Research study aims to analyze economic benefit of solar energy

“Most of the talk about solar energy has focused on how to make it more efficient and technically viable,” says Professor Tim James, director of research and consulting at the L. William Seidman Research Institute, ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business. “There’s been little comprehensive thought about how to put solar and other renewable energy into place to help the economy. Things like state permits, tax credits and other incentives need to be carefully considered, along with technical feasibility and potential locations.”

Az SMART stands for Arizona Solar Market Analysis and Research Tool. Part of the effort is aimed at drawing solar and other renewable energy companies to Arizona to benefit the state’s economy. Another part focuses on interactive decision-making tools that can be used by everyone from the governor to individual homeowners for information and guidance.

These tools will include a website where homeowners and business owners can fill in information about their needs and costs, and find out whether solar energy would be a good choice for them. They also include aids for state policymakers and business leaders who decide whether to shift the types of energy utilized across the state, looking at issues like environmental impact and job creation.

“It’s a huge enterprise essentially mapping out the state in its entirety and determining the effects of something like replacing a coal plant as it comes to the end of its useful life with enough renewable energy,” continued Professor James. “Obviously, it’s beneficial for our state’s energy security to use solar, wind and other energy sources readily available here, instead of importing fossil fuels. However, we have to determine which types of energy, including existing sources, make the most sense in different areas of the state to ensure reliable, cost-efficient power for everyone.”

Az SMART research has already identified large areas that would be appropriate for solar and alternative energy facilities, building on the number of potential sites identified by the federal Bureau of Land Management. These additional locations could possibly provide enough power to supply the entire western United States and bring in significant revenue to Arizona.

Researchers at ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering are looking at the technical side of the shift to renewable energy, including how to achieve “plugging” the new technology into the state’s power grid.

“While the benefits of harnessing Arizona’s vast solar resource can be enormous, significant issues remain about how to best integrate this resource into a large and complex electric grid,” says SRP senior research engineer Don Pelley. “Through our Az SMART collaboration with other knowledgeable scientists, economists and engineers, we are confident we can begin to find the solutions to these challenges.”

A top official from the U.S. Department of Energy, Undersecretary Kristina Johnson, recently visited the project, and other VIPs are coming soon. The hope is that the Az SMART project will provide an example for other states to follow in President Barrack Obama’s plan to reduce emissions, reduce foreign oil dependence and create jobs in a clean technology economy.