Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Texas Solar Energy Math Challenge

Let’s diffuse the old news that solar energy is too costly and is only competitive with subsidies and take a more current look at some simple data that indicate that we have a great opportunity in Texas to tap the untapped natural resource.

Which is better for Texas residential and small business energy consumers - $9.00/kWh peak wholesale electricity from centralized power plants that must be transmitted over long distances with the associated energy losses, or $0.07/kWh from distributed photovoltaic (PV) solar power generated where it is consumed with no transmission losses and which is generally aligned with the peak energy demand time periods in Texas?

The Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC) recently raised the price cap on wholesale electricity prices to $9,000/MWh, which is $9.00/kWh, and then denied a petition to have more public discussion about increasing the emphasis on using a huge, untapped natural resource in Texas – the SUN!

A September 25th article in Renewable Energy World comparing the cost of a residential-sized PV system (4kW) between the US and Germany indicated that the unsubsidized total installed cost in Germany is approximately $2/Watt.  With the sunshine we have in Texas, this is equivalent to decades of electricity at less than $0.07/kWh.

The basic calculation to translate $2/watt into $0.07/kWh is as follows:
  • 4,000W(DC) system at $2/Watt is $8,000.
  • A south facing PV solar system installed in Texas is estimated to produce 1,400 watt-hours, or 1.4kWh(AC) per installed watt(DC) of PV solar. 
  • Therefore, a 4kW(DC) installed system will generate 4000 times 1.4kWh which equals 5,600 kWh per year. (467 kWh average per month)
  • For 20 years, 5,600 kWh times 20 equals 112,000 kWh.  The cost per kWh over the 20 year period is then $8,000 divided by 112,000 kWh which equals $0.07/kWh, and then FREE after that……
So, the use of solar energy in Texas can provide:
  • More energy independence from unfriendly foreign countries;
  • More energy diversification and security by including the unending power of the sun in our energy mix;
  • More stewardship of our natural resources – by using the untapped energy of the sun, and also saving our precious water resources normally needed by centralized conventional power plants;
  • More price stability by pre-paying for long term energy (the life of PV solar systems is at least 25-40 years); For PV solar systems, the total cost is the installed system cost. There are NO ongoing fuel costs. For conventional power plants, there is the installed cost of the power plant plus the ongoing cost of fuel. Can anyone even obtain a 10 year energy contract from their utility company vs a 25-40 year price contract?
  • More consumer choice with the option to generate some of your own electricity versus being totally dependent on the utility company;
  • More support for the local economy with sales, design, and installation jobs for solar systems;
  • More pollution-free energy production;
  • Less energy wasted due to losses in the transmission and distribution systems by generating a portion of the electricity where it is used;
  • Less peak energy demand and stress on the Texas electric grid because distributed solar electricity is generated where it is used and when we need it the most – on sunny summer days;
  • Less financial risk due to uncontrolled and unpredictable future energy price spikes;
  • Less air and water pollution.
Are we saying that Texans don’t have the innovation, technological drive, and the cost competitiveness to match what is already being done today in Germany with distributed PV solar energy?  Let’s check this math again and find a way to tap this untapped Texas resource of the SUN!

Plano Solar Energy Advocate (LH)

For more information about energy subsidies, see "The Renewable Energy (Actually All Energy Sources) Subsidy Topic", at

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

2012 DFW Solar Home Tour

(originally posted at -

by The Sustainability Steward (JR)
On Saturday, October 6, I toured some of the homes here in Plano on the annual DFW Solar Home Tour, sponsored by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES).  This is the 17th year that ASES held a national solar tour, with 14 homes in the Metroplex listed on the self-guided tour.  The City of Plano demonstrated its leadership in sustainability with four homes on the tour, the most of any one city in the area.

The homes on the tour were the Caldwell home at 3700 Hearst Castle, the Elliot residence at 2401 Trellis Lane, the Neukranz house at 3309 Rampart in east Plano, and the home at 3325 Canoncita occupied by Bill and Libby Perry.  Although it was an overcast day, it was a perfect way to visit with the homeowners and get their perspective of having solar panels installed on their roofs and the electricity savings that they are now seeing.


The first home I visited was the residence of John Caldwell on Hearst Castle drive. John is a fascinating individual, and not only discussed his solar energy system with me, but shared his organic garden and his patented invention, the bicep bike.  He teaches a gardening class through the Plano Parks and Recreation, while his bicep bike was recently highlighted on Gear TV (as also shown on Youtube):

His solar array gives him approximately 25% of his electricity needs, and on days that he is actually producing more than consuming electricity, TXU credits him at $0.13 kWh for the energy he is producing for the power grid.

The next stop on the tour was the Perry home on Canoncita. Not only do they have panels on the south facing side of their home, but on the west side as well, and as a result, are averaging about 50% of their annual electricity consumption with the solar cells installed on their roof. 

Their system has been installed for a year and is able to be monitored online in real time. The Perry family was very open about the techniques they have adopted in water conservation as well, and have one of the most environmentally friendly homes I’ve encountered in our community.

The last home visited was the Elliot home on Trellis drive. This, too, has optimized its ability to collect energy from the sun with a nice array of south facing panels.  Panels are best positioned at a 33 degree angle facing the south, and a solar system of 4 kWh will typically generate over 5,000 kWh of electricity a year in our area. 

If you are interested in learning more about solar energy in our community, please consider joining the Plano Solar Advocates.  The Advocates have a goal to increase the installed base in the city of Plano to 5MWp of solar capacity by 2015, or, approximately 1000 homes or business sites with installed solar panels.  More information on the advocacy program and promoting Plano to become a leader in solar energy capacity in Texas can be found at:


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Renewable Energy (Actually All Energy Sources) Subsidy Topic

Today, in many locations in the United States and around the world, PV (photovoltaic) solar systems already deliver cost-competitive electricity to  consumers. In some locations, various forms of subsidies help PV solar to achieve this cost-competitive position today. However, if the cost reduction trends in PV solar systems continue, in a very few years they will be cost competitive without any ongoing subsidies.

The issue of subsidies for renewable energy is a concern to me as well as to most people, so I have begun to research this topic in more detail. Although the message we frequently hear is that renewable energy sources are receiving too much in subsidies, what I have found in various studies is that when taken in the context of a longer period of history, all energy sources have benefited from significant and long-term subsidies. 

One of these studies is a September 2011 report, titled  "What Would Jefferson Do? The Historical Role of Federal Subsidies in Shaping America’s Energy Future", by DBL Investors. (See a link to this report and others on the Plano Solar Advocates "Resources" page in the section titled "The Subsidy Topic".) 

The research reported in this paper states that through the end of 2009, the energy sector receiving the largest subsidies over time has been the oil and gas industry, with a cumulative amount of $447B over the period of 1918-2009. This averages approximately $4.9B per year for 90 YEARS!  It is no surprise that the technological revolution allowing for the cost-effective extraction of natural gas from shale occurred thanks to more than three decades of government subsidies for research, demonstration, and production. (See “New Investigation Finds Decades of Government Funding Behind Shale Revolution”, December 20, 2011,

The DBL Investors report states that renewable energy sources, including wind and solar combined, have received a cumulative of just $6B during the period of 1994-2009, which equates to an average of $370M per year over 15 years.    

We usually don't hear this historical context when subsidies for renewables are being questioned and debated.   Subsidies for newer energy sources appear to be much more “visible” to us.   Subsidies for existing energy sources appear to be “invisible” to most of us because they are included in existing tax regulations and permanently on the books, not up for review on a regular basis.

So, if we think we must phase out subsidies on renewable energy sources any time soon, shouldn't we first make sure that subsides for other more mature energy sources are phased out first?  

I will be continuing to research this topic to learn more.  I think one of the good ideas that has been studied is to take a long term view, with a subsidy ramp down over a period of time (e.g. over 5 years) whether than ending abruptly at the end of a given year.  This approach would give business and industry a planning horizon that incentivizes further process improvements and cost reductions. The current renewable energy subsidy approach does not do this.

Please share your views and any research that you may find on this topic by providing comments to this blog posting.

Best Regards,
A Plano Solar Energy Advocate (LH)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What do Plano Residents think about Solar Energy?

In late March of this year, Plano Senior High School (PSHS) Advanced Placement Environment Science (APES) classes participated in a homework assignment with their families to complete a survey about solar energy. The survey was completed by over 200 respondents.

The purpose of the survey was to obtain a sampling of the views of residents regarding their awareness, interests, concerns, and potential barriers to deployment of solar energy in Plano. The survey consisted of approximately 30 questions. These questions were a compilation obtained from citizen surveys performed in Houston, San Antonio, and Austin over the last few years. The results from this local survey sample were somewhat similar to the results of the other Texas cities. 

Here is a sample of some of the questions and local results:
  • Which of the following concern you about the future of energy and the environment?
    • top responses - increased energy prices; decreased availability of energy;
  • How concerned are you about future energy prices?
    • 95% responded either very concerned or somewhat concerned
  • How likely are you to invest in solar power for your home or to buy a home with solar power already installed?
    • 55% responded either very likely or somewhat likely
  • How much of a factor is cost in purchasing and installing a solar power system?
    • 95% responded either very important or important
Other responses indicated:
  • 67% were not aware of existing solar rebates or tax credits
  • Aside from the concern of cost, the top three reasons cited for not having pursued installation of a solar power system were:
    • Lack of confidence in selecting the proper system
    • Don't know where to buy it
    • Don't know who would install it
The purpose of this solar energy blog posting and previous blog postings over the last few months is to increase awareness of solar energy and its potential in Plano. The sample survey completed by the group of students' families from PSHS was intended to obtain a better understanding of the current views and concerns of residents. While this survey represented only a sample of Plano residents, hopefully these initial results will help facilitate the implementation of a wider survey of local residents. The results from a wider survey could enable interested citizens groups to create action plans to communicate opportunities about the great potential over the coming years of expanding the deployment of solar energy right here in Plano.

And SPECIAL THANKS to the APES teachers and students at Plano Senior High School for their involvement in the process and participation in the survey!

Need more info about promoting the use of solar power generation in Plano? Please contact me!

Plano Solar Energy Advocate (LH)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Solar Energy in Plano

By the end of 2010, there were over 40 GWp of total photovoltaic (PV) solar energy capacity installed in systems around the world - that's over 40 billion watts peak. Preliminary data at the end of 2011 indicate this number increased to over 65 GWp. Germany continues to lead the world with about 40 percent of installed solar energy capacity (over 25 GWp).

At the end of 2010, the United States had installed about 2.2 GWp (2.2 billion Wp) of PV solar. Preliminary data for 2011 indicate that we now have over 4 GWp installed, a very sizable increase in just one year. Closer to home, Texas added about 47 MWp (47 million Wp) of PV solar installations in 2011 bringing the cumulative installed capacity to about 80 MWp.

Texas exceeded its overall Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) requirement passed by the Texas Legislature by installing over 10 GW (10 billion W) of wind energy. (The original RPS passed in 1999, with an update in 2005.) However, the 2005 legislation included a target for the state to reach 5 million W of non-wind renewable energy. As solar energy continues to expand all around the world and the US, we have further opportunities in Texas to grow our use of solar energy. (See the Live Green in Plano blog posting from March 21, 2012 - Solar Energy in Texas.)

So how does this growth in solar energy around the world and the US impact residents in Plano? What’s in it for us? How much electricity is produced today in Plano from PV solar? To achieve the target of 500 MW across Texas, how much electricity should Plano be producing from PV solar to contribute our share?

At the end of 2010, it is estimated Plano had about 240,000 Wp of PV solar installed in 35 to 40 residences and businesses around the city . If we use the Texas RPS goal of 500 MW non-wind, and assume we should target this non-wind as solar, we can make some calculations to determine a few targets for Plano.

If we use population as our metric, Plano has approximately 1.06 percent of the state's population. So one percent of the 500 MW target means Plano’s target is 5.3 MWp from PV solar to contribute our share of the overall Texas RPS target. If we assume the average PV solar installation is 5,000 Wp (which is a typical size residential PV solar system across the US), then we would need approximately 1,060 of these average PV solar installations in Plano to achieve 5.3 MWp. Real estate data on the internet indicates Plano has approximately 60,000 single family homes. To achieve the target of 5.3 MWp of electricity generated from PV solar, we only need about 1.8 percent of our existing homes (1,060/60,000) to have this 5,000 Wp PV solar system installed and operational.

Where is more information about PV solar installations for your home? Generally, electricity is distributed to residents in Plano by either Oncor or CoServ. If your home is serviced by Oncor, then you can find out about solar program information from their website -

Check out a few examples of solar programs offered by retail electric providers operating in Plano in the Oncor serving area by visiting their websites:
Reliant Solar & Wind Buyback Program

If your location is serviced by CoServ, check out information about PV solar at their website -, then select TogetherWeSave > Think Green Rebates > Solar Energy Rebate

Need more info about promoting the use of solar power generation in Plano? Contact me!

