Solar energy now mainstream power source

Solar energy now mainstream power source

Solar energy-produced electricity is poised to grow exponentially as solar panels get cheaper to install, more efficient batteries are developed to store the sun's energy and investors pour more money into an increasingly reliable energy source.

Energy produced by the sun is already providing electricity to about 30 percent of the United States, and investors have taken notice of the investment potential. Big banks, pension funds and insurance companies are seeing opportunity in the $15 billion industry that provides stable returns and isn't dependent on overall market conditions for its continued growth.

"They write bigger and bigger checks," said Jesse Grossman, chairman and CEO of New Jersey-based Soltage, which develops and operates large solar farms for hospitals, municipalities, commercial and industrial clients in 15 states. Grossman made his comments at a recent panel discussion on electricity hosted by the University of Houston.

While the idea of being green has some attraction, but the investment dollars wouldn't be pouring into solar unless the returns were there, he said.

One of the remaining hurdles is getting states to adopt net metering laws, which allow solar customers to sell excess power on the grid. Only 38 states require net metering; Texas is not one of them.

Nor does Texas have any regulations regarding community solar projects, which are relatively small solar farms that power nearby homes and businesses. Nineteen states have policies and programs that encourage the growth of community solar projects, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group. But Texas?

"We need to work on that," said Grossman.

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