The recent documentary, Sea of Life, exposes key threats to the oceans, and calls for action.
Sea of Life follows filmmaker Julia Barnes on a three year adventure, spanning seven countries, to save coral reefs.
Although they cover less than 1 percent of the sea floor coral reefs support up to 30 percent of all species in the ocean at some stage in their life cycles. Often referred to as the rainforests of the ocean, coral reefs are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet. They're also an indicator for the future of the oceans and all life on Earth.
To date, we've lost more than 50 percent of the world's coral reefs. The main threats to corals are bleaching (caused by ocean warming) and ocean acidification. Most of the carbon dioxide we release into the atmosphere doesn't stay in the atmosphere, it gets absorbed by the oceans, making the oceans more acidic. And in a more acidic environment any animal that builds a shell or a skeleton can't form. This means by 2070 coral reefs will literally start dissolving. But they will likely die out much earlier than that, due to ocean warming. Scientists are now predicting that less than 10 percent of the world's coral reefs will survive past 2050, as bleaching events become more frequent. Mass bleaching has already claimed large chunks of the Great Barrier Reef.
Corals are a sort of canary in the coal mine, signaling trouble ahead for all life on Earth. There have been five mass extinction in the history of the planet and at least four of them have been attributed to ocean acidification. Now, we're causing the oceans to go acidic faster than at any other time in the history of the planet.
When coral reefs go down they signal the start of a mass extinction in the oceans, and that is something that will affect all of us.
Tiny organisms in the ocean called phytoplankton are responsible for creating most of the oxygen in the air that we breathe. Two out of every three breaths we take come from plankton. Photosynthesizing on a massive scale, plankton are the reason the oceans are considered the blue lungs of the planet. Forty percent of the world's plankton populations are already gone. "We may be losing up to 1% a year because of ocean acidification ... It's like—why would do anything to disrupt the oxygen supply for the planet," asks Louie Psihoyos in Sea of Life.
What most people don't know about ocean acidification is that there's a lag time between the time it takes the carbon dioxide we release into the atmosphere to get absorbed into the ocean. So even if we stopped producing carbon dioxide today the oceans would have decades where they continue to become more acidic—20, or even 30 years. This means if we're going to solve ocean acidification we not only have to stop carbon emissions, we also have to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
The filmmakers for Sea of Life visited a marine protected area in Mexico called Cabo Pulmo. The area had once been heavily overfished, to the point where there was almost nothing left. Clearly this couldn't continue, so the citizens decided to create a marine reserve, giving the ocean a break and allowing life to recover. Within the next 10 years they saw a 450 percent increase in biomass in the ocean. The fish came back, and now the waters off Cabo Pulmo are a thriving natural community.
Given the chance, nature will come back. Today, we know that 90 percent of the fish are gone and that 75 percent of the forests have been wiped out. If we let this life come back, we could sequester an enormous amount of carbon, creating a world where all species can thrive.
Sea of Life follows the environmental movement through large rallies in New York and at COP21 in Paris, where instead of celebrating the Paris agreement, long-time environmental activist Emily Hunter asserts that the agreement isn't enough. "We've done over 20 years of campaigning, more than 20 years of negotiations, and if this is the deal that we finally get then we've failed."
The entire environmental movement could be considered a failure. Despite years of campaigning, almost every environmental problem has gotten worse, not better. As Rob Stewart explains in Sea of Life, "Our greatest ambitions on climate change would buy us 1% more time on a hugely degraded planet where we're still fighting each other over what remains. We need to imagine a world that's beautiful enough for us to fight for."
Sea of Life asks audiences to imagine a world worth fighting for. What could this world look like if we got things right? What if we made this planet beautiful for us and all species?
The film features inspiring young activists who are making a difference, including Felix Finkbeiner, whose organization has planted 14 billion trees, and Madison Stewart who makes films to change people's perspective about sharks. The 21-year-old filmmaker behind Sea of Life began working on the movie when she was 16. She believes young people have an opportunity to become heroes for the planet, living lives that are full of meaning and adventure and having an amazing time doing it.
Julia Barnes is motivated by the scale of the problem. The worse things get, the greater the imperative to take action. And now, with all of life on Earth at stake, she believes action is no longer an option.
By installing solar panels, homeowners can curb their dependence on traditional utilities, reducing their monthly electric bills while also minimizing their environmental impact. Of course, solar energy is more viable in some places than in others; it's best suited for homeowners who live in areas that get ample sun exposure. And the Lone Star State is certainly on that list.
In fact, a report from the Solar Energy Industries Association, or SEIA, shows that Texas installed the second-most solar in 2020 and the most in the first quarter of 2021. And some municipalities have gone especially heavy on solar power. So, what are the top cities for solar in Texas? Let's find out if your city made our top 10 list.
Top 10 Cities for Solar in Texas
To rank the top cities for solar in Texas, the EcoWatch team took into account reports furnished by the SEIA, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's solar irradiance maps, and Environment America's most recent Shining Cities report among other data points.
Based on our findings, these we've determined the following cities to be Texas' top 10 solar energy hubs:
- San Antonio
- El Paso
- Fort Worth
- Round Rock
San Antonio is a sun-soaked city, so it makes sense that local home and business owners have invested heavily in harnessing the sun's power. We rate San Antonio as No. 1 among the top cities for solar in Texas, and there's plenty of evidence to back that up. In terms of total installed solar capacity, San Antonio ranks first in the state and fifth in the nation, according to Environment America. (First in the nation? Los Angeles.) It also boasts more than 50 watts of solar energy per person, one of just 38 cities in the nation to earn this distinction.
