Solar Energy

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Solar energy – how Texans can benefit

Every electricity plan in Texas contains a percentage of renewable energy. But some Texans who want to lower their carbon footprints say that’s not enough. They want to go all green, and many have begun taking a new look at solar energy.

Texans have a couple of options when it comes to green energy. They can go with a provider on an all-green plan. Or they can install solar panels and generate their own solar energy.

Option 1: Purchasing a green energy plan. Choose Texas Power works with four providers that only sell green energy – Chariot Energy (solar), Gexa Energy (solar and wind), Green Mountain Energy (solar and wind), and Iberdrola Texas (wind).

 Other providers offer green plans in addition to their traditional ones. In all these cases, buying a green plan doesn’t mean green energy will be delivered to your home. It means the provider will buy renewable energy certificates to offset your electricity use. Renewable energy credits support further green energy products.

Option 2: Installing solar panels in your roof or yard. This is the way to ensure that you’re using green energy in your home. The panels generate energy and in many cases provide more than you need. Texas does not require energy providers and regulated utilities to buy the excess power, but some do.

How much solar energy costs, and how to deal with it

The Center for Sustainable Energy says the average cost of installing a residential solar system ranges from $15,000 to $25,000, depending on the size of the system.

However, there are some ways to mitigate that upfront cost:

  • The return on investment. Homeowners can offset the installation cost in 15 years or less from the savings on electricity bills. Federal tax incentives currently allow for a tax credit of 22 percent of the installation cost. (The credit is set to expire in 2022.) Texas doesn’t levy additional property taxes on the increase in a home’s value due to a solar installation.
  • Getting a loan. Traditional lenders and solar installation companies offer loans for homeowners who want to go solar. Terms vary depending on the amount borrowed and other factors. It’s important for homeowners to weigh the cost of repaying the loan vs. their existing monthly electricity bills to make sure they’re getting a good deal.
  • Leasing the system. Solar companies often will pay the cost of the installation in return for a homeowner’s agreement to pay a set amount each month for 15 to 20 years. Again, the repayment should be less than the homeowner’s monthly bill.

Considering rooftop solar? Some questions to ask

A lot of companies have entered the solar installation market. That means it’s important to make sure you’re hiring a reputable one.

Among the questions you should ask a prospective installer:

  • Are you licensed in Texas?
  • Are you fully insured?
  • What guarantee do you offer?
  • How much experience do you have?
  • Do you have references?
  • What kind of system do you intend to install?
  • Can my roof support this type of system?
  • Will you subcontract any of the installation?

How solar energy works

Whether they’re on rooftops, ground assemblies, or part of massive solar “farms,” photovoltaic panels work in much the same way. As the above graphic shows, they have positive and negative layers – making them in effect semiconductors. Conductors attached to the electrodes create an electric circuit. The circuit turns the sun’s rays into electricity, which goes through another step to make it usable for residences, businesses, or the electric grid.

Systems come with storage for when the sun isn’t shining, though panels will work in indirect sunlight or when clouds block the sun. And most residential systems also remain connected to the grid.

Texans can join the solar energy trend

Solar energy is growing fast in the U.S. The nation is on track to top 3 million solar PV installations in 2021, according to a study by Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables and the Solar Energy Industries Association. That number will grow to more than 4 million by 2023, the study says.

The Texas Solar Energy Society estimates that more than 17,000 rooftop or ground-mounted systems had been installed in the state by the end of 2015 – that’s the most recent data available on the number of installations.

And that data may be woefully understated. The U.S. Energy Information Administration says small-scale solar (the category it designates for rooftop and other smaller installations) generated 223 thousand megawatts of electricity in Texas in 2015. In 2020, that total increased to 1,001.

Small-scale solar (rooftop and other smaller arrays) is most popular in California. But, as the chart below shows, Texans generated the sixth-highest total of electricity from this method in 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

States with the most small scale solar

Frequently asked questions about rooftop solar systems

Here are some questions many homeowners have about solar rooftop systems:

Should I replace my roof before adding panels?

Maybe. Most roofs last about 20 years. If yours is near that age, it makes sense to replace it before you install solar panels. Otherwise, the panels will have to be removed and reinstalled, adding to the cost of the project.

How long will my system last?

Typically, solar panels are guaranteed for 20 to 25 years, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory says. However, it should be noted that panel performance degrades over time, so it may not be as efficient as it gets older.

Will my home’s resale value be hurt if I install solar panels?

Just the opposite. The U.S. Department of Energy says two studies have shown your system will increase the home’s resale value by about $15,000. (This is the reason the Texas property tax exemption is important.)

How can I use electricity at night or on cloudy days?

Photovoltaic panels still generate electricity if clouds partially block the sun, and they don’t require direct sunshine. Systems come with battery storage, too, and most remain connected to the state’s electricity grid, so you’re covered when there’s no sun.

updated 3/25/2021