Solar Power in Sunny Cities: El Paso, Texas

Solar Power Systems
9 min readDec 14, 2023

El Paso, buried deep in the West Texas desert, is a city that basks in abundant sunlight with an average of about 300 sunny days each year. This sunny disposition is an advantageous scenario as it offers an unutilized resource for clean and sustainable power production — solar energy. The climatic conditions of El Paso make it a prime location for harnessing photovoltaic capabilities to their fullest potential, showing promise for electricity generation costs and climate decrease.

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Renowned as the Sun City, El Paso leverages its geographical location along the U.S.-Mexico border to draw in significant amounts of power from the sun. This geographical advantage, coupled with state policies and regulations that foster the broadening of renewable energy sources, has paved the way to solar energy growth in the city. A cool, yet crucial fact about Texas is it allows net metering, aiding homeowners who have installed solar panel systems to sell fitful energy back to the grid, reducing their overall energy costs.

The introduction of the 2019 El Paso Solar Rebate Program by El Paso Electric (EPE) is a shining example of local government support for solar power generation. Offering incentives for both residential and commercial entities to partake in the green energy revolution, the program has boosted the installation of solar panels within the city.

The city’s average annual solar irradiance, unmatchable statewide incentives, and the abundant availability of solar panel installation companies, makes El Paso a hotbed for solar energy production. While the city is a proven leader in deploying solar power within Texas, there remains enormous opportunity for it to scale its solar energy production even further.

Solar Landscape in El Paso

Diving into the solar landscape of El Paso, Texas, it is evident that this region is ripe for harnessing the power of the sun as an abundant source of renewable energy. Boasting about 302 sunny days per year on average, El Paso undeniably has one of the highest solar potentials in the entire United States.

The city’s advantageous geographical position enables it to receive an impressive amount of annual solar irradiance. The average solar irradiance in El Paso is 5.7 kilowatt-hours per square meter per day (kWh/m2/day), as per data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). This figure notably exceeds the national average, thereby making El Paso an ideal location for solar installations.

What’s particularly interesting is how these two factors — solar irradiance and number of sunny days — combine to create a thriving solar environment in El Paso. Solar panels generate power by converting sunlight into electricity, and therefore, the greater the sunlight’s intensity and the more frequent its availability, the higher the solar energy generation. The high solar irradiance in El Paso means solar panels can generate significant energy per unit area, while the substantial number of sunny days ensures these panels can produce this energy consistently throughout the year.

Specifically, using solar panels with a standard efficiency of 15%, a system in El Paso could generate approximately 1,300 kWh of electricity per year for every 1 kW of solar panels installed. In essence, a moderately sized residential solar installation of 5 kW could easily produce 6,500 kWh annually, covering a significant portion of the average household’s energy needs and exemplifying the viability of solar power for the city’s residents.

Solar Initiatives and Growth El Paso

Solar initiatives in El Paso, Texas, sanctioned by both the state and local government, have fostered huge growth in the renewables sector. Among the most impactful initiatives is the robust implementation of the Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). It mandates utility companies to obtain an increasing percentage of their power from renewable energies, stimulating the market for solar in Texas at an unprecedented scale. As of 2020, the RPS quota of renewable energy for investor-owned utility companies was set to 10,000 MW. Moreover, the state provides a 100% property tax exemption for individuals and businesses who install solar panels, reducing the up-front cost.

El Paso truly leads the way when it comes to harnessing the power of the sun. Its abundant solar radiation — averaging around 293 days of sunshine per year, coupled with state policies, make it an inviting landscape for solar companies and enthusiasts. The largest initiative is perhaps, Lighthouse Solar El Paso which installed more than 1 MW of solar capacity across the city as of 2019. Moreover, El Paso Electric, a regional electric utility, has equally demonstrated the locality’s solar potential. They launched a community solar program in 2017, contributing an additional 3 MW to the grid. Another salient example is Fort Bliss, a U.S. Army post in El Paso, which has a massive 1.4 MW solar array that was installed in 2015.

El Paso also houses the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), a leading research institution focusing on solar energy. They are developing a solar-powered water purification project in collaboration with the El Paso Water Utilities.

In conclusion, progressive state and local policies, an advantageous climate, and local organizations’ commitment to renewable energy have propelled the solar energy sector to new heights in El Paso, Texas.

Economic and Environmental Impact

In El Paso, Texas, where the sun shines for more than 300 days a year, solar energy use has led to substantial economic and environmental impacts. Texas, as a state, has over 3,000 megawatts of solar power installed, with a significant proportion situated within El Paso city limits. This expansion has resulted in the creation of numerous job opportunities in solar-related industries and has boosted local economic activity. Furthermore, solar power aids El Paso residents in eliminating or significantly reducing their electric bills.

Solar energy has also greatly reduced the region’s carbon footprint. According to a 2019 report by the Environment Texas Research and Policy Center, solar power in Texas avoided approximately 4.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, which is equivalent to taking one million cars off the roads for a year. This has profound implications for El Paso, contributing to improved air quality and better public health outcomes.

