Lubbock is nestled into northwestern Texas and has no measly population, with about 250,000 residents in the city. Texas is known for its oil and shale industry, and it seems that fossil fuels are the lifeblood of many Texans. Lubbock is a huge agricultural center, largely concentrating on cotton production. Of course, these plants do not grow without sunlight, and Lubbock registers an average of 3,196.5 hours of sunlight from 1980 to 2010, according to the NOAA. That translates to 72% of the time when sunlight was possible, there was a sun shining in the sky.
The sun is a fusion reactor, and a very large one at that. This behemoth, which we could never create on earth, sends more energy to the surface of the Earth in a couple hours than worldwide energy consumption in an entire year. Our energy needs are increasing, certainly, but the sun can provide a very significant portion of that energy without causing significant carbon contributions. We don’t need 100% efficient solar panels – which is an engineering impossibility anyway – but solar energy production is becoming ever more feasible, even for the individual household. Elon Musk, the dreamer behind Tesla Motors, Space X, and various other futuristic companies, has announced his company can produce slick, attractive, modern solar roofs cheaper than a regular roof (of course depending on roofing material).
Not only can you produce your own energy, you can help save the planet at the same time. We owe it to future Earthlings to take care of our planet, and implementing solar is one way – even possibility a lucrative way – for you to participate.
A typical 5kW solar system will run about $20,000. That is indeed a major outlay for the average individual household, but there are various ways to finance the project. First, note that it doesn’t matter where you live, but the federal government will give you a tax credit of 30% on any new installations. This means you can think of it more like $14,000. That money does not simply disappear, either. You will be able to take the increased $20,000 worth of equity on your property to market, but the State of Texas will allow you to exclude that $20,000 system from your property taxes. This is known as the Renewable Energy Systems Property Tax Exemption and applies to other areas of renewable energy, as well.
Lubbock can be hot in the summer, requiring air conditioning, and, if you’re running a farm, you will need energy for at least some of the processes. These can all be supported by an appropriately sized solar system, and you will eventually reap the benefits of the not having to rely on fossil fuel power generated far away by some utility company. What exactly is your ROI? That depends on how you finance your system. The three ways to finance are straight cash, using credit, and leasing the equipment. So if the $20,000 figure seems too steep for you, even after the government incentives, you may still be able to install a system using one of the financing plans.
Cash is the simplest way to finance the project. You will need to lay out the whole amount yourself (if you are not combining financing types), and if you have this amount of money available, this is the best way to go. The system will be yours immediately, you will have no interest to pay, and you can resell the equipment at your discretion. You also immediately start to reap the benefits of saving energy from the power company.
If you save $1000/year on energy costs, you could start to see your panels pay for themselves in just a little over 10 years. If you run an energy-intensive household or are a small individual farmer, you could save significantly more than that if you are using the energy from your system to power some of your equipment. The financial benefit via the cash avenue is the greatest, because you will pay zero in interest and the entire savings will be yours to keep.
Credit would entail getting a loan. You may even have the cash on-hand, but you would rather do something else with it or just keep it liquid for an emergency. You will need to talk to your preferred bank, but throughout Texas there are several banks specializing in loans specifically for solar installations. Check out EnergySage to find out more and if you already work with any of the banks.
Another perk of having a secured loan (meaning there is collateral for the amount) is that the interest is tax deductible. This is another incentive by the government (as the government is the one reducing its revenues for your benefit). Once the loan is paid off, you will own the equipment and be able to resell or continue using them as you wish.
Leasing the equipment is just like leasing a car. You do not own the equipment and never will. Once the lease term expires, you can renegotiate the terms or give the equipment back to the lessor. One major advantage is that the company you lease from may offer services for maintenance, but do not use this as your deal breaker – generally these systems require very little maintenance.
The Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is a state’s commitment to introducing renewable energy sources. Politicians saying they want to increase solar and actually doing so are different things. This measure gives an idea of how serious the state government is in helping its citizens and itself achieve fossil-fuel energy independence. The higher the number, the better – but what is more important is the number compared to the population and the state’s energy usage.
Texas was an early adopter of wind energy in the 1990s. However, wind energy requires large investments and plots of land, while solar can be done by you, the individual. Texas’s RPS was 5,880MW by 2015 and 10,000MW by 2025. This means Texas strived for 10,000MW of additional renewable power over 1999. These goals have both been exceeded (as of 2013), though 96% of the power was through wind. As the levels have been achieved, do not expect many further government incentives. What was mentioned earlier in this article, however, still stands.
Texas is a huge wind energy producer and furthermore a large employer in the renewables field. The state can boast the 2nd highest level of employment at over 28,000 jobs according to the most recent energy overview release from the Office of the Governor of Texas. California is first with about twice as many jobs, but California also has a much larger population to employ. Texas, being a southern state, offers largely amicable conditions for solar. Lubbock sits in one of the most amicable areas of the entire state, generating over 6kWh per square meter per day. Your roof may only be a few square meters, but if you live in Lubbock, you are in one of the best places in Texas to make the most of your roof’s surface area.
Furthermore, the price of solar modules in Texas has crashed from a high of around $3.50 in 2008 to about $1.15 in 2012 and the price will continue to fall.
Aside from the financial benefits of saving money on your energy bill, you will be helping the planet. If this motivation isn’t enough, you will become more energy independent and rely less on a company that may raise prices unexpectedly. We do not expect another Enron, but energy prices do fluctuate and can be somewhat predictable. While the weather changes, long-term trends show Lubbock to have a lot of sunshine, and the sun is estimated to power itself for another few billion years. So don’t worry about running out of energy from the sun.
For those days that are less sunny or at night, you may consider installing an energy storage system. Heating water is one way to store energy, as water has a high specific heat and can easily be insulated. Storing energy in refrigeration equipment during the day (while there’s electricity production) may also be an option as technology develops. Of course battery technology is also advancing and in the near future you may be able to power your home on a dark day and throughout the night without issue.
The only person who can make the final decision is you. You will need to calculate how much energy you use, how much you can save from your current electric provider, how much you can afford to invest in solar, and if you want to have such an installation on your property.
As mentioned at the beginning, Texas is a fossil fuel haven. The state has become rich from fossil fuels, and they are easily accessible, especially with new developments in fracking. The state does offer incentives to install residential solar systems, but it is not as good as some of the other states whose climates are conducive to high levels of electric production. Fossil fuels can provide energy for the short-term future, and if you are not in the financial position to invest, Texas will not help you too much. However, if you can and have the desire to reduce your carbon footprint while becoming energy independent, consider installing a solar energy system.
Overall, we rate the state of Texas’ solar grade as 51%.