Electricity: Status of Residential Deployment of Solar and Other Technologies and Potential Benefits and Challenges

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What GAO Found

Federal and state policymakers have used a range of policies to encourage the deployment of solar systems and other technologies that allow residential customers to generate, store, and manage their electricity consumption. For example, federal tax incentives—such as the investment tax credit—have reduced customers’ up-front costs of installing solar systems. In addition, a Department of Energy funded database of renewable energy incentives identifies 41 states with net metering policies that require electricity suppliers to credit customers for electricity sent from their solar systems to the grid, providing an additional incentive. Moreover, in 14 states, customers can also receive state tax credits for installing solar systems, according to the database, which further reduces the up-front costs.

According to GAO’s analysis of Energy Information Administration (EIA) data, deployment of solar systems has increased significantly in some states, with the total number of residential customers with solar systems increasing sevenfold from 2010 to 2015. However, customers with solar systems represent a very small portion of overall electricity customers—about 0.7 percent of U.S. residential customers in 2015, according to EIA data. Every state experienced growth in the number of customers with residential solar systems, although certain states, such as California and Hawaii, accounted for most of the growth and have had more widespread deployment. For example, about 14 percent of residences in Hawaii have installed a solar system, according to EIA data. Although comprehensive data on the deployment of electricity storage systems and smart devices are not available, the data and information provided by stakeholders GAO interviewed suggest their deployment is limited.

The increasing residential deployment of solar systems and other technologies poses potential benefits and challenges, and some policymakers have implemented or are considering measures to address these, as GAO found in its analysis of reports and stakeholder interviews. Specifically, these technologies can provide potential benefits through more efficient grid operation, for example, if customers use these technologies to reduce their consumption of electricity from the grid during periods of high demand. Nonetheless, grid operators GAO interviewed said they have begun to confront grid management and other challenges in some areas as solar deployment increases. For example, in some areas of Hawaii, solar systems have generated more electricity than the grid was built to handle, which resulted in the need for infrastructure upgrades in these areas. However, grid operators reported that challenges generally have been manageable because overall residential solar deployment has been low. Policymakers in some states have implemented or are considering measures to maximize potential benefits and mitigate potential challenges associated with the increasing deployment of these technologies. For example, two states’ regulators have required electricity suppliers to identify areas of the grid where solar and other technologies would be most beneficial to grid operation. In addition, several state regulators recently have allowed electricity suppliers to adopt voluntary time-based electricity prices that increase when demand for electricity is high, providing customers with an incentive to reduce consumption at these times, potentially by using solar, storage, and other technologies.

Why GAO Did This Study

Traditionally, electricity has moved in one direction—from electricity suppliers to customers. Today, solar systems allow electricity to be generated at a customer’s home and sent to the grid for electricity suppliers to use to meet other customers’ electricity needs. Storage systems allow residential customers to store electricity from the grid or their own solar system for use at a later time. Furthermore, customers can use smart devices, such as thermostats, to manage their electricity consumption.

GAO was asked to provide information on the deployment and use of technologies that give customers the ability to generate, store, and manage electricity. This report describes (1) key federal and state policies used to encourage the deployment of these technologies, (2) the extent to which these technologies are being deployed, and (3) the benefits and challenges of deploying these technologies. GAO analyzed available data on technology deployment from EIA and reviewed relevant reports and regulatory documents. GAO interviewed a non-generalizable sample of 46 government agencies and stakeholder organizations. This sample included state regulators and at least one electricity supplier from each of five states: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Minnesota, and New York, which were selected based on state policies and having high levels of technology deployment.

GAO is not making recommendations in this report.

What Will Happen If The U.S. Withdraws From The Paris Climate Agreement

Read the full story in Fast Company.

Trump’s EPA transition leader says the administration will soon move to leave the groundbreaking climate agreement. How will that work, and what will it mean for clean energy in America, and the fate of the world?

Obama in scientific journal: ‘The trend toward clean energy is irreversible’

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

President Obama has long made a moral case for investing in clean energy technologies such as wind and solar, saying the United States and other countries must slash their emissions of greenhouse gases to stave off the worse effects of global warming.

