AUSTIN, Texas—Energy customers in Texas are becoming more and more aware of solar and other renewable energy sources available.
As their knowledge increases, so have the expectations. Attorney and government relations and regulatory consultant Brandy Marquez said energy competition across the state has brought about awareness and greater expectations when it comes to cleaner and affordable energy.
“When we first changed over to competition people were sure that customers would be confused, it was too overwhelming,” Marquez said on June 24 while speaking on a two-member panel during the Solar Power Texas conference. “People played the market and industry played the market. Then we have patches that are not in competition, as well.
“It’s been an overall healthy bridge because we have a healthy looking state in every single way. The energy customer is more educated about choices, more educated about how they want to consume energy and I think we have a landscape in Texas where they are able to exercise that.”
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While Texas may now have a savvy consumer base, the overwhelming message during the panel discussion was that opportunities do exist in Texas for companies in the renewable space. In an open market, key renewable components such as solar panels, batteries and storage meters offer unique opportunities for businesses.
Donnie Clary, president and CEO of CoServ Electric Cooperative, whose consumer-owned North Texas company seeks out the best energy deals for its constituents, said he is noticing an uptick from new-build customers looking to install solar panels and smart thermostats.
He said CoServ isn’t in the rooftop solar business, but it does have a certification installation program to help those interested in becoming installers. CoServ also informs its customers on the best use of solar.
“Our goal is just to try to educate them,” Clary said. “Not everybody can do it. We just want the customer to have the product and value they are expecting.”
Another area of potential growth in behind the meter energy storage, which allows customers to store capacity from wind and use it as needed. It’s a business that really began to surge in 2018.
“I think that Texas is in an excellent space for behind the meter storage because we are well situated on coasts and wind storms and all of the things that we’ve got,” said Marquez, who just left the Public Utilities Commission in April after a five-year stint and has also worked for Energy Secretary Rick Perry when he was governor of Texas. “We are very well situated to absorb that but we also have our reserve project. We have this incredibly tight margin. There are tools that exist that we haven’t seen yet and this is prime space for that.”
Marquez believes a great opportunity exists for utilities and solar companies like Sunrun to work together to bring better pricing and cleaner energy to consumers. She said a company like Sunrun can sell itself to utility companies as a storage tool and that a partnership could make sense for all involved.
“This open market allows the flexibility to bring these innovative products to the table that can be excellent tools for the utilities to manage their systems in a smart way,” she said. “Adding storage, that is going to be incredibly exciting for all of the participants.”
Marquez said Texas could be the example for the rest of the nation if renewable companies and utilities can find ways to work together and partner. Find ways to co-exist could ease the bureaucratic fight as renewables become a bigger part of the energy mix.
“It’s just going to take a lot of communication,” she said. “Every time we can solve something at the utility level it’s a problem that doesn’t have to go before the commissioner. Because the market is free here, the ways that we can solve it at that level can translate to other places in the country where they are wrestling with these issues.
“So because we do have a tight reserve margin and we have people who are working the grid and regulating and making sure that Texas is providing the energy that it needs watching and waiting to see what is going to show up this summer, I think that is incredibly exciting.”
Terrance Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.