Cost Education: An Opportunity to Shift Customer Perceptions of Utility Solar Investments

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New E Source Research Shows That Customers Think Rooftop Solar Is the Cheapest Option

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With just a little education, customer perceptions of where a utility’s investment dollars should go shifted dramatically.

Residential customers love rooftop solar for a variety of reasons: environmental benefits, bill savings, and even social status. Lost in the shuffle is the core customer belief that rooftop solar lowers costs for the entire grid—a belief that often conflicts with utility messaging about net metering and associated cost-shifting. According to recently released E Source survey results, 61 percent of North American utility customers believe that customer-generated solar power reduces costs for the overall electric system, 29 percent say it has a neutral effect, and 10 percent think it increases costs. “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.

E Source’s new research explores customers’ opinions on future utility solar investments. Researchers asked respondents to allocate a hypothetical $100 to utility-scale solar, community-scale solar, residential rooftop, and business rooftop. The survey included a short description of each and explained how the benefits and costs affect different customer groups. The result? Respondents allocated the most money ($31) to residential rooftop and large-scale solar ($29).

Researchers then investigated whether customers’ allocations would change if they received a basic education on the actual costs of generating electricity from these four options. The next time respondents allocated the $100, they favored utility-scale solar by a wide margin. Allocations for the two rooftop options decreased by approximately 22 percent and support for community solar stayed about the same.

Maxwell explains, “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 customers.” For an in-depth look at the market research results, download a free white paper, Customers Believe Rooftop Solar Is Cheapest, but an Educational Nudge Could Change Their Minds.

E Source’s growing team of experts is helping utilities tackle this issue and others. The company recently added Nick Lenssen as senior advisor for the E Source Solar Strategy Service. Lenssen has 30 years of experience working on strategic, technology, market, and regulatory issues with a focus on distributed energy, renewable energy, and energy services. “Nick’s experience with distributed energy and specifically solar strengthens our ability to meet evolving utility needs in these important areas,” says E Source Chief Strategy Officer Matthew Burks.

In 1997, Lenssen became the founding director of the E Source Distributed Energy Service. Two years later, he created the E Source Green Energy Service. Following those roles, he took a senior director position with Primen, a subsidiary of the Electric Power Research Institute. Most recently, Lenssen directed North American market research for Vestas Wind System A/S, the global leader in wind turbines.

“We’re pleased that Nick will immediately start working on utility customer market research for the E Source Solar Education and Communications Working Group meeting that will take place this fall in Denver, Colorado,” states Burks.

About E Source
For 30 years, E Source has been providing market research, data, and consulting services to more than 300 utilities and their partners. This guidance helps our customers advance their efficiency programs, enhance customer relationships, and use energy more efficiently.

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Kym Wootton
E Source
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