White Paper: Solar Energy Could Generate 123,000 New Jobs in Texas by 2030

Development of the solar energy industry in Texas would have a significant economic impact for consumers, the environment and workers, according to a new white paper released by the IC2 Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.

"Opportunity on the Horizon: Photovoltaics in Texas" finds that the near-term benefits of nurturing the solar energy industry in Texas will stimulate the state's economy, reduce the cost of power for consumers and minimize greenhouse gas emissions. The report is available for download (for free) at http://www.ati.utexas.edu and is listed in the information section.

"The white paper finds the potential for economic growth in Texas through the creation of a vibrant solar power industry," said Joel Serface, director of the Clean Energy Incubator at The University of Texas at Austin and a contributor to the report. "Worldwide, the cost of converting sunlight to electricity is rapidly decreasing. The right public policies, combined with emerging and increasingly efficient technologies in solar power, would create a solid opportunity for Texas to build an economic engine on this non-polluting resource."

The paper cites a recent University of California-Berkeley study that finds the solar industry produces seven to 11 times as many jobs on a megawatt capacity basis as coal-fired power plants and has a larger positive trickle-down effect than wind energy.

"Solar-produced power appears to have the greatest potential of all the alternative energy technologies," said Pearce W. Hammond, vice president, Simmons & Company International, an investment bank specializing in the energy industry. "Given its solar assets, Texas should excel in this field and potentially become a world-leader in solar technology, implementation, related jobs and production."

Estimates suggest Texas could generate 123,000 new high-wage, technology-related, advanced manufacturing and electrical services jobs by 2020 by actively moving toward solar power. It is predicted these jobs would be created across the entire state as large solar farms grow in West Texas, silicon plants develop along the Gulf Coast and manufacturing centers appear in Central Texas.

The report evaluates the competitive benefits Texas has in the worldwide market and compares the overall results of Texan efforts against other states and international competitors. The study notes that although Texas consumed more energy than any other state and has the best overall climate for producing solar energy year-round, it ranked eighth in solar adoption in 2006, producing just 1/100th of the solar energy of California.

Texans pay about 13 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity. It is believed that the production of photovoltaics, like other semiconductors, would follow a predictable decline in costs. Analysts predict this cost decline will translate to between 10 to 15 cents per kilowatt-hour as early as 2010.

In 1999, the Texas Legislature adopted a bill that introduced the retail competition in the sale of electricity and renewable portfolio standards (RPS) to consumers. Since 2002, electricity users in deregulated markets have been able to choose their power providers from a multitude of retailers. The legislation requires energy providers to increase the amount of renewable energy produced through a combination of solar, wind, geothermal, hydro wave, tidal, biomass-based waste products or landfill gas.

To date, energy producers have chosen to focus on wind energy for a multitude of reasons, including federal tax incentives for producers, the large amount of wind resources in the state and the scalability of large wind projects. The report concludes that the legislation has brought many benefits to consumers across the state and can be used as a roadmap for the successful expansion of solar power across the state.

"We've learned that Texas consumers want solar power and that a small RPS nudge would work," Serface said. "Relatively minor regulatory encouragement can have major implications in the direction of new-energy investments, increase consumer demand for green power and spur non-wind renewables."

In a recent survey, 84 percent of Texas power consumers responded favorably to the question, "Do you think the Texas Legislature should encourage investment in solar power in Texas?" Worldwide, investors are confident in the future of solar power. The solar industry grew to $10.6 billion in revenues in 2006 and is estimated to be greater than $30 billion, with some analyst estimates as high as $72 billion for the entire solar value chain by 2010.

The report outlines several recommendations to strengthen the state's solar strategy. Starting with leadership to create the policies necessary for success, Texas could leverage its natural resources, skilled workforce, existing industries and entrepreneurial spirit to create a new energy industry, the report states.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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