The True Value of Solar: Solar power delivers more than clean energy to Michigan

Report shines a light on undervalued benefits

Distributed solar benefits are often undervalued, and better state policy should reflect those benefits. 


Environment Michigan Research and Policy Center

Michiganders benefit from solar panels in important ways that are often overlooked by policymakers, according to The True Value of Solar: Measuring The Benefits of Rooftop Solar Power, a new study released today by Environment MichiganResearch and Policy Center and Frontier Group. States should assess all those benefits when determining their energy policies and incentives. 

“Power from the sun is a boon to the environment, protects our health from dirtier power options and gives us a shot at leaving our kids a better world,” Susan Rakov, chair of Environment Michigan Research and Policy Center’s Clean Energy program, said. “We need to appreciate what solar energy is really worth, and base our public policies on it.”

Valuing solar energy accurately is an important step in the creation of effective policies that support rooftop solar installations. For example, net metering policies pay solar panel owners back when they provide excess power to the grid. More than two million solar panel installations are now in use nationwide and net metering has played a significant role in that growth. Nevertheless, some state energy policies continue to put solar power at a disadvantage by failing to accurately compensate solar panel owners for the value of the energy they produce.

“Solar works in Michigan. We know this because we see growing numbers of homeowners, churches, and others getting solar installed on their roofs,” said Nathan Murphy, State Director for Environment Michigan. “Unfortunately, Michigan recently moved away from net metering to a system that has become a problem for families and businesses that want their own panels. Our research shows there are many benefits to distributed to solar, and Michigan policy should reflect that instead of throwing up roadblocks to the future.”

The new report argues that energy policies should account for the full suite of benefits associated with solar energy. Solar adds value to the grid by limiting the need to generate power at fossil fuel plants, and to make costly investments in new power capacity, distribution and transmission. Solar energy can make prices more stable, improve reliability and reduce environmental compliance costs, the study found.

Rooftop solar also delivers valuable environmental and societal benefits. When we add more clean, renewable energy to the grid, we reduce global warming emissions, along with pollution that threatens public health or contributes to soot and smog. Solar energy also reduces the need for fracking, coal extraction and other parts of the fossil fuel life cycle, and creates local economic benefits.  

Studies that inform state solar energy policies often neglect those sweeping benefits. When solar energy is valued accurately, policies such as net metering are typically shown to provide a net benefit to all electric customers.

“Given the climate crisis we are facing, a clear-eyed and honest assessment of the actual value of solar power is essential,”  said Murphy. “And, that true value must be reflected in our energy policies. We need to do everything in our power to encourage more Americans to go solar because it benefits everyone. Let’s not rely on bad math that undermines the very programs that make it possible.”