions of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions that fuel global warming, the first things that come to mind may be pollution from factories and cars. But according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 25% of greenhouse gas emissions come from the generation of electricity.
While 20% of our electricity in the United State is generated by clean, renewable sources like wind and solar power, 60% of it comes from burning climate-warming fossil fuels.
A transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewables — even if just in the electricity generation section — would cut one-quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Switching to Solar Power
Steven Apodaca has lived in his south Austin neighborhood for three and a half years. He and his wife have solar panels on their roof.
“My electric bill, if you can believe it, was $11 last month,” Apodaca said.
And even on hot days, he is saving a lot of money. “During the months of June, July and August, I paid zero,” Apodaca said.
Steven’s community was built with solar panels on every house, so the cost of the panels was rolled in with the purchase price of the home. But costs for those who add them to their roofs are dropping.
Jonathan Baldridge is an Energy Consultant with Freedom Solar, a Texas company that recently installed solar panels at the University of Texas, Whole Foods and Austin Energy headquarters.
“Ten or twelve years ago, solar was a luxury for many people,” Baldridge said. “It was for the well-to-do. Several years after that, we saw the prices for solar continue to drop pretty dramatically.”
And though prices have leveled out due to pandemic-related supply chain issues, Baldridge says the time it takes to recoup your investment in solar panels with the savings on your electric bill is much lower than it used to be.
“I’d say on average, the return on investment is 10 to 12 years,” Baldridge said.
Why Texans’ solar demand has increased
And after the deadly February 2021 winter storm strained the ERCOT grid to the point of near-collapse, Jonathan and his company have seen a significant surge in residential solar demand.
“Shortly after the storm, they were setting anywhere between 150 to 200 appointments per day,” Baldridge said. “Personally, we were hard down for four days. I live in south Austin. I have a five year-old and a two year-old, and it got really cold.”
While adding grid-tied solar panels to your home will not keep your electricity on during a utility-scale load shed event like we saw in February 2021, and utility companies do not take into account concentration of residential solar when deciding which areas to shut off, Baldridge says that as many as 40% of their customers are now installing solar-tied battery backup systems for their home.
Baldridge and his family added a Tesla Powerwall after the winter storm, which will keep their power on if there were another load shed event.
Even if you choose not to add solar panels to your house, more of the energy you use from the power company is coming from solar sources.
Austin Energy has expanded their Community Solar program with three large solar installations at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, La Loma community solar farm in East Austin, and the Palmer Array downtown. These thousands of solar panels produce a combined 4.58 megawatts of renewable energy feeding the local grid.
Austin gets more solar power options
The Austin Business Journal reports that California-based company Chem-Energy Corp. is building a pair of solar and battery facilities near Kyle that will create 400 jobs and produce 1,000 megawatts of solar power over the next decade.
The Austin Business Journal reports that the project will create 400 jobs in Caldwell and Hays counties and is a $1 billion investment; comparable to Tesla’s $1.1 billion facilities near the Austin airport.
Chem-Energy Corp. did not respond to our requests for comment.
A 2020 report by the International Energy Agency found that for projects with high-quality resources and low financing due to government incentives, solar is now the cheapest source of electricity in history.
“I think we’re quickly destroying this planet,” Baldridge said. “And having two little ones, it makes a lot of sense to leave a better world behind for them.”
“It’s rewarding to know that I’m being a good steward of our resources,” Apodaca said.
So why might you want to consider the switch to solar?
- Cheaper electric bills
- Less strain on the electric grid
- Satisfaction that comes from doing your part to lower the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions
Austin Energy is currently offering a $2,500 rebate for customers who install residential solar.
According to Texas Property Code Section 202.010, your Home Owners’ Association can only prevent you from installing solar for the following reasons:
- If the solar energy devices are illegal or violate public health and safety
- If they are located on common property within the subdivision
- If they extend higher than the roofline, do not conform to the slope of the roof, or are not parallel to the roofline
- If they are ground-mounted and extend above the homeowner’s fence
- If they are installed in a way that voids the warranties
- If they have an element that is not in a silver, bronze, or black tone
- If they are installed without prior approval by the HOA