Episode 6 | May 29, 2018
Charlie Hemmeline, the Founder and Executive Director of the Texas Solar Power Association, joins hosts Kyle Frazier and Whitney Torres to discuss the state of the solar energy industry in the Lone Star State. They discuss the economics of solar in Texas, the water-energy nexus, storage, microgrids, policy and politics, and what the future may hold.
Founding the TSPA
After eight years at the U.S. Department of Energy, Charlie Hemmeline returned to his native Texas in 2013 to start the Texas Solar Power Association (TSPA). He saw the need for an “industry-focused, Texas-focused, solar-focused association” to advocate for solar at the Texas legislature and Public Utility Commission to help get solar going in the Lone Star State. Today, the TSPA is a resource for state governmental entities on all things solar in Texas – including residential rooftop, commercial, and utility scale solar energy, as well as associated products and services.
Current Topics in Solar Power
Charlie, Kyle, and Whitney discussed several hot topics related to solar energy in Texas:
Solar Potential: Texas has the highest solar potential of any state because of our intense sunlight, geography, and high energy usage. However, we are not the leaders in installed capacity because of the less-favorable regulatory environment and the lower price of electricity here. Solar growth in Texas is being driven primarily by demand from homeowners and businesses.
California New Home Mandate: The recent policy for all new homes to have solar starting in 2020 was adopted by the California Energy Commission as part of a building code update, not a legislative solution. A similar effort could make economic sense in Texas with a better payback than in California, but it remains to be seen whether it is feasible from a regulatory and policy perspective.
Water-Energy Nexus: The cost of water has traditionally not been part of the discussion about energy, even during droughts. Our low energy costs have not fully priced in the scarcity of water, which is a critical component to electricity generation from natural gas, nuclear, and hydroelectric sources. Texas policy makers are attuned to water needs, so the water-energy nexus presents an opportunity to make legislative inroads on solar and wind adoption.
Bipartisan Consensus: Solar power enjoys broad bi-partisan support in Texas because it offers economic, technological, and employment benefits for customers of all types and sizes. “Solar is bipartisan.”
Import Tariffs: Texas has a standalone electric grid, which means we tend to be less affected by federal policy than other states. Charlie notes that the tariffs on imported crystalline silicon modules are “unfortunate but not as cataclysmic as some of the initial news reports suggested.” The tariffs will raise prices for customers in the short-term, but only on a portion of the total installation costs.
Storage and Microgrids: Solar doesn’t need storage to succeed, but interest in storage is growing. The ability to make every home a microgrid is close to a technical reality now and could be a reasonable economic decision in the next 10 years. However, says Charlie, “to the extent that the grid can provide some value for you, you might want to stay plugged into it even if you could disconnect.”
The Future of Solar Energy in Texas
Charlie believes that the future of solar is aligned with the direction of electricity generally, towards “more choices, more options, more customers who can get more specifically what they want rather than just being fed the one-size-fits-all approach.”
To play a role in ensuring solar growth in Texas, Charlie suggests: “Be vocal with your policymakers at the city level and state representatives that this is important to you, solar is something that will work for Texas, and they should make it happen.”