New Research: SolSmart Has Measurable Impact on Local Solar Energy Growth

A groundbreaking study offers exciting news for SolSmart: Our program is helping local governments significantly increase solar energy capacity after they receive designation.

The study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), used a rigorous statistical process to evaluate the impact of this nationwide program. The study found that local participation in SolSmart can lead to increased solar capacity of 18-19% per month.

As a result, the study found that SolSmart has “achieved its intended outcome to promote solar adoption in local communities.” The study also found that SolSmart communities increased installations by 17% per month.

Since the program launched in 2016, our goal has been to help local governments reduce barriers and make it easier for local homes and businesses to go solar. Since then, more than 400 communities in 41 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have achieved designation. We’re thrilled to see empirical evidence that SolSmart is helping communities succeed.

The study used a control group to account for the numerous factors that influence solar energy capacity, such as median household income, median home value, and the presence of 100% renewable energy goals. This allowed the researchers to pinpoint the impact of SolSmart on a community’s solar energy growth.

“We found communities that got the SolSmart ‘intervention’ increased solar relative to control communities,” says Casey Canfield, Assistant Professor in Engineering Management and Systems Engineering at the Missouri University of Science & Technology. Other authors on the study included researchers from Florida State University, University of Miami, and University of Texas at Austin.

The study found similar results through surveys conducted among local governments and the solar industry. Nearly all local government officials surveyed (98%) said that SolSmart increased their knowledge of solar energy. A majority also said it reduced permitting and inspection timelines and increased solar capacity.

The study notes a number of factors that may account for our program’s impact. As a voluntary environmental program (VEP), SolSmart offers incentives for adopting solar-friendly policies that are not required by law or regulation. It provides guidelines and technical assistance to communities that can reduce the time and resources needed to achieve solar energy best practices.

The SolSmart criteria offers communities flexibility by allowing them to choose multiple criteria pathways toward designation. A prerequisite for all communities is to post an online solar checklist, which can help them get a “foot in the door” before pursuing more ambitious actions. Through the designation process, communities receive positive recognition as a reward for their accomplishments.

“The results to date suggest that VEPs like SolSmart are an effective strategy for encouraging local governments to take actions toward sustainability,” the study says.

Of course, the figures in this study are averages and we can’t guarantee how much a specific community will increase solar energy use. However, SolSmart provides a framework that can help all communities chart a pathway to meet their clean energy goals. Any municipality, county, or regional organization is eligible to join SolSmart. Contact us to get started today.