As part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, NDSSL team is undertaking a research program to identify the unique set of challenges faced by the residents of the rural communities in Virginia in "going solar". It will determine social, behavioral and economic factors, that act as influential barriers or enablers in solar energy adoption. By partnering with the national rural electric cooperatives, the findings are expected to have far-reaching impact across the US.

Problem

As costs associated with solar energy continue to fall, more and more Americans are expected to take advantage of this promising renewable energy source. But price isn’t the only obstacle to going solar. The processes required to obtain proper permits, pass inspection, and connect solar equipment to the power grid can take the average user six months to complete. In less populated, rural regions, these costs could be even higher. Significant studies are needed to determine the best ways to promote solar power adoption outside our cities.

To address this knowledge gap and ensure that more Americans will see the benefits of sustainable energy, NDSSL has joined the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, a national effort aimed at driving down the cost of adopting solar power. Leading a team of collaborators at Sandia National Laboratory, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), and Arizona State University, NDSSL will assess the most effective strategies for promoting solar energy use in rural Virginia—findings that could be applied to agricultural regions across the entire country.

Methods

Combining expertise in the social, behavioral, and computer sciences as well as engineering and computational modeling, our team will employ detailed simulations to assess the most effective means of promoting solar energy adoption throughout rural Virginia.

rural social group

This study will take advantage of NDSSL’s signature “synthetic information system” technology—a powerful form of data integration that allows researchers to simulate the complex relationships that make up any community. Using this system, our team can examine the impact of social factors—like people’s personal relationships to others who have adopted solar power—alongside practical concerns such as cost and the technical difficulty of hooking solar equipment into an existing power grid.

Impact

Project funding to NDSSL will contribute directly to the reduction of “soft costs” associated with solar energy installation in rural regions—expenses beyond the price of equipment which often constitute over half of the total costs of residential and commercial installations.

By working with NRECA, which represents over 900 electric cooperatives across the U.S. that collectively own and operate over 42% of the nation’s distribution lines, the project findings are expected to have direct and far-reaching impact across the United States: improved environment and increased employment through increasing sales and installations of solar panels.

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