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Giving consumers a greater choice of how their electricity is generated could boost solar, wind and other "green power" sources 40 percent by the end of the decade, according to a new study by two U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories.
Achieving such a result, however, would require an orderly transition to competitive power markets and a significant expansion of the green pricing programs currently offered by regulated utilities, said energy analysts who conducted the study at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL).
The findings are based on detailed modeling of green power demand, drawing on the experience of green power markets to date and consumer response to other "green" products.
"Market research consistently shows that consumers prefer to receive their power from clean energy sources," said Blair Swezey of NREL, one of the study's co-authors. "Our study shows that giving consumers energy supply choices can be a powerful mