Roofs in Texas plastered with solar panels in 2021, and possibly a battery in the garage, may become more common after one of the worst winter storms in Texas history. The double blow of rising electricity prices and massive outages following the power grid collapse following the February 15 storm is likely to be a turning point for the solar industry in the Lone Star State.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, Texas already has 780,000 households with solar systems for private households, the second largest after California. However, with only around 1% of solar households, per capita installation is far behind. Relatively low energy prices mean that the incentive to switch to solar energy for homes is still lower than in places like Nevada, which top the list with 1.3 megawatts of solar capacity per person and more than ten times higher than in Texas.
This month can change that. The state stalled as temperatures dropped to -11 Fahrenheit, the second coldest week in history, pipes burst, pipelines frozen, and millions of people turned off electricity. At times, the supply-demand gap widened to around 30 gigawatts (just under half the state's peak demand) as Texan carriers scrambled to avoid devices that may have left the state in the dark for months. This shortage caused electricity prices to increase by 10,000%. Utility bills followed for some customers with floating rate plans who were completely exposed to fluctuations in wholesale prices. A Griddy utility customer posted a screenshot of a $ 3,800 utility bill in the past two weeks to power their 1,300-square-foot home.
These skyrocketing prices for Griddy customers are just the beginning. The state must now spend billions of dollars to protect its infrastructure against extreme weather, which is expected to deteriorate as climate change continues. Although the deregulated energy market in Texan, as in any state, leaves a lot to business, policymakers are now under pressure to prevent another such disaster before the next polar fall or scorching heat wave. Over the next five years, the state will have to make enormous new infrastructure spending, which will ultimately end up on the electricity bills. The interest payers will be on the hook
A similar story in Australia
Something similar happened in Australia, where interest payers were outraged when they were hit by exploding bills. Retail prices for electricity in Australia have nearly doubled since 2005 to fund modernization of aging infrastructure. In combination with incentives and falling solar prices, solar systems for private households have become established. The country has the highest household solar income rate of any major economy: at least one in four Australian homes has rooftop solar panels, which is the case in both conservative Queensland and left-wing Sydney. The systems usually pay for themselves in a few years. A homeowner interviewed by the New York Times said that after installing a $ 3,000 solar panel system, his monthly utility bill of $ 190 turned into a loan of $ 30 (thanks to the utility that pays for excess electricity).
A similar phenomenon is occurring in the US, says Vikram Aggarwal, founder and CEO of EnergySage, a marketplace where people can buy and sell solar energy. Interest in new solar systems is steadily increasing on the platform after natural disasters spur homeowners to protect themselves from failures and price increases. After Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico tore down the island's power grid in 2018, record numbers of islanders installed home battery systems. In California, devastating forest fires (and state incentives) have made it one of the largest markets for solar and household batteries. It started when California's largest utility company, PG&E, intentionally turned off power to millions of people in 2019 to prevent fires. The search for installers for solar and storage systems in the PG&E field in EnergySage increased 40% over the national baseline of 2019 in the first quarter.
Texas is famous for going it alone. The power grid is isolated from the rest of the country to avoid federal regulation. This was one of the reasons that when power plants went live this month, Texas had no way of turning. Once the ice in the Lone Star State melts, in the place known for being solo, residents may be doing the same when it comes to generating their own electricity.