Surprise! North American Businesses Use Solar – and Utilities don’t Mind!

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Research from E Source sheds some light into a secret corner of the commercial solar industry. More than one-third of the 802 businesses in the study reported that they had installed solar panels to meet at least a portion of their energy needs. Of those companies, only three percent reported any negative feedback from their utility.

E Source surveyed mid- to large- sized business with 50 or more on-site employees for their report, “How Photovoltaics and Distributed Generation Will Disrupt the Utility Industry: 2015 Quantitative Research Results on Business Customer Acquisition of Systems.”

The eight market segments represented were: manufacturing, retail, grocery, restaurants, offices, healthcare, lodging, and government/schools. The focus of the research was on solar adoption – namely current and future adoption of solar, key adoption drivers and barriers, preferred providers, and purchase criteria.

“We were intrigued that such a large number of companies reported having solar. These large businesses shared substantial detail on their installation processes, their satisfaction with and involvement from their utility, their financial decision criteria, and their success with installation,” says Bill LeBlanc, E Source senior advisor and project director.

In addition to the companies that have already installed solar, E Source found that 83 percent of the businesses surveyed had considered going solar within the last year.

Utilities-Approach-PVPerhaps the most interesting finding of the entire study was the relationship between these companies and their utilities. While conventional wisdom would have you believe that utilities and solar are destined to clash, E Source found that the opposite was true. According to LeBlanc, “Those customers with already installed solar report higher satisfaction with their utility than non-solar customers. This defies the conventional trade press, which often cites utility dissatisfaction as a driver of defection from the grid.”

So what does this mean for the future? E Source’s research suggests that this growth appears to be a part of an emerging trend. Interestingly the report finds that 80 percent of the companies that had on-site solar and 78 percent of those that don’t reported the belief that their utility would be supportive or neutral about their customers installing a solar PV system.

“Our research provides critical information to utilities on how to create solar strategies for their business customers. We see strong evidence that utilities are generally well positioned to assist their business customers with solar, especially those utilities that have already built a relationship with customers through energy-efficiency, demand-response, and pricing programs,” says LeBlanc.

This report is a welcome ray of sunshine in an era of net metering disputes.