Clean, cheap, and just : sustainability values expressed in Austin’s residential solar rebate policies and by Austin residents

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Sharp, Susan Elizabeth

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Residential solar panels have great promise to reduce dependence on energy from carbon-emitting sources. However, the high cost of solar panels puts the technology out of reach for many residents and compels utilities to provide subsidies for their purchase. This master’s thesis investigates the manifestation of economic, environmental, and social equity interests in Austin Energy’s residential solar rebate program through the perspective of the utility and of the residents of Austin, Texas. I situate the thesis in the context of climate change, local inequality, and the externalities of conventional energy choices. I then evaluate the expression of sustainability values embedded within solar technology policy and implementation through three areas of inquiry: an examination of residential solar incentives, including interviews with utility personnel at Austin Energy and CPS Energy in San Antonio; an analysis of survey data indicating resident perceptions of solar technology; and a comparison of the energy used by solar panel owners and non-owners. I found that, as hypothesized, economic interests dominate a more moderate showing of environmental values and a smattering of social issues in terms of policy design and residential perceptions. However, energy use data showed that solar panels do significantly reduce household energy consumption drawn from the grid, including during times of peak demand. Research findings indicate a need for a better connection of social interests with economic and environmental values when it comes to residential solar technology policy and adoption.


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