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Growing Impacts of Residential Solar on Utility Customer Service

Growing Impacts of Residential Solar on Utility Customer Service

Fortnightly Magazine - July 2016
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The continued growth of photovoltaic solar rooftop installations in the U.S., PV, has resulted in a series of debates. Concerning reforms to utility ratemaking. Concerning the proper form and extent of subsidies for PV. And concerning fundamental changes to the utility business model.

Regulators and policy advocates of various stripes grapple with these questions. But utilities are faced with the immediate reality of serving customers who have already adopted PV systems.

What does PV mean for utilities' residential customer service operations? From helping customers with supplier selection, through installation and maintenance issues? And with billing?

Figure 1 - State and Utility Breakdown of Residential Solar Survey

To begin to address this question, we conducted two sets of surveys of residential electricity customers in the second quarter of 2016.

The larger of the two, with a sample of over one thousand respondents, was intended to provide a snapshot of attitudes towards solar held by the overall residential electricity market. We'll refer to it as the Comprehensive survey.

The other survey targeted residential customers that have already adopted PV. In this case, we attempted to ensure the sample included customers with a representative mix of different PV-related subsidies and rates. 1 The composition of the three hundred respondents to this survey, which we'll refer to as the PV Adopters survey, are depicted in Figure 1.

EES North America

In this article we will begin by exploring why residential customers adopt solar and how they go about choosing a supplier. We then turn to how these customers' needs are being served once they have chosen to obtain solar, and the role of the utility in assisting these customers. We conclude by assessing customers' satisfaction with their choice of solar and the implications for their current and future relationship with their utility.

Our overall thesis is that the advent of distributed solar represents an overwhelmingly positive opportunity for utilities to increase their level of relevance for residential customers. But only if utilities are prepared to modify their customer support processes and capabilities. Our research

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