The World's #1 Renewable Energy Network for News, Information, and Companies.
Untitled Document

Solar Energy Powers Rural Texas Ranches

Intercepting photons from the sun 93 million miles away to power his rural central Texas ranch was not something Professor Bill Bard originally conceived of when he decided decades ago to become an electrical engineer, but after 45 years of teaching the subject to students at the University of Texas at Austin, that’s exactly what he recently did.

“I thought it would be cool to make electricity from solar panels,” Dr. Bard states, adding with a wide grin that “you can’t spell ‘geek’ without a double EE.” If anyone can appreciate the beauty and simplicity of converting sunlight into electrical current, it’s an electrical engineer.

Running calculations on the number of solar panels he could squeeze onto the various rooftops of his working Caldwell County ranch, Bard teamed up with Texas Solar Power Company of Austin to design and install a 10.31-kilowatt (kW) rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) system. 

In essence Bard converted his available roof space into a miniature utility power plant. The system consists of 24 Schuco 185W PV panels and 22 SolarWorld 240-W panels wired to two SMA SunnyBoy 7000 Inverters. The inverters transform current from DC to AC and funnel the charge to the meter panel which distributes electricity around his ranch or, as frequently occurs, out to the grid.

Bard monitors panel activity and output from the comfort of his home office on computer software. Total cost of the system was about $36,000, minus a 30% federal income tax credit. (Further grants and low interest loans are available to interested parties through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America (REAP) program.)

Bard’s system produces between 900-1200 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per month. The solar panels generate enough current to power Bard’s energy efficient home, barn, a lab, and two water wells. Since installation two years ago the system has generated nearly 33,000 kWh of electricity, a running tally updated in real time and displayed on his SunnyBoy inverters.

The solar array often generates more flowing electrons than he needs. This allows him to pipe a portion of his solar output back onto the electric grid through his two-way Itron smart meter interconnect with Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative. Once a year he receives a check for his “banked amount” of solar energy production from Bluebonnet Coop, about $540 in 2012.

How does it feel to have installed a green, environmentally-friendly energy technology in politically-conservative, oil and gas dominated Texas? Bard states that neighbors come by and view the project with interest. “They like what they see,” Bard observes. Some have installed solar gate openers and solar mobile stock tank pumps. Practicality, it appears, overrides politics when the need and benefit are obvious.

However, Bard’s motivation for installing a rooftop solar energy power plant on his ranch was neither environmental nor financial in origin. Besides enjoying tinkering with electronics, he states, he decided at this stage of life “to give back more than I take.”

“Everyone benefits,” Bard explains, “the solar panel makers, the solar installer, Bluebonnet Electric, and me.”

At age 69 Bard acknowledges that he will probably not see a complete return on his investment “in this lifetime.” In spite of that potential deal-breaker for many potential solar adopters, Bard offers the following rationale for installing solar: “I installed the system to lighten the load on the power plant, thereby reducing peak demand events. I also did it to reduce my carbon footprint on the atmosphere, however minute that reduction will be. I installed solar because it is plain cool to convert sunlight to electricity. And I did it as a statement to my neighbors and community that installing solar is in fact doable and advisable. I am an early adopter of a new energy technology and hope to inspire others to do the same.”

For Bard, promoting solar power generation means he “rests a little easier knowing that the local Fayette coal-powered plant has to work and pollute a little less since I installed my solar panels,” adding that “It’s great to blast the air conditioning all day long in the summer with energy coming directly from the sun.”

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) estimates that on clear days Texas is capable of producing 127,000 megawatts (MW) of PV electricity from incoming sunlight. Conversely, the maximum load placed on all Texas power plants combined during peak demand periods tops out at about 70,000 MW, just over half the solar potential.

How much solar is currently being tapped in Texas? According to Maura Yates with Sun Edison, a major solar installer in Texas, about 115 MW of total solar generation occurs daily in the Lone Star State, a fraction of the full amount plowing into Texas daily from the nearest star eight light minutes away. The rest bites the dust in the drought-plagued state like so much oil running unused down a drain.

With renewable pioneers like Professor Bard experimenting successfully with clean energy technologies, and with solar energy prices reaching grid parity, Texas is positioned to augment its current 12 gigawatts of installed wind power with huge quantities of solar, rendering peak seasonal blackouts a distant memory, and reducing its nation-leading carbon footprint to boot.

Untitled Document


Sunrise in Pakistan as the Country Delves into Solar PV

Robert Harker Pakistan has joined the list of countries that are exploring solar power as a means to bridge critical energy generat...

Global Renewable Energy Roundup: China, Kenya, Turkey, India Seeking More Renewables

Bloomberg News Editors China is being encouraged by three industry groups to double the nation’s solar-power goal for 2020 to make up for sh...

Why Smarter Grids Demand Smarter Communications Networks

Mark Madden

Historically, utility networks and communications networks have had little in common.

The Importance of “Switching Costs” to the US Residential Solar Industry

Paula Mints The DoE and numerous organizations and governments globally are focused on driving down the cost of solar convinced t...


Array Technologies’ DuraTrack HZ v3 Continues to (R)evolutionize at SPI

Array Technologies, Inc. (ATI) prepares to showcase its recently launched tracking syst...

Appalachian's Energy Center assists counties with landfill gas to energy projects

The Appalachian Energy Center at Appalachian State University recently completed a proj...

Early Bird Registration Deadline for GRC Annual Meeting is This Week

The deadline for early-bird rates for registration for the biggest annual geothermal ev...

Redesigned Video Gallery

Hydropower news and information, and interesting promotional announcements are now avai...


Transitioning to Net-Zero Living

Judith and Jeffrey adore living in Belfast, Maine – a quaint harbor town of Belfast, Maine. They previously res...

The True Cost of Electric Vehicles in Australia

In order to avoid increased congestion, further greenhouse warming and lessen Australia’s reliance on imported ...

The Coming Multi-trillion Dollar Energy Investment Drive

In coming years, a multi-trillion dollar low-emission energy investment drive will get underway. Three catalysts wil...

The Perfect Elevator Pitch

The elevator pitch is a concise statement that grabs attention and communicates value, ideally leading to a next step...


Michael G. Albrecht is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas. A member of the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association and the Texas Solar Energy Society, Mr. Albrecht monitors and reports on developments in the renewable energy-smart gr...


Volume 18, Issue 4


To register for our free
e-Newsletters, subscribe today:


Tweet the Editors! @jennrunyon



Intersolar South America 2015

Exhibition and Conference: September 1-3, 2015 Intersolar South America ...

Intersolar Europe 2016

Exhibition: June 22-24, 2016; Conference: June 21-22, 2016 Intersolar Eu...

Intersolar India 2015

Exhibition and Conference: November 18-20, 2015 Intersolar India 2015 I...


Less Is More

When you’re giving a presentation, one of the easiest things to do...


One of the biggest challenges we face as efficiency sales professionals ...

How To Optimize Your Meeting Schedule

Do you spend more time in meetings than you do actually working? While m...


Renewable Energy: Subscribe Now

Solar Energy: Subscribe Now

Wind Energy: Subscribe Now

Geothermal Energy: Subscribe Now

Bioenergy: Subscribe Now