Should You Sign up for a Solar Power Purchase Agreements for Your Home?

If you are looking to venture into the wonderful world of solar PV, you have some options before making the commitment:

  • You can purchase your solar system outright and own the panels. This would mean you reap the tax benefits, incentives, and not to mention your bill would be significantly lower through the added generation source.
  • Or, if your market is competitive like Texas, you have the option to sign a PPA with a utility or third-party provider. This provider will cover installation and maintenance, but they will also get all tax credits and financial incentives you otherwise would have gotten had you done it independently. 
  • Instead of having the solar power sources directly at home, you can always purchase renewable electricity plans, especially if you are on the fence about solar for now. Just make sure you are in a region where you can bank on reliable wind, solar, or geothermal generation. 

With that being said, if we are talking solely about either signing a Power Purchase Agreements or buying the solar panels yourself, the upfront cost is something to consider.

If You Are Wanting to Own the Solar Panels: Price Considerations

 If you want to own a solar PV system, you are looking at a long term investment that can lead to a return on investment far greater than the price paid – this comes in in the form of tax credits, cheaper energy, and more flexibility than a long term contract.

The average cost in 2019 for installation and maintenance comes out to about $22,000 after all incentives and tax credits. This would take close to 12 years to pay back through the saving you get, on average. And you could expect a reasonable 25 year return of 32K. 

This is all based on estimates on solar power savings and are subject to myriad market fluctuations as well as equipment quality and geographic location. But the moral of the story is that PV systems can function as a reasonable long term investment.

If you go through a PPA though, you will only benefit from cheaper electricity and the provider of the PV system will gain the financial returns over the long term – usually 10-20 year agreements.

This is not meant to discourage going with PPAs at all; it’s just something to consider based on your overall goals with renewable energy.

Going With a PPA

Overall, PPAs can make a lot of sense for those who are not wanting to spend the money on the installation and maintenance of solar panels. A PPA in the context of retail electricity entails installing and maintaining the PV system at a customer’s home. After an agreement has been made, the retail provider or third-party provider will offset the costs of the household’s energy bill with the cheaper renewable energy. It’s a win-win for both parties with a much lower ceiling for the consumer than the provider. 

Overall, this is an important option to explore. There are many nuances to the overall process, but we hope this piqued your interest on the overall option. 

Texas Wholesale Electricity Revisited


Another important market dimension to consider for wholesale electricity is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Utility Dive lays out some talking points on regulatory efforts for a greener grid. More specifically, the roles that Attorney Generals and FERC plays in regulation, which in turn will pave the way for the future wholesale electricity market, is a key facet to keep in mind. 

This is apparent by just how polarizing clean energy technology initiatives are becoming. Many in favor of gas and coal are vehemently opposed to aggressive implementation of green technology because they argue it will undermine our fuel security. They also state that alternative energy sources are not being accurately valued because of just how many credits, incentives, and various valuations are skewing their real worth.

What this debate and subsequent shimmy for market valuation change means for wholesale electricity is that things might only get more complicated from here on out. Especially as regulators both give priority to clean energy and try to keep things as fair and free in the market. 

The Need for a New Model?


The majority of the country is competitive when it comes to electricity. This is especially true in Texas, where about 85% of consumers have the freedom to choose their provider. But Science Daily (via Cornell University) points out that restructured market models were originally designed to fit the more traditional energy mold: natural gas, coal, and other fossil fuels for electrical generation. What this means is that the market model might need to be tweaked to further welcome in alternative energy sources. Either that or the market will correct itself naturally, but many think there needs to be bumpers in place in order to further integrate green efforts for the grid. 


Science Daily, in the same source, shares that electricity is too complex to be completely free – as perhaps all markets are – and in that respect, small administrative changes should be implemented in order to make the market more conducive for renewables. As mentioned above, there are a lot of challenges to those types of changes, but all of which could have wide scale implications on the wholesale electricity market. 


On a similar note, in this article on the need for Congress to step in, the author Tom Hassenboehler states that Congress should step in, along with the FERC, and make sure electricity markets are more open and able to flourish in their competitive state. This sort of regulation will ensure transparency and would be a larger model of what the majority of Texas has adopted since 2002.


What’s to be Done About the Exploding Power Plants in Texas?

