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J.D. Power sees consumer interest in solar, EV adoption growing in 2019

One of the clearest and most enduring trends for U.S. utilities is an increasing interest in solar installations among utility customers, according to a report from J.D. Power, which also noted more utilities moving to create incentives for the use of electric vehicles.

Consumer marketing research firm J.D. Power's "2019 Utility Industry Outlook" report shines light on the seeming omnipresence of solar installations, noting that installed megawatts of solar generation grew by 24% in 2017 and by another 8% in the first 9 months of 2018.

Utility industry studies conducted by J.D. Power show that 43% of electric utility customers in the U.S. are weighing installing solar arrays, according to over 33,000 responses on the topic of solar energy in a recent residential electric study.

Ranked by their level of interest, a majority of consumers in Hawaii, Vermont, New Mexico, Oregon, California, Utah, Arizona, Idaho, Texas and Nevada are considering solar installations.

Interest is greatest among Hawaiians at 78%, followed by 69% of Vermont residents, with the interest level of the next eight states' residents measured at somewhere between 52% and 59%.

The 57% of Americans who remain uninterested in solar cite cost as their prime concern with 51% of those with no plans to add solar saying it is too expensive.

While solar has gained a mainstream status, another widely heralded emerging technology has yet to catch fire.

Despite electric vehicles being a potential source of new demand, utilities have "not been particularly aggressive" about developing a strategy to encourage their adoption, according to J.D. Power.

However, California is leading the way, with a number of utilities offerings incentives, including programs linked to time-of-use rate schedules, effectively allowing customers to recharge their cars overnight for significantly lower rates. California is in the process of implementing the time-of-use rate schedule, which adjusts per-kilowatt hour rates for electricity based on peak demand.

On the flip side of new energy technologies is growing concern over aging and deteriorating infrastructure that "desperately needs to be upgraded to meet today's safety standards," according to the report.

J.D. Power cited as a key recent examples the controversy surrounding PG&E Corp. subsidiary Pacific Gas and Electric Co. over whether its distribution lines may have had a role in sparking the Camp wildfire in 2019, as well as a September 2018 gas leak and subsequent explosions on the distribution system of NiSource Inc. subsidiary Columbia Gas of Massachusetts that left one person dead and 25 others injured.

"While this will be a mammoth and costly undertaking for utilities across the country, it also represents an opportunity to strengthen relationships with customers," J.D. Power analysts said in the report. "Across all of our utilities industry studies, we've found that customer awareness of safety initiatives has a high correlation with customer satisfaction."

J.D. Power is a subsidiary of XIO LLP, which acquired the firm in 2016 from S&P Global Inc., then known as McGraw Hill Financial Inc.