Utilities are trying to find a better way to educate customers about the costs of incorporating different types of solar generation into the grid without sounding anti-solar. E Source recently surveyed 7,000 US utility customers about their perception of utilities’ investments in solar. It found 61 percent thought solar power reduced costs, 29 percent said it had no effect and 10 percent expressed that it increased costs.
E Source conducted the survey to gain insight on how customers perceived utility investments into solar by asking them to distribute a hypothetical $100 toward utility-scale, community, residential rooftop and business rooftop solar. Each participant was given a short summery of each type and presented with how the benefits and costs affect each. Participants allocated $31 toward rooftop solar, followed by $29 for large-scale solar.
Respondents assumed rooftop solar was the cheapest option for utilities to integrate solar into the grid. “This disconnect helps to explain some of the tension we’ve seen between utilities and their customers around net-metering,” says Adam Maxwell, senior director of New Product Development at E Source.
After the initial survey and learning about the cost of solar for utilities—they learned that rooftop costs twice as much as large-scale solar and community solar costs 50 percent more than large-scale solar—they were again asked to allocate $100 toward the four kinds of solar. As a result, those surveyed allocated over 40 percent more toward large-scale solar, while the amount they allocated toward rooftop solar dropped by 22 percent. The amount participants put toward community solar remained essentially the same.
“With just a little education, customer perceptions of where a utility’s investment dollars should go shifted dramatically. People’s love for rooftop solar will not diminish, but providing a basic cost education is a way for utilities to explain why they pursue large-scale solar over rooftop in a manner that will resonate with customer,” said Maxwell.
As solar capacity in the US is forecasted to triple over the next 5 years with the addition of 18 gigawatts projected to be installed annually, utilities across the US continue to aggressively explore the expansion of solar capacity into their energy portfolios. The solar industry saw a record year for installed utility-scale solar with the addition of 14.8 gigawatts of solar in 2016, doubling the capacity installed during 2015, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.Tweet