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Missouri S&T Researchers Study How Energy Customers Decide To Use Solar

Missouri S&T is researching how residents and businesses like this bus depot in Rolla decide to use solar energy. 06-12-20
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri S&T is researching how residents and businesses like this bus depot in Rolla decide to use solar energy.

ROLLA Missouri University of Science and Technology researchers are trying to find out what is blocking people from using more solar energy with the help of a federal grant.

The research will look at economic and psychological reasons for why a homeowner or business would choose or not choose solar energy.

“We want to understand the factors that affect electricity use and adoption of solar energy,” said Islam El-adaway, a civil engineering professor at Missouri S&T and the leader of the project. “This is one of multiple steps we hope to take.”

El-adaway said most people think the economic incentive is the most important factor.

“Someone will follow and say, ‘Yes, I will invest $5,000 or $10,000 today, but this will save me long down the road,’” El- Adaway said. “Once we understand more about economic factors and customers’ attitudes, we can take it to the next level.”

El-adaway’s team will include social scientists who will look at attitudes toward solar energy and how they impact the decision. He is working with the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and the Tennessee Valley Authority to survey customers there.

He said the final report will be a guide utility companies can use to help accelerate the use of renewable energy. 

But such a guide may not have a significant impact in Missouri, said James Owens, the executive director of Renew Missouri, a clean energy advocacy group.

He said the legal restrictions to using solar power in Missouri is the biggest block to wider use of renewable energy. 

“The law just does not require the utility companies to give you any kind of ability to make substantial, meaningful power and still stay hooked up to the grid,” Owens said.

Owens said until laws are changed at the state level, there will be a significant factor limiting solar use in Missouri.

Missouri S&T’s research is being funded by a $250,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, with additional money from a private foundation. The final report will be shared with utility companies, presented at conferences and become part of the S&T curriculum.

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Jonathan Ahl is the Newscast Editor and Rolla correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.