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Solar Energy

Solar energy has many direct uses, including passive architectural applications such as lighting and thermal comfort provided by the use of proper building materials and orientation, as well as active water and space heating.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) cells and concentrating solar power (CSP) systems can generate electricity on a small or large scale. In addition, PV cells are used in a variety of cost-effective and “off the grid” applications, including calculators, wrist watches, road and railroad warning signs, flashing school zone lights, telecommunication equipment and emergency lighting on offshore oil rigs.

Solar energy is an inexhaustible renewable resource. The sun constantly produces vast amounts of renewable solar energy that can be collected and converted into heat and electricity. Texas is among the states with the most solar energy resources. Several other states, however, lead the nation in terms of using solar energy, mostly due to state policies and incentives that encourage the installation of solar energy systems. Texas has the sunshine, manufacturing base and research institutions to become a leader in the development of solar energy. While production costs have dropped since the 1980s, they remain high compared to fossil fuels.

Cost

Per Million Btu Sunlight has no fuel cost.
Direct Subsidy Share of Total Consumer Spending Federal: 12.3 percent; State and Local: 9.2 percent.123
Notes Large, central-station electricity generation entails transmission costs, but small-scale passive, thermal and distributed photovoltaic applications do not. Solar energy is still more expensive for bulk energy supply than many other energy sources. In 2006, photovoltaic electricity cost 18 to 23 cents per kWh; electricity produced by CSP systems cost about 12 cents per kWh. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) expects improved PV technologies using cheaper materials, higher-efficiency components and advanced manufacturing techniques to reduce the price of PV electricity to between 11 and 18 cents per kWh by 2010. DOE also expects the cost of energy produced by parabolic-trough CSP systems to fall to about 8.5 cents per kWh by 2010.124

Economic Impact and Viability

Wages and Jobs Economic data on the Texas solar energy industry are not available.
Regulatory Climate Any large-scale CSP installation in Texas would have to obtain a wastewater permit from TCEQ because the most promising large-scale plants use water as a cooling medium. The process usually takes about one year.125
Texas Competitive Advantage The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has determined that the nation’s most plentiful solar resources are found in the Southwest. California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Texas possess some of the best “insolation” values in the world, a term referring to the amount of solar radiation striking the planet’s surface over a period of time. In addition, solar PV panels that are integrated into buildings and other structures can offer clean power sources to Texas cities that enjoy ample sunlight.126
Notes A study commissioned by Austin Energy, the city’s utility, concluded that construction of a 100 MW manufacturing plant in the Austin area could create nearly 300 new jobs and add about $1 billion to the regional economy by 2020.127 The Solar Energy Industries Association estimates that every megawatt of solar capacity installed in the U.S. supports 32 jobs.128

Availability and Current Infrastructure

Estimated Resources in Texas A mid-1990s study commissioned by the State Energy Conservation Office found that Texas has 250 “quads” (quadrillion Btu) of accessible solar energy available per year.129
Current Fuel Production N/A
Consumption in Texas No statewide data available.
Notes Texas has only a small amount of solar electricity generating capacity – about 1.7 MW in 2006 – available to the state’s electric grids. This amount likely would increase if net metering – an arrangement that allows owners of PV systems to sell excess power they generate back to the utility – becomes widely available across Texas.

Environment, Health and Safety

Greenhouse Gas Emissions No significant issues.
Air Pollution (Non-Greenhouse Gas) No significant issues.
Solid Waste PV systems do not generate solid waste in creating electricity. Their manufacture generates small amounts of hazardous materials. CSP plants do not produce solid waste when generating electricity.130
Land Use Photovoltaic systems require little land use, because typically they are affixed to existing structures. CSP installations require significant amounts of land.
Water Withdrawal Solar thermal energy may require cooling water, but most of this water can be recycled.
Water Consumption Depending on the type of installation, electricity generation from solar power can require between zero and 270 gallons of water per million Btu generated.131 PV systems and dish-Stirling systems, or glass mirrors in the shape of a dish that reflect sunlight onto a small area, do not require water.
Water Quality No significant issues.
Notes Though CSP installations do not damage the land, they require about five to 10 acres per MW.132

Fuel Characteristics

Energy Content Peak energy content of sunlight at ground level is approximately 1,000 watts per square meter, though the amount of solar radiation available at any time and location varies depending on geographic location, time of day, season, local landscape and local weather.133
Renewability Solar power is a renewable resource.

Other Issues

Dependence on Foreign Suppliers No significant issues.
Price and Supply Risks Most current PV modules are made of high-purity crystalline silicon, which recently has been in short supply globally, constraining solar cell production and increasing their cost. Solar thermal systems typically use copper for heat exchange surfaces, and copper prices have recently risen considerably. New types of PV cells, however, are less dependent on scarce raw materials.
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