Recently, a power plant in Port Neches, Texas exploded twice: once at midnight on Wednesday, and then again later that afternoon. This was the night before Thanksgiving. This meant that instead of prepping dinner for the next day, thousands were evacuated because of explosions, as well as the chemicals that spewed from the fire. According to the aforementioned source, they are not sure why the first explosion occurred. The second blast had to do with the fire caused by the first. The subsequent explosion ensued because the fire spread to other vulnerable parts of the fire. 

Perhaps one of the biggest dangers of the plant’s explosion in Port Neches was the chemicals that were released into the air. The EPA actually has a history with Texas Petroleum Chemicals – the company who owns the plant. TPC has been violating clear air regulations through unhealthy levels of released butadiene into the environment.

Again, the cause of the explosion is unknown, but some think it is correlated with the high amounts of butadiene released from the plant. Because of fees and regulations that are not strict enough to necessitate fixing their chemical problem, experts think that the EPA should hit harder on clear air offenders like TPC.

 Texas: A History of Power Plant Explosions


These sorts of explosions are becoming relatively commonplace in Texas. Keeping in mind some of the disastrous explosions that have affected Texas, here recently in 2013 the small town of West, Texas was hit with a large explosion from a fertilizer plant

This resulted in the United States Geological Survey stating that the blast was powerful enough to register a 2.1 earthquake on their charts. There were estimates that more than 15 people had died. And around 75 homes were damaged because of the magnitude of the plant’s explosion.

The cause of the disaster was that a fire broke out inside of the facility and ignited the plant’s stored ammonium nitrate. What caused the fire is still unknown, but the plant had not been inspected for almost 3 decades. That same report had found serious safety problems, but nothing had been done about them.

Even coal plants are dangerous as well. In 2017, a coal plant in India caused the deaths of 43 people involved in an explosion at the NTPC thermal plant. The proposed cause has been attributed to bringing a more powerful unit online before enough testing had been put in place. 

 A Solution to These Explosions?


Because machinery can break and near-misses happen all of the time, it makes sense to not leave things up to chance: the solution to these explosions might reside within stricter regulations and fines for a plant’s proper risk management,

Not all accidents are preventable, but many people are stating that we need more protective measures in place. From the gamut of recent explosions, it seems safe to say that things need to be safer from here on out. 

 Recent News on Utility-Scale Batteries 

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) says that most utility-scale batteries are now made of lithium-ion. What does this mean for the electric grid? It largely means that energy and power capacity is only improving for battery storage options. This could have widespread implications for the future of electricity storage, meaning that more efficient models – most of which will probably use vanadium – will drive what the EIA estimates to be 2,500 MWH of storage power capacity by 2023.  Vanadium, in particular, is an attractive alternative to lithium just because it has an almost endless cycle life, which is a battery’s ability to charge and discharge without becoming defunct.

Regardless of if most utility-scale batteries are made up of lithium-ion or vanadium, there are now a lot more in circulation. The EIA shows that California and Illinois are leading the pack in utility-scale storage sites. Texas is close behind. 

This growth is encouraging because utility-scale sites work well with sustainable energy sources and microgrid efforts, meaning that the grid will be backed up with much more electrical reserves if needed. 

Short Overview of Utility-Scale Battery Storage

Just to provide some context on the practice, large scale battery storage ventures are typically done through pumped hydropower. In other words, depending on peak hours for electricity demand, water is pumped up reservoirs and then funneled down to power a turbine when the grid needs more energy to compensate. This same sort of practice is being scaled out for more efficient and portable battery storage options.

Whereas a residential solar panel will store energy in the kilowatt range, utility-scale batteries are much larger, offering megawatts of storage potential. This is only increasing as technologies improve.

A Fully Renewable Grid with the Help of Utility-Scale Storage

There is a lot of opportunity for carrying out a fully renewable grid with the help of utility scale batteries. Solar and wind has long had a storage problem, especially during peak wind or sunshine days where a lot of energy goes to waste. As better batteries are rolled out, so too the opportunity for completely renewable grids comes closer.

Scientific American, when looking at the future of energy storage, forecast that lithium-ion batteries will be the dominant technology for the next 5-10 years. But to fully make a renewable grip operational will mean moving beyond the capabilities of lithium ion. This will most likely mean something similar to the aforementioned vanadium flow batteries or gravity storage.

But with increasing renewables, microgrids, and battery storage advancements, more storage means less blackouts and more flexible regions when it comes to spikes in electricity demand. 

We will have to wait and see what exciting things continue to develop in battery storage capacity, and how that relates to the grid of the future.

