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Mapping and Bridging Barriers in Knowledge Flows of How Solar Photovoltaics Affect Rural Community Economies


The Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) at the Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) funds research and development in three technology areas: photovoltaics (PV), concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP), and systems integration with the goal of improving the affordability, reliability, and domestic benefit of solar technologies on the grid.

To reduce soft costs of and barriers to utility-scale photovoltaics (PV) and enable its widespread deployment, our project aims to increase the prevalence of solar zoning rules by enabling communities to make informed zoning decisions. Our project combines extensive stakeholder engagement, experiments, and economic and power system modeling to characterize, generate, and disseminate knowledge on utility-scale PV in rural communities in the Great Lakes region. We specifically achieve four objectives:

  1. Characterize how knowledge flows and trusted stakeholders affect rural communities’ decisions on zoning PV;
  2. Estimate economic impacts of utility-scale PV in rural communities;
  3. Experimentally test how best to disseminate knowledge we generate on economic impacts;
  4. Disseminate generated knowledge through trusted stakeholders and tested means.

Continued growth in solar PV will rely on more utility-scale PV deployment, which often occurs in rural areas. The extent of rural solar deployment depends on deployment costs and permissive zoning ordinances. Many rural zoning ordinances are silent on utility-scale PV, which introduces significant risk and time delays to solar developers looking to site projects in these communities. Through our prior community engagement, we learned that many rural communities lack zoning rules for utility-scale PV because they lack objective measures of how utility-scale solar will affect their economies. This project aims to fill that gap by understanding how knowledge flows through rural communities, how utility-scale PV will affect rural economies, and how community stakeholders absorb PV-related information, then combining insights from those three areas to disseminate knowledge to community stakeholders.

Through a phased research approach, tied to each of our project objectives, we combine extensive stakeholder engagement, experiments, and economic and power system modeling to characterize, generate, and disseminate knowledge on how utility-scale PV affects rural economies. Drawing upon our existing community ties from prior work, our project includes an advisory board of leaders from government, non-profit, and solar energy organizations. Our project will occur in the Great Lakes region, but we expect our results will translate nationally.

Our project will have three key impacts: (1) fill knowledge gaps and enable more rural communities to include utility-scale PV in zoning ordinances; (2) reduce soft costs of and deployment barriers for utility-scale PV in rural areas; and (3) increase PV deployment in rural areas. In filling critical knowledge gaps and disseminating the information through trusted partners and effective means, we aim to convince rural communities to establish zoning ordinances that clearly address utility-scale PV. Regardless of whether those zoning ordinances allow or prohibit utility-scale PV, both cases will eliminate uncertainty and associated costs and barriers created by the omission of utility-scale PV in local zoning ordinances.

Co-PIs: Gilbert Michaud, Ohio University; Steven Miller, Michigan State University Extension; Hongli Feng, Michigan State University

Michigan State University
Ohio University
United States Department of Energy (DOE)
Research Areas
Energy Systems