Importantly, Texas suffers from water scarcity due to its arid climate, and conventional power generation methods consume vast amounts of water. Solar photovoltaic energy production, on the other hand, requires negligible water, making it a more sustainable solution in the context of El Paso’s dry environment. Lastly, it is worth noting that El Paso has embraced solar energy thanks to supportive state policies that encourage renewable energy growth, such as the Renewable Portfolio Standard and Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program. Such legislation has enabled the financially viable incorporation of solar power into El Paso’s energy matrix, fostering a favorable environment for its ongoing expansion.

Challenges and Opportunities

Despite being in the sun-soaked state of Texas, El Paso faces several challenges in terms of expanding its solar power capacity. Primarily, grid integration remains a hurdle, given the city’s existing infrastructure’s limitations. Renewable energy such as solar power produces intermittent electricity, making it hard to balance with the power grid’s consistent power load. This issue calls for an advanced, but expensive grid infrastructure overhaul, with smart grid technologies and energy storage systems — an expense most utilities companies are hesitant to shoulder on a massive scale.

Furthermore, archaic zoning restrictions and permitting processes in some areas of the city discourage the initiation of solar projects. For instance, El Paso doesn’t allow solar panel installations on properties in historical preservation districts, limiting the solar industry’s penetration within these zones. Moreover, the state’s net metering policy, which rewards solar panel owners with credit for the power they generate but do not consume, is not as advantageous as in other states.

However, this is not to depict a doomed landscape for solar power growth in El Paso. In fact, opportunities are bountiful. Texas, boasting over 300 sunny days annually, especially El Paso, is effectively a solar power goldmine waiting for its potential to be fully tapped. The state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, although already met, continues to motivate utilities companies towards a more renewable energy composition. The policy set a target of 10,000 MW of renewable energy capacity by 2025, a figure the state has impressively surpassed. El Paso Electric, the city’s major power supplier, has taken positive steps by investing in four solar facilities across the state.

With efficient policies promoting solar power like renewable energy credits & property tax exemptions, and the possible government resolution revisions to improve the net metering provision, El Paso’s solar energy sector can surmount its challenges, transforming into a potential hub for renewable energy in Texas.

Community Engagement and Education

In El Paso, Texas, community participation in the development and implementation of solar energy is essential for its growth. The city’s vast days of sunshine annually provides an excellent natural resource for adopting innovative solar technologies to lower carbon footprints, reduce utility bills, and stimulate local investment. Success stories of community solar programs franchised by El Paso Electric (EPE) express the fervor for solar energy. Solar energy nets subscribers credits on their electricity bills, a monetary incentive fostering the clean energy zeitgeist.

The EPE’s successful roll out of the state’s first community solar program, allows participants to buy portions of a solar farm instead of installing solar panels on individual homes. It developed from an engaged city populace and educated lawmakers cognizant of the Texas Climate Plan, understanding that a solar program can address environmental and economic issues simultaneously.

As in the law, the Texas Legislature requires EPE to offer community solar options. But, there is an underserving information stream for its residents. To obliterate the knowledge gap, myriad local non-profit organizations and educational institutions have taken the mantle of educating the community about the benefits and realities of solar energy. UTEP’s Green Fund, a student body initiative, has been invested in spreading solar awareness, hosting workshops and conducting tours of their on-campus solar-powered facilities. Moreover, organizations like Eco El Paso foster awareness about sustainability, including solar energy, through annual conferences and student competitions.

Each strand of local learning reinforces the importance of solar energy and effectively encourages residents to actively participate in their own energy supply. This collective realization and the subsequent community-driven initiatives remain crucial for El Paso’s solar future.


El Paso, Texas, exemplifies the potential that sunny cities have in harnessing solar energy, sitting at the forefront of this renewable resource adoption. With over 297 days of sunlight annually, El Paso has invested heavily in solar infrastructure, leveraging its unique geographical advantage. Texas state law has been instrumental in fostering this advancement, with regulations allowing for net metering that enables solar panel owners to sell excess power back to the grid. Moreover, the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard has set ambitious renewable energy targets that have pushed cities like El Paso to implement sustainable energy solutions.

Specifically, El Paso Electric, the city’s utility company, has been proactive in embracing solar technology, including the development of community solar farms and residential solar programs. A prime case is the Newman Solar Project, which has a power capacity of 10 MW. This project has laid the groundwork for further large-scale solar installations in the city.

Furthermore, legislation such as the Solar Rights Act and substantial federal tax credits for solar panel installations have spurred residents and businesses to transition to solar power, contributing to El Paso’s status as a solar powerhouse. The city also has favorable solar easement regulations, protect homeowners’ right to access sunlight — a crucial aspect for effective solar energy production.

El Paso’s journey is a prime demonstration of how law implementation, climate, and citizen participation can make a sunny city a leader in solar energy. While further strides certainly need to be made, El Paso’s current progress offers a compelling model for other sunny cities to follow in the quest for renewable energy adoption.

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