The Austin community is well-known for environmental activism and advocacy, and with residents' investments in solar energy, they're really putting their money where their mouth is. Like San Antonio, Austin boasts more than 50 watts of solar energy per person.
Thanks to its average of 302 days of sunshine annually, El Paso is nicknamed the "Sun City" — and it's taking advantage of its weather with over 54 MW of solar capacity installed. A lot of this comes down to significant solar installations built into the city's municipal infrastructure, including solar arrays on the main library and other government buildings.
A sprawling metropolitan area with ample exposure to sunlight, Houston has an impressive commitment to solar power. In terms of total installed solar energy capacity, the city is in the top 20 for the entire nation, falling just behind New Orleans and just in front of Boston in Environment America's latest Shining Cities report.
Fort Worth is home to some of the state's top solar companies, making it easy and relatively affordable for local homeowners to make the jump to solar power. The general Dallas-Fort Worth area tends to be a standout solar power hub, both at state and national levels.
Likewise, Dallas boasts an impressive level of solar investment. In the Shining Cities report of the nation's most prolific solar builders, Dallas ranks at No. 43 in the nation, just behind Cincinnati.
Located north of Dallas, Plano is in prime "Sun Belt" position. The city boasts a solid (and growing) solar infrastructure, earning it a place on our list. According to NREL's solar irradiance maps, Plano has some of the highest potential for residential roof-mounted solar power generation in the state.
This central Texas town just north of Austin is one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation. As the population expands, so does its commitment to clean, renewable energy. NREL maps show Round Rock is located in a part of the state with above-average annual solar power generation potential and a high number of buildings suitable for solar installation.
Though it's not as sizable as some of the other municipalities on our list, Bruceville-Eddy has a surprisingly robust solar infrastructure, allowing homeowners to harness the renewable energy of the sun. In fact, in the latest Shining Cities report, Bruceville-Eddy was reported as No. 1 in the state for per capita photovoltaic solar installation.
Rounding out our list is Tyler, located east of Dallas near the Texas-Louisiana border. Homes in Tyler represent a not-insignificant portion of the state's solar energy potential, according to NREL. The area has a high number of solar-suitable buildings and high roof-mounted solar potential in terms of both capacity and generation.
Where Solar Panels Work Best
There are a few different factors that can make a city particularly well-suited for solar energy. One is exposure to sunlight; consistent, year-round solar exposure is common throughout Texas, which explains why the Lone Star State has so many major solar-producing and solar-ready hubs.
Average Texas Electricity Costs
Another factor to consider? High energy costs. As a general rule, when local electrical costs are higher, the value of solar power increases. By contrast, if electrical costs are already low, the benefits of going solar tend to be more modest.
In 2019, the average monthly electric bill in Texas was just over $134, according to the EIA. This is considerably higher than surrounding states, including Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. The relatively high cost of electrical power makes Texas well-positioned for maximum solar benefits. Also note that the average monthly electric consumption was 1,140 kWh; again, this is higher than in neighboring states.
Texas Solar Tax Incentives
One reason some cities stand out over others for solar installations is that local utility companies offer rebates to help with the cost of solar panels. In addition to the federal tax rebate, which we'll explain in a moment, Texas homeowners should to aware of the following incentives:
|Solar Energy Incentive||Details|
|Statewide Property Tax Incentive||State law includes a property tax exemption for solar installations. Basically, this means installing solar panels increases the value of a home without increasing property taxes.|
|City-Specific Utility Incentives||Local utilities offer additional savings opportunities to residents of many cities across the state.|
Net Metering in Texas
Net metering programs allow solar users to take any excess energy their panels produce and sell it back to a local utility company. Currently, there is no statewide net-metering program in Texas, though some municipalities offer it to local utility users.
Homeowners are encouraged to check with their utility companies to see if they can get energy credits for any surplus solar energy they feed back into the electrical grid. Most of the best solar companies in Texas will also help you identify and apply for any tax breaks and rebates you're eligible for.
Federal Solar Tax Credits
As for federal programs, there is currently a 26% tax credit available for homeowners who install solar panels before 2023. In 2023, that incentive is set to lower to 22%, and it is scheduled to drop off completely in 2024.
Texas Solar Regulations
Statewide regulations also play a part in how and where Texans can install residential solar panel systems.
One regulation relevant to solar installation is Texas HB-362, which states that homeowners associations cannot ban solar panels within their community outright. However, homeowners must still go through their HOA's normal architecture review approvals process.
The Texas Property Code gives HOAs some specific grounds on which they can prohibit homeowners from installing solar panels, including:
- Instances where the solar installation is a threat to health or safety
- Installations that impede on public property or common areas
- Installations that extend higher than the roofline
- Installations that are ground-mounted but extend above the fence line
Final Thoughts: Top Cities for Solar in Texas
Did your city make our list of the 10 top cities for solar energy in Texas? If you want to raise your area's solar profile, one of the best ways is to install a solar panel system on your roof. You can also contact your local and state legislators to urge for ambitious city- and statewide renewable energy goals that will drive Texas toward more solar power in the future.