Plano Solar Energy Advocate (LH)
1st paragraph and 2nd paragraph
REN21 Renewables 2011 Global Status Report -

U.S. Solar Market Insight: 2011 Year-in-Review Report - Executive Summary -

3rd paragraph
Texas State Energy Conservation Office - Texas Renewable Portfolio Standard -
(original post -

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Solar Energy in Texas

Did you know the amount of solar energy reaching the Earth in one hour is approximately the same as the total energy used by everyone on the planet for an entire year? Imagine the abundant amount of sunshine in Texas alone!

Texas continues to grow, and so is the demand for energy. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) recently released (Dec. 2011) their 10-year energy outlook which indicated the need for additional energy generation - in particular, the need for additional energy to handle peak demands in the summer.


Wouldn't it be great to meet some of our growing energy needs by tapping the HUGE potential of energy from the sun? Generating electricity from solar panels (photovoltaic or PV panels) installed on homes and businesses have the following key benefits:

1. Electricity generation is generally aligned with the time of day demand. So, while our air conditioners are in heavy, almost continuous use during Texas summers, this is also when the sun shines brightest and solar panels generate the most electricity!

2. Solar energy installed costs are already lower than other existing peak demand generation sources.

3. Electricity generated by distributed solar panels on homes and businesses is located where the demand is consumed (our house/business), thus eliminating electricity transmission losses.

4. Electricity generated from solar panels does not require our scarce Texas water resources for electricity generation like other conventional electricity generation sources.

5. Distributed electricity generation from solar panels is generally a quick deployment - six months versus up to three years for conventional power plants.

For overview information about solar energy, please watch these short introductory videos (about 4 minutes each) at these URLs:

If you would like further information about what you could do to help promote the use of distributed solar power generation in Texas, please send your request to the email address given below:

Plano Solar Energy Advocate (LH)

(original post -

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Renewable Energy

Interested in learning about, using, and promoting renewable energy?

Interested in learning about solar energy?

Interested in learning about the vast wind energy in Texas that is already being utilized?

A really good way is to get involved locally.

A really good way to get involved locally is to attend a NTREG meeting?

Which leads to the question --- What is NTREG?

NTREG is the North Texas Renewable Energy Group. It was established in 2001 with the primary goal of educating North Texans about the power of renewable energy ("RE"). As the NTREG webpage states - "NTREG members come quite literally from all walks of life. You need not be an engineer or the proverbial rocket scientist to be an active and productive participant with us." NTREG is a 501(c)(3) non-profit volunteer organization, and is the local chapter of the Texas Solar Energy Society (TXSES), which is the state chapter of the American Solar Energy Society (ASES). NTREG monthly meetings are currently being held at the REI store in Dallas on LBJ Freeway. Information about upcoming meetings is available at their website -

At the most recent meeting on Saturday, February 11, the presentation "Denton Municipal Electric's Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Initiatives" was lead by Lisa A. Lemons. Lisa is the Energy Efficiency & Sustainability Manager for Denton Municipal Electric. This was a very informative presentation and interactive discussion about Denton's initiative to become the "Greenest City in Texas" which began in earnest in 2007. Denton's municipal electric utility now obtains 40% of its electricity from renewable sources, which is one of the highest, if not the highest percentage in Texas. Most of this renewable energy in Denton is coming from the Wolf Ridge Wind Farm, which sits in rural Cooke County, north of Muenster, Texas, only about 30 miles from Denton.

Denton has also recently issued a request for proposal (RFP) for a purchase power agreement for 10-20MW of solar generation. The responses for the RFP are due February 21, 2012 (VERY SOON). If the responses are within the financial objectives of the project, the objective is to have the system online by June 2013. Denton's RFP was modeled after the recent RFPs that San Antonio, Texas has issued for larger solar generation systems (up to 400MW).

As we know, the sun shines a lot in Texas! And, we also know that we generally have the biggest demand for electricity when the sun shines a lot in the summer. So spend some time to learn about solar energy and other renewable energy - come to the next NTREG meeting!

Plano Solar Energy Advocate (LH)

(original post -