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The US would save billions if local solar powered just 25% of homes

Vote Solar, the Coalition for Community Solar Access, and solar provider Sunrun (Nasdaq: RUN) conducted a study that found that if just a quarter of US households were powered by local rooftop and community solar and storage, Americans would benefit financially and environmentally overall in a very big way.

The study was conducted by using an advanced grid planning tool called WIS:dom®-P that laid out a roadmap to cost effectively transition to a clean grid by 2050. Energy grid modeling firm Vibrant Clean Energy developed the tool. Jeff Cramer, executive director of the Coalition for Community Solar Access, explained how it works to Electrek:

Our goal was to find a model that would stop looking at the grid in a piece-meal fashion and ignoring the benefits of local solar and storage. WIS:dom… spent days crunching data, analyzing over 1.5 trillion data points across every county in the continental US, at fine-grained resolutions of single kilowatts, three square kilometers, and five-minute intervals — the fine resolution necessary to reveal distributed resource benefits and to solve for the complex resource choices that system planners face in the real world.

As an analogy, consider the difference between navigating with paper maps of old and the digital maps we use to get from place to place today. Using a digital map, we were able analyze a more comprehensive picture of the true costs of all resources on the grid, and when we did that, we found that scaling local solar and storage is necessary to build the least cost clean grid of the future and can save ratepayers almost a half a trillion dollars.

Here are some of the main findings of the report, called, “Why Local Solar for All Costs Less: A New Roadmap for the Lowest Cost Grid”:

Deploying at least 247 GW of local rooftop and community solar on the grid would be the most cost-effective way to transition to a clean energy system by 2050. It is also the most cost-effective way to reach 95% emission reductions from 1990 levels. That’s enough to power 25% of all US homes.

A clean electric grid that leverages expanded local solar and storage is $88 billion less expensive than a grid that does nothing different than we’re doing today (no clean electricity mandates and not leveraging expanded local solar and storage). This proves that moving to clean electricity targets can save the country money versus the status quo. 

Under a national 95% clean electricity target, leveraging expanded local solar and storage can save the US $473 billion by 2050 compared to a clean electricity grid that doesn’t expand local solar and storage. Expanding local solar and storage on the distribution system reduces the need for power plants that only run on peak power days. It also better manages and reduces demand on the distribution system by offering more local energy products that customers want, which can increase grid resilience and reduce overall costs on the distribution and transmission grid.

More local solar unlocks the potential of utility-scale solar and wind. The lowest-cost grid requires a lot more utility-scale solar. In fact, retiring fossil-fueled power plants that run infrequently and deploying local storage more efficiently will help integrate 798 GW of utility-scale solar and 802 GW of utility-scale wind by 2050.

Scaling local solar and storage results in over 2 million local jobs by 2050. The cost analysis accounted for direct costs and benefits only, but local solar and storage brings additional societal benefits to communities such as jobs, increased economic development, increased resilience, and more equitable access to the benefits of renewables.

Cramer continued:

The analysis shows that President-elect [Joe] Biden’s clean energy plan — if done right and guided by the latest grid modeling tools — has the potential to save the country hundreds of billions of dollars if it includes scaling local solar and storage.

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Avatar for Michelle Lewis Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at Check out her personal blog.