By Titiaan Palazzi, Dan Seif
Texas has long been known as the capital of oil and gas. And over the past decade it added so much wind power that if Texas were a country, it would be the world’s fourth-largest wind producer. Looking back at the past few years, a fourth energy trend can be added: the growth of solar photovoltaics (PV).
Texas has added 1.8 GW of solar to date, more than 80 percent of that in the past two years, ranking it third in the nation by new capacity. The Texas solar industry now employs about 10,000 people, more than double the number of people employed three years ago.
Astonishing even to solar power proponents, Texas’s main grid operator, Electric Reliability Operator of Texas (ERCOT), forecasted that solar would be the only economically viable new power source from now to 2031 in six of eight potential scenarios, forecasting between 15 and 28 GW of new solar PV.
Most of Texas’s solar installations have been utility-scale: large arrays installed on vast swaths of arid land, transported by high-voltage transmission lines to cities like Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. Yet now a different revolution is picking up steam. This revolution is driven by local electric cooperatives (co-ops) and municipal utilities (munis) buying “distribution-scale” solar—1 to 10 megawatt (MW) arrays installed on the distribution grid, in or on the outskirts of cities. More than 20 small Texas utilities have pursued distribution-scale solar, now totaling about 100 MW, the equivalent of a small natural gas plant.