But writing Monday in the journal Science, the president also makes an economic argument for a national policy that embraces renewable energy, rather than the renewed focus on fossil fuel production that his successor has promised.

How many jobs does clean energy create?

Read the full story in GreenBiz.

Declining costs of wind, solar power and energy efficiency is helping to drive a shift from fossil fuels generally — and coal in particular — to renewable energy and energy efficiency. From the first half of 2015 to the first half of 2016, renewable energy use rose by 9 percent while coal use in the U.S. dropped by 18 percent, according to the Energy Information Administration.

What does this shift mean for jobs? From 2014 to 2015 solar employment increased by 6 percent while employment in upstream oil and gas and support services dropped by 18 percent. This reduction reflects both declining coal consumption and continued reduction in labor intensity. There are now more jobs in the U.S. in solar than in either oil and gas extraction or coal mining.

U.S. Department of Energy Guide to Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles

View the Guide.

More than a dozen alternative fuels are in production or under development for use in alternative fuel vehicles and advanced technology vehicles. Government and private-sector vehicle fleets are the primary users of these fuels and vehicles, but consumers are increasingly interested in them. Using alternative fuels and advanced vehicles instead of conventional fuels and vehicles helps the United States reduce petroleum use and vehicle emissions.

Funding opp: Deployment of Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy on Indian Lands – 2017

Proposals due February 7, 2017
More information available here.

Under this Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), DOE’s Office of Indian Energy is soliciting applications from Indian Tribes (including Alaska Native Regional Corporations and Village Corporations) and Tribal Energy Resource Development Organizations to:

  1. Install energy efficiency measures and clean energy systems on tribal buildings (Topic Area 1) through:
    1. Deep energy retrofits (Topic Area 1.a.), or
    2. Energy efficiency measures and clean energy systems (Topic Area 1.b.); and/or
  2. Deploy clean energy systems on a community-scale (Topic Area 2).

For purposes of this FOA, an eligible “Indian Tribe” (including Alaska Native villages, but not Alaska Native Regional Corporations or Village Corporations), must be federally recognized as listed in Indian Entities Recognized and Eligible to Receive Services from the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs. Applications may also be submitted on behalf of an Indian Tribe(s) by an authorized Tribal Organization or Inter-Tribal Organization, provided evidence of that authority is provided as part of the application.

Under Topic Area 1, DOE is seeking applications for the installation in tribal buildings of (a) deep energy retrofits (multiple energy efficiency measures) to meet at least a 15% reduction in the total of all energy and fuel sources used; and (b) energy efficiency measures and clean energy systems (renewable energy power systems or combined heat and power systems) of at least 10kW or equivalent for heating and/or cooling to meet at least a 20% reduction in the total of all energy and fuel sources used.

Under Topic Area 2, DOE is soliciting applications for the deployment on a community-scale of at least 250 kW (or equivalent for heating and/or cooling) of clean energy systems on Indian lands to provide electricity and/or heating or cooling too many buildings or to an entire tribal community. Any technology proposed must be commercially-proven and warrantied, and the projects proposed under Topic Area 1 must be based on a prior energy audit or industrial energy assessment.

The intended results of the 50% cost shared projects selected under this Funding Opportunity Announcement are immediate cost savings, reduced energy use, and increased energy security for Indian Tribes, Alaskan Native villages, and tribal members.

DOE expects to make approximately $4 million to $6 million of Federal funding available for new awards under this FOA, subject to the availability of appropriated funds. The actual level of funding, if any, depends on Congressional appropriations. DOE anticipates making approximately 6 to 10 awards under this FOA. DOE may issue awards in one, multiple, or none of the topic areas.

Informational Webinar

The DOE Office of Indian Energy will conduct an informational webinar on December 1, 2016 (3:00 Eastern) to provide information on the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) to potential applicants. In addition to describing the FOA in detail, information will be provided on who is eligible to apply, what an application needs to include, cost share and other requirements, how to ask questions, and how applications will be selected for funding. If you are unable to attend the webinar, it will be recorded and posted for later viewing.

Register for the webinar at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/3954444524942948612