This week we focus on the Solar industry in Texas, and the players shaping that industry. As an insider, I can tell you there is a lot going on behind the scenes, both good and bad, but there are always signs pointing to which companies are doing things right, and which are cutting corners.
To start things off on a positive note, let’s take a look at “The Good”. One of the more obvious benefits of solar companies is their dedication to reducing greenhouse gases. Thus far, while Texas leads the nation in wind energy production, they have been trailing behind California in solar production for years – and one thing any Texan knows, is that there is plenty of sunshine in this state! According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Texas produces 15 GW of utility-scale solar energy, and “Texas will add 10 gigawatts (GW) of utility-scale solar capacity by the end of 2022” (See full report here: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=47636). None of this would be possible without solar companies, particularly those that have been installing solar for some time now and have thus positioned themselves perfectly for this moment. The report continues to further outline solar production capacity in Texas based on 2020 rates, saying “The installation of 2.5 GW of solar capacity in 2020 marked the beginning of the solar boom in Texas. We expect the state to add another 4.6 GW of solar capacity in 2021 and 5.4 GW in 2022, which will bring total installed solar capacity in Texas to 14.9 GW.”
With this increase in solar energy capacity, the state will be primed to tackle the climate crisis head-on, and hopefully our leadership will further this initiative allowing home-owners to go solar with little overall cost. This is where we review benefit #2 of solar energy companies: lobbying power. In 2021, immediately following the winter storm that killed somewhere between 150-700+ Texas residents, wind and solar energy came under pressure by the state legislature, which was already working to increase distribution costs of going solar via SB03, SB1278, and HB4466. Of the three of these bills, only one passed (SB03), which solar companies get at least partial credit for, since they banded together to stop them. Until we have a higher solar adoption rate, incentives for home owners should continue (and in my humble opinion, increase) so that home owners aren’t bearing the brunt of the climate crisis in both fiscal and environmental costs, as they are now. Thanks to solar companies, you might not have to – though calling your elected representatives to let them know this is something you care about never hurts.
One huge win that solar companies have enabled, and which is a large reason most homeowners “go solar,” is the decrease in the overall cost of solar technology. Looking at an article produced by Energy Sage, it’s easy to see that the overall efficiency of solar cells has increased drastically – from when they were first introduced, and were only ~6% efficient, to today’s panels which are anywhere from 18-24% efficient (which produces more than enough electricity for your home, though they’re steadily increasing in efficiency each year). This translates to needing fewer panels to achieve the same energy output, and a more efficient system overall – greatly reducing the overall cost of going solar. Check out the graph from energysage.com to see what I mean (directly below; https://news.energysage.com/solar-panel-efficiency-cost-over-time/).
The article goes even further to outline this incredible cost savings, in outlining the cost per watt of an average solar-panel system just 10 years ago, in comparison to cost per watt of solar panel systems today – “Over a decade ago, in 2009, the cost of a solar panel installation was $8.50 per watt. The solar industry today looks very different: in addition to solar panel efficiency increasing dramatically, solar panel producers have significantly improved their manufacturing processes. Solar installers, too, can deploy solar PV across the United States more efficiently now than they could ten years ago. The result: the price of solar has fallen dramatically, to just $2.81/watt” (https://news.energysage.com/solar-panel-efficiency-cost-over-time/). Of course those of us that are aware of the term “economies of scale” are likely aware that this business phenomenon must occur in successful industries in order to continue, however I think a huge thank you also goes to all of you! Customers and early adopters who have gone solar before this year are owed a huge debt of gratitude for supporting solar companies in this endeavor to improve the cost and efficiency of solar and supportive technologies (see micro-inverters).
Last but not least, one of the best things about solar companies is their customer service (and because there are so many solar companies in Texas, if you get bad service from one, you can and should switch to another since there are plenty of companies working hard to go above and beyond for their customers). Because of the high cost of solar projects, and due to the unique energy needs of each customer, solar companies often still meet homeowners in their homes to discuss their custom project before any decisions are made. You’ll need an electrician to sign off on your project (at a minimum, because you should also have an engineer design your solar system for maximum efficiency and to reduce the time spent going back and forth with your city and utility companies during the permitting and interconnection processes), so the beauty in this complex process is that most solar companies provide all of this for you! Though some are better communicators than others, every solar company that has successfully installed a solar project (and actively monitors your solar production data), has completed these steps on your behalf, meaning less leg-work for you to complete to get your project installed. So, if you encounter a “door-knocker” in the solar industry, know that they are there to communicate this process, and set up a time to complete a custom report (based on your energy bill) so you’re able to get all of your questions answered in an efficient manner! They’re not there just to talk your ear off, or ruin your Saturday. You’ll likely need to set up a time for an energy consultant to come back over to your home to discuss your specific proposal – a level of customer service not seen in many other industries these days. When is the last time your doctor made a house call?
There are plenty of fabulous players in the solar game, the trick is finding the right one for you. Look for a company with a few years of experience, or with several installations to point to – and if their sales pitch is too pushy, kindly tell them no thank you, and look for another. Best of luck!