Wildfires and the Future of Electric Vehicles

The recent wildfires in California necessitated a planned shutdown by PG&E. This left 500,000 without electricity and offered a short term look into the complications that arise when wildfires ravage a large area of land. 

The shutdown itself was to safeguard the dry land from experiencing any further fire damage, as a spark from a downed power line could only add to the ferocity of the fire itself.

This fire allowed us to catch a glimpse of not only the precariousness of the grid when faced with climate-change induced weather, but also the challenges that electric vehicle owners can face when presented with a lack of electricity to power their cars. Simply put, you cannot get anywhere without the necessary electricity. 

These recent storms will hopefully increase initiatives to beef up the overall reliability of the grid, the urgency to fight climate change, or advancements in microgrids and battery storage technology to have emergency backup reserves for situations like this. 

Electric Vehicle Owners Without Power

Electric vehicles can still be scaled and the required infrastructure (charging stations and such) can still be laid to make their wide scale adoption easier, but it’s a scary prospect for consumers to bank on an EV as a reliable means of transportation only to be stranded. This happened with the recent wildfires.

Tesla sent out a warning to all Tesla users that they’d need to charge before PG&E shut off the electricity. This also came with the announcement that they were in the process of installing battery capacity capabilities for all of their charging stations in the affected areas. What resulted was a mad scramble to charge their vehicles. A lot of people couldn’t even make it to the charging stations. 


Managed, Slow Charging for EVs to Mitigate Grid Risks

As this resource reminds us as well, wide scale electric vehicle adoption would mean an increased demand for electricity. Because of recent grid weaknesses–think ERCOT’s emergency over the summer–it wouldn’t be farfetched to assume that increased EV usage would only magnify this problem that the wildfires have exposed. But electrical disasters can be prevented with managed charging, meaning that charging stations can offer electricity at certain hours to mitigate the risks of too much concentrated charging in one area.  

Another area that can prevent any risky spikes in electrical use (causing a potential grid disaster) is through slow charging methods instead of the inefficient, fast methods. Sure, it’s less convenient, but so is a power outage, after all.

Nuclear Power Challenges in Texas and Abroad

There has always been the pressing question of where to store nuclear waste in the U.S. The EIA shows that this year’s nuclear power outages were much lower than last summer, averaging about 1.2 GW of electrical generation between June and July of this summer.  And even though the infamous Three Mile Island plant has been retired, outages have been down 67% this year.

The EIA has also shown that nuclear energy output has been rising consistently throughout the United States even though they are not very economically viable in the current energy economy–with renewable energy and other plants shutting down regularly due to expensive operating costs. Perhaps nuclear energy is now more relevant than ever as well given the recent attempts from Congress to address nuclear waste problems. 

Caroline Reiser in the aforementioned article on nuclear waste believes that the best option for curbing nuclear waste and fighting climate change is to further push nuclear power plants out of circulation. She believes that talks about re-processing and finding nuclear waste storage solutions is a waste of time that could be better spent on more realistic options. After all, as The World Nuclear Industry shows that nuclear energy is far too expensive to maintain. It may produce 19% of all U.S. electricity, but a more robust push for renewables would be more productive, as they are consistently outpacing nuclear energy generation. 

Oyster Creek and Three Mile Island Shutdown

More nuclear power plant shutdowns like Oyster Creek and Three Mile Island will mean increased carbon emissions as the nuclear option is far cleaner than coal and natural gas. But as The Atlantic states, pursuing nuclear energy as a “silver bullet” for climate change is not a good use of resources. A massive nuclear power overhaul may be more viable than a Green New Deal if looked at from only the electrical industry, but it would far too costly to realistically carry out.

Yet scaling the prevalence of nuclear power down for renewables and natural gas will dirty the air. Take the Comanche Peak nuclear plant in North Texas. Phasing that plant out would not only dirty the air around the plant and the 3 million people it serves, but also cause a dearth of electrical generation.

It seems there has to be a careful approach to just how quickly any plants are phased out. More than likely regulators and lawmakers will call for plants to be retrofitted and made more efficient. Natural gas plants are much more efficient and environmentally friendly now, maybe nuclear plants can be modified to be less costly while renewables continue their rise to the top.

Texas: A Bitcoin Miner’s Paradise?

Although the bitcoin craze has died down some since it rose to monumental values in 2017, there is still a booming industry in the cryptocurrency. For those who don’t know about the digital coinage, it and the blockchain technology it utilizes was not too long ago touted as the next big thing. 

