Thursday, February 12, 2009

LBJ Attitudes May Signal Solar Growth in Austin

Last semester, myself and several colleagues (including our classmate Chris Smith) conducted a survey of 111 of our fellow LBJ students in order to better understand the knowledge and opinions surrounding Austin Energy’s policies and programs. Before going any further, it is important to acknowledge the limitations of our work. Given the small sample size and relatively homogeneous population (in terms of educational background and overall demographics), it may be difficult to draw many meaningful conclusions. Having said that, our survey indicated that respondents have an overwhelmingly positive attitude towards renewable energy.

· 86.8% of respondents would pay more on their electric bill if they knew this contributed to higher renewable or clean energy sources

· When asked what concerns them most about Austin Energy’s current energy generation mix, 70.0% replied “the amount of clean energy within the generation mix”, while only 23.0% were most concerned with cost, and 7.0% responded “reliability of service”

· 71.8% of respondents would like to see more solar power in Austin Energy’s current resource plan

Among the programs that we inquired about was Austin Energy’s photovoltaic (PV) rebate program. This program is widely considered the most aggressive renewable energy rebate program in the nation. The rebate pays out at a rate of $4.50/W or $5.60/W depending upon whether the PV is made locally within the Austin electric service area.[1] For comparison’s sake, Oncor which serves much of northern Texas is only offering a rebate of $2.46/W. [2] Given the program’s reputation among those in the renewable industry and the inherent bias of our sample, one would expect a high level of program awareness in our survey results. The results were quite surprising:

· Only 25.2% of all respondents were familiar with Austin Energy’s rebate programs on energy efficient technologies or energy conservation programs

Strikingly similar results were found when controlling for variables such as land ownership, environmental coursework, and average utility bill cost. Thus, even the respondents most likely to be aware of Austin Energy’s PV rebate program were “in the dark”.

Again, the results of our survey do not necessarily hold true for the population of Austin as a whole. However given the attitudes of the respondents toward renewables, the strength of Austin Energy’s PV rebate program and the lack of awareness of that program, the potential for much PV expansion may exist.

[1] Austin Energy, Power Saver Program: Solar PV Rebate. Online. Available: Accessed: February 12, 2009.

[2] DSIRE, Texas - Oncor Electric Delivery - Photovoltaic (PV) Incentive Program. Online. Available: Accessed: February 12, 2009.


Steven Meyers said...

Although you recognize at the onset of your post the limitations of how representative you sample is, I think this survey highlights a possible disconnect between energy-fact and energy-opinion. No doubt, it is an excellent trend that a growing number of students supports solar and other renewables. Global opinion is changing for the better. Your survey captures that well. However, many students are not familiar with the economics around energy-efficiency as a "greener" and lower-cost solution. Survey questions are often framed as "If you knew X to be true, would you be more or less supportive of Y?" Such survey responses can often test the messaging points for marketing campaigns. It would be interesting to see how these responses would change if the questions revealed some of the facts around energy efficiency. For example, "If you knew solar PV systems are typically 5-10 times more expensive (present-value-$/kWh) than energy-efficiency, would be more or less likely to encourage Austin Energy to offer more incentives for efficiency over solar?" (see: Or, "If you knew energy-efficiency created about 10 times more local green jobs than per kWh than solar PV, would you be more likely to support efficiency incentives over solar incentives?" (see:

Now, I love solar PV. In fact, it is and will be a critical aspect of our energy future. However, as we decide as a city, country, or planet how to allocate scarce resources to a clean energy infrastructure, let's recognize that energy efficiency is the lowest-cost and highest-employment resource.

-Steve (

iheartgas said...

Perhaps the most glaring flaw in the sample group that you omit to point out is the homogeneous political nature of the LBJ student body. Being a part of that community, I can speak first hand to the left-leaning persuasion of the student body as a whole. An important fact one must consider when reviewing their support for alternative/green energy...

BCarpenter said...

Good points all around. I meant to imply that political ideology would be an inherent bias of the sample group but did not spell it out explicitly. However, this does not take away from the strength of my overall argument and may even strengthen it.

I contend that given the biases of our sample population, there should be a high level of awareness of such a celebrated and aggressive rebate program, which we do not see. Regardless of political affiliation or educational background, it makes financial sense to take advantage of such a program and therein lies the potential for PV growth in Austin.

Ideamotor said...

I disagree with BCarpenter's last post in that Austin Energy's rebates justify PV modules for individuals based solely on their cost.

I have found the net present value for typical Austin homes to get 50% of their energy from PV negative with expected increases in energy price for a 25 year period to be negative - assuming the power system required for the PV modules last the same 25 years.

The rebates do work financially for homeowners looking to only replace 30%. There's a cap that once reached you are getting less and less energy for your buck.

BCarpenter said...

Ideamotor, I am wondering if your figures include the federal tax credits?