HOUSTON – In a sign of incredible growth for solar energy in Houston, total solar capacity in the city more than doubled in 2018, according to the sixth edition of Shining Cities: The Top U.S. Cities for Solar Energy, a new report by Environment Texas Research & Policy Center. Houston passed Dallas in solar, adding 11.4 megawatts (MW) of solar in 2018. The group pointed to a new solar energy bulk purchasing program available through the state, Houston’s climate action plan, and bills in the Legislature as opportunities to further boost the region’s use of solar energy.
Houston led the metropolitan area with more than 1500 solar installations totalling 20.9 MW, followed by Beasley in Fort Bend County with 12 MW, Katy with 3.25 MW, Richmond with 1.68 MW, Cypress with 1.57 MW, Humble with 1.12 MW and Pearland with 1.06 MW.
“With no local rebates available, Houston has long limped along in its solar growth compared to the rest of the state,” said Luke Metzger, Executive Director of Environment Texas. “Those days are over. With the price of solar panels dropping 70% since 2010, folks in greater Houston are looking to the sun at a blinding rate.”
Houston has the potential to go much further on solar. According to figures from the U.S. Department of Energy, 4605 MW of solar could be installed just on small buildings in Houston. Google’s Project Sunroof goes further, estimating that Houston has 501,000 total rooftops suitable for solar which together could generate 14,400 MW of energy.
Metzger encouraged local governments to join the Texas Power Pool, a program of the State Energy Conservation Office which helps cities, counties and universities to aggregate their purchases of electricity to buy solar power at competitive rates. He also pointed to bills in the Legislature which would boost solar energy. HB 2860 (Raymond) would protect the rights of homeowners to install solar on their properties and SB 2068 (Menendez) would require new buildings be “solar ready.” Finally, Metzger said, Houston’s Climate Action Plan could further boost the city’s use of solar.
“It’s no surprise more and more Houstonians are going solar,” said Robert Noel of non-profit Solar United Neighbors. “They want to save money and take control of where their electricity comes from.” Solar United Neighbors brings homeowners and small businesses together in bulk purchase groups called "solar co-ops”. The solar co-op process educates participants about solar energy and helps them receive a personalized bid to install solar. Solar co-ops are now open in Central Houston and the Greater Woodlands community.
Solar energy helps Houston in many ways, including by combating global warming, reducing air pollution, stabilizing energy costs for residents and, when coupled with energy storage, helping keep the power on during outages including during disasters. According to a recent census of solar jobs by the Solar Foundation, 910 people work in the solar industry in Harris County, 260 in Montgomery County and 144 in Fort Bend County, a combined 78% increase for those counties over 2017.
This year’s Shining Cities survey ranks 69 of the nation’s major cities by solar energy capacity. Honolulu ranks first overall for solar energy capacity per capita, while Los Angeles places No. 1 in total solar energy capacity installed. Houston ranked 23rd, moving up 11 places over last year’s report.
Environment Texas is a non-profit advocate for clean air, clean water and open spaces.