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Engaging Homeowners in Utility-Led Clean Energy Pushes

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Most of the impactful initiatives to increase the amount of clean energy on the grid come from utility-scale generation. Traditionally, the scale of these renewable resources and the amount of time, money, and planning that can go into them will outpace individual decisions to embrace rooftop solar or any other distributed generation source. However, recognizing that there's no silver bullet to the clean energy transition and that the amount of renewable generation needed amounts to 'as much as possible as fast as possible,' experts in the industry industry are recognizing the importance of incentivizing and encouraging clean energy generation on smaller scales as well. The fact is that distributed renewable energy generation and other household or small-scale initiatives may not make much progress when taken piece by piece, but if there's a way to make that push in aggregate then some real progress can be made. 

This sentiment is the idea behind some recent developments across U.S. utilities that see them beginning to truly embrace household generation and engaging homeowners as partners in the clean energy push. Where there has in the past (and to an extent still is) some friction between utilities and homeowners who want to generate at least part of their power needs on their own (and thus reduce their reliance on the power company), utility companies are largely viewing households themselves as not just customers but also resources in this push. 

The traditional ways in which utilities have encouraged households to be a part of the solution is through energy efficiency or, more recently, demand management initiatives. Georgia Power, for example, has indicated its desire to move away from coal and part of its plan to do so is not only increase renewable generation but also a "demand management plan" that "proposes a pilot program for up to 200 low-income households to put in energy-saving upgrades, then pay for those things over time, as well as a program to crowdfund such upgrades and other ways to cut power demand."

Folks demanding cleaner, more affordable energy marched past the state Capitol en route to a short demonstration at the next-door Public Service Commission on April 8. Credit: Maggie Lee

These demand management strategies will continue to be important to utility clean energy pushes, but other utilities are now embracing households as a more direct source of clean energy generation. The city of Atlanta, for example, has unfurled its 100% Clean Energy Plan and it will notably include homeowners and give them "a role in whether the plan is successful." This initiative again encourages energy efficiency upgrades and home energy management plans, in particular for low-income households, but it also uses its 'Solarize' program to empower households to participate in community solar and making permitting for solar installations on rooftops more streamlined and affordable. "Solarize programs — crowdsourcing for solar installations — negotiate tiered pricing that goes down as more people in the community sign up. In 2019, the average price for solar panels in Atlanta  is about $15,000 for an average size 5-kilowatt system, according to EnergySage, a marketplace for homeowners seeking solar installers. Solarize participants get savings of about 20% to 30% off the average cost."

Hawaii is another state where utilities are looking to homeowners as partners in the clean energy efforts. Governor David Ige recently announced the state's Green Money $aver program that is designed to make household renewable energy installations (solar water heaters, PV panels, etc.) more accessible  with on-bill repayment programs. This structure opens up household generation as more accessible to households and makes embraces the possible impact of many homes joining together to create a renewable energy impact in aggregate. 

 

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