Houston — A top Texas power regulator, a grid operator and two corporate executives focused much of their panel discussion Thursday at IHS CERAWeek on distributed generation, agreeing that a "wave" of solar generation is likely on its way.
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A state that leads the nation in installed wind generation but has lagged behind on both rooftop and utility-scale solar, the subject of DG in Texas has previously not received much public airing.
DG is power that is generated at the point of consumption, not centrally.
Donna Nelson, chairman of the Texas Public Utility Commission, said she believes solar will be the "fifth wave" of change that has transformed the Texas power sector since it was deregulated in 1999 and a competitive retail market was launched in 2002.
Nelson said waves three and four were the buildout of wind generation to 17,713 MW in the state today (out of 74,472 MW of wind nationally) from 5,000 MW in 2005 and construction of the $7 billion, 3,600-mile Competitive Renewable Energy Zones transmission system between 2006 and 2013.
There is almost 78,000 MW of generating capacity feeding the grid operated by the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas. Natural gas-fired generation is 53% of the total, while coal-fired is 22%, wind 18% and nuclear 6%.
According to Bill Magness, chairman and CEO of ERCOT, there is 288 MW of utility-scale solar connected to ERCOT's grid. He said he expects to see 2,000 MW of solar connected "in the next couple years."
According to a recent report from GTM Research, there is now just over 25,000 MW of rooftop and utility-scale solar generation installed across the country. California has 11,535 MW of that total. In Texas, as opposed to connected to ERCOT, according to GTM, there is 403 MW of solar.
ERCOT's Magness said while most people think of rooftop solar when they think of distributed generation, "we are not seeing so much rooftop as we are seeing utility-scale solar."
In ERCOT's recently released January Generator Interconnection Status Report, there are 5,194 MW of solar power projects that have signed interconnection agreements.
LIKE WIND, SOLAR COULD BOOM IN TEXAS
Asked if solar is the new wind, Patrick Woodson, chairman of Wind North America at E.ON, said his company saw Texas "lead the way" in terms of wind generation in the late 1990s, and said that with supportive regulators and an improving cost structure solar could see a similar kind of boom.
Woodson said wind developers appreciated the fact that a wind farm in Texas could be built in two to three years. He and other renewable company executives who attended CERAWeek argued that while the cost of wind energy had declined 33% in the last five years, the cost of solar had declined 66%.
Woodson estimated there is likely between 7,000 MW to 8,000 MW of solar power being planned in Texas, with "a lot of interest in utility-scale solar in west Texas."
The one problem mentioned specifically about solar and distributed generation was that of visibility.
According to the PUCT's Nelson, what many like most about ERCOT is its transparency, where market participants have a clear view of what is moving on the grid.
"ERCOT does not have visibility into distributed generation, specifically rooftop solar, which is behind the meter," Nelson said.
DG renders a grid operator essentially blind to what is happening with a certain portion of power output.
"ERCOT does not know what is behind somebody's fence," Magness said.