Although intriguing and vastly practical for protecting user data, cybersecurity, and a wide range of manufacturing models, it has yet to reach a high level of utility for individuals.  But wide scale adoption of novel ideas take time, after all. 

Currently, one bitcoin is worth about $8,200 USD. That could change quickly because of the volatility of money. But to acquire bitcoins-more realistically, to acquire fractions of a bitcoin-means you have to “mine” them. As Jason Evangelho of Forbes states, mining for cryptocurrencies (like Bitcoin) means that you are using extremely powerful computers to solve math encryption problems that do two things:


  1. Miners verify a particular public record transaction by solving a difficult math problem (of sorts), which keeps the transaction anonymous through encryption.
  2. This “solved” math problem closes a “block”, which you can think of a node on a chain of other solved blocks- all of which are decentralized and unlikely to be hacked.

But what does all of this have to do with Texas? To put it simply, mining for bitcoins requires a lot of computer power to close off blocks, which in turn means a lot of electricity is needed to power the mining of even just a fraction of a bitcoin. But because Texas has some of the cheapest electricity available, a lot of entrepreneurs are flocking to Texas to develop a Bitcoin empire of sorts.

Layer1 and Bitmain

The entrepreneur and billionaire Peter Thiel is investing 200 million in a Bitcoin venture from Layer1, which will be located. West Texas. Giving credit where credit is due when considering electrical usage, the entire project will aim to harness all-renewable energy to generate electricity and power necessary for the cooling of the ultra-powerful mining computers. 

Another company, Bitmain, is posed to take over Rockdale, Texas as well. The Chinese cryptocurrency hardware manufacturer will produce what they’re calling the largest bitcoin mining facility ever.

But despite these installments, there’s definitely a bright point to the excessive electricity consumption that large bitcoin mining installations will pose. After all, projects like Layer1 and Bitmain could be a solution to natural gas flaring

“Flaring”, or burning off of excess gas, is what producers do when there is a surplus. This practice is obviously not good for the environment and bitcoin miners can use the surplus natural gas that would already go to waste and power their powerful computers.

But bitcoin is not exactly a viable strategy for everyone. Just ask the inhabitants of Rockdale, Texas, who all had high hopes for new jobs to be created when Bitmain arrived, only to be disappointed when only about 30 would become available. 

Regardless, things are shaping up to be interesting in Texas as the bitcoin mining industry continues to expand. 

 Is the New Green Deal Right for Texas?

Because there has not been a comprehensive approach to dealing with climate change and its long-term ramifications for the environment, activists recently proposed what they dubbed as the Green New Deal as solution for our uphill battle with increased emissions.

As Vox describes the GND, “It refers, in the loosest sense, to a massive program of investments in clean-energy jobs and infrastructure, meant to transform not just the energy sector, but the entire economy.”

With Texas leading the way in wind energy and continually pushing for more renewables, the Lonestar State seems to be the perfect litmus test for the viability of the GND. Naturally, there are political polarizations and opinions that measure just how realistic a Green New Deal is. 

Green New Deal Naysayers

As Jason Isaac of The Cleburne Times Review says though, the GND could mean an extra $12,000 added to the average Texan’s electricity bill. He says that “getting renewables from 8% to 100% of our electric generation nationwide isn’t a problem of politics, but of scale and physics.” Simply put, Isaac says that America does not have enough land (realistically) to accommodate the 5 million acres of wind turbines, solar panels, and battery storage that it would take to get the U.S. 100% renewable. Additionally, a higher percentage of electric vehicle owners will also drive electricity demand up, meaning prices will rise as well.

Mark Whittington of the Washington Examiner believes that those who campaign for the widely unrealistic Green New Deal will lose their credibility in the political race. He suggests avoiding the full-scale liquidation of the fossil fuel industry and instead backing net-zero plants like the one in La Porte, Texas


Green New Deal ‘Yay’sayers

There are more optimistic champions of the GND though. Amal Ahmed of the Texas Observer thinks that the GND can flourish in Texas because of the state’s recent success and large scale adoption of renewables.

Ahmed reminds readers that Texas originally had the modest (but at the time ambitious) goal of producing 10,000 megawatts of energy that would make it to the grid. Let’s just say that in 2018, Texas produced over 75,000 megawatt hours of power. That’s quite impressive and an example of how the seemingly impossible can turn plausible with the right minds and manpower behind the job. 

While keeping the mind that vast amounts of political and economical support that a successfully enacted GND will need, the climate can only benefit from the spotlight, even if the outcome is much less impressive than proponents of the GND would like to achieve. 

