New study: Solar power delivers more than clean energy to Texas

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Solar will help keep lights on this summer

Environment Texas Research and Policy Center

HOUSTON – Solar panels will help Texas avoid blackouts this summer and provide many other benefits often overlooked by policymakers, according to The True Value of Solar: Measuring The Benefits of Rooftop Solar Power, a new study released today by the Environment Texas Research and Policy Center and Frontier Group. The group used the study to call on the Public Utility Commission of Texas to do more to promote the use of solar. 

“Power from the sun not only protects our health from dirtier power options but it also will play a critical role in keeping the lights on this summer,” said Jen Schmerling, Deputy Director of the Environment Texas Research and Policy Center. “We need to appreciate what solar energy is really worth, and base our public policies on it.”

This summer, solar power will be particularly valuable in Texas. Electricity demand has grown over the last few summers in the state, and this year the Electric Reliability Council of Texas’s (ERCOT’s) planning reserve margin, which represents the capacity of the state’s resources to cover potential peaks in electricity demand, is historically low. This means that on a particularly hot day, when demand for air conditioning is high, there is a risk of rolling blackouts. 

Solar panels create a more diverse and geographically dispersed energy portfolio, and generate energy close to the point of consumption. This reduces congestion on the electric grid and makes Texas less prone to central disruptions, power outages or rolling blackouts. New solar is quickly being added to the grid, which ERCOT says is helping increase the reserve margin. 

The study shows that rooftop solar also delivers valuable environmental and societal benefits. When we add more clean, renewable energy to the grid, we reduce global warming emissions, along with pollution that threatens public health or contributes to soot and smog. Solar energy also reduces the need for fracking, coal extraction and other parts of the fossil fuel life cycle, and creates local economic benefits.  

Studies that inform state solar energy policies often neglect those sweeping benefits, and that can have consequences for solar energy adoption. For example, net metering policies pay solar panel owners back when they provide excess power to the grid. More than two million solar panel installations are now in use nationwide and net metering has played a significant role in that growth. When solar energy is valued accurately, policies such as net metering are typically shown to provide a net benefit to all electric customers. 

While thirty-eight states have mandatory net metering policies, utilities in Texas are not required to offer net metering. Those that do compensate solar homeowners fairly for the electricity they supply to the grid encourage more residents and businesses to go solar, and deliver benefits to the grid, environment and society. Austin Energy, for example, uses a Value of Solar calculation to pay back customers based on the size and performance of their rooftop installations. Some retail electric providers in the deregulated electric market, like MP2, Reliant, and Green Mountain Energy, credit customers the full retail value of any extra electricity they produce. 

“Given the climate crisis we are facing, a clear-eyed and honest assessment of the actual value of solar power is essential. And, that true value must be reflected in our energy policies,” said Schmerling. “Despite ranking fourth in the country in total solar generation, Texas ranks just eighth in rooftop generation. We need to do everything in our power to encourage more Texans to go solar because it benefits everyone.”

Schmerling urged the Public Utility Commission to do more to promote rooftop solar, including through the Centerpoint and AEP/NEM rate cases currently under review.

“Our Public Utility Commission should ignore the bad math undermining solar energy and promote policies like net metering,” concluded Schmerling.