Overall, if the Green New Deal is ever approved by Congress, Texas will be the most likely candidate for leading the green revolution. If not, the state will keep investing in renewable energy regardless, and by extension, relieve some of the burden of climate change. 

Are Oil Companies Running Interference on EV Charging Stations?

It would be an understatement to assume that “Big Oil” is a little nervous about the proliferation of electric vehicles. They are reportedly taking matters into their own hands and doing their best impression of repeating the 1990’s electric car collapse. To do this, they are looking to prevent utilities from gaining a slice of the charging station pie. Or in other words, they are looking to protect their market share as the rates of electric vehicles will rise to close to 50% of all new cars produced by 2040.

It will be difficult for Big Oil to stop Texas utilities from pursuing charging station investments. The electricity market is deregulated for one, and it also makes a lot of sense for customers and utilities to work together on adopting a stronger charging station infrastructure across Texas because there’s a lot to gain overall.

The Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) states that Texas utilities especially can make a big impact on the adoption of electric vehicles given that they can offer low monthly fees for charging station usage, incentives for customers who buy electric vehicles, free charging at night when demand is low and wind energy isn’t being fully utilized anyway, as well as smart technology that can link with EVs and educational efforts on electric vehicles and rates. 

Collective efforts and market reinforcements will not only decrease the overall cost of electric vehicles (despite sizable tax credits), but will also eventually cheapen the overall cost and will increase charging station frequency, meaning more convenience for consumers. Those in California are struggling to find enough charging ports. Preventing that from happening in Texas, before EV purchases ramp up, would be smart.

Fighting the Inevitable Rise of Electric Vehicles

There’s no guarantee that electric vehicles will dominate future markets, but signs seem to point in that direction. This is bad news for Big Oil, which gets a large share of capital from our reliance on internal combustion engines. 

All of this is not meant to demonize Big Oil or take cheap shots, but just to capture a snapshot of the free market’s continual tug-of-war between powerful players. Conglomerates need to employ strategies for self-preservation. And after all, utilities pushing for charging stations don’t all have the environment in mind. As stated in this article by Politico, many utilities are pushing for more charging stations because it means they can charge customers more on a monthly basis. An indirect result of higher fees also happens to mean more electrification across the board and less greenhouse gas.


Checking in on ERCOT

We pose this question because ERCOT recently released information on the Texas grid, reporting that there would not be any declared emergencies or scrambles for energy. It’s looking like there will be enough electrical capacity to last the rest of the year. This is of course a welcome change compared to the record-setting summer we had here recently.

According to the actual SARA report just released by ERCOT, there will be almost 84,000 MW total, with an expected peak of close to 61,000. This means that the reserve capacity will sit at a comfortable 22,900 and some change. No need to panic or call for energy-saving procedures across the state.

But as a reminder, the data and projections are compiled and forecasted using weather stats from years prior. They are not infallible, but because the weather is the definition of chaos, it’s impossible to completely know whether the grid will have enough. It’s looking safe enough to assume that Texas will be fine.

Speaking of ERCOT and predictions though, they are facing legal backlash because of their grid projections. 

Predictions Mean Hot Water for ERCOT?

ERCOT, the grid overseer for 90% of Texas’ state load, they have been in hot water because of a recent lawsuit with Panda Power. According to this source, ERCOT stated they needed much more energy generation than was really needed. Panda Power then built power plants to fulfill ERCOT’s urgent needs. As a consequence of there being plenty of electricity, Panda couldn’t generate enough revenue because supply was too abundant to cover the costs of maintaining their plants. They are suing ERCOT as a result of misleading information. 

As the aforementioned source says, Panda is “alleging that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas intentionally manipulated the projections to encourage new power plant construction and relieve the political pressure that was building on the grid manager.”

As the argument goes: because of ERCOT’s sovereign immunity status, what’s really stopping them from manipulating information whenever they want, if there are no legal repercussions for ERCOT

Natural Gas to Ensure Stronger Grid?

Lastly, this one seems to be an obvious question. With coal and nuclear being lessened across the country, natural gas will have to be ramped up to saddle the void that coal and nuclear leave behind. Renewables only account for about 11% of energy in the U.S.. 

So, as the PJM Interconnection is doing, natural gas will probably be needed to make sure that grids stay on reliably while the entire Nation’s renewable infrastructure has time to develop and catch up to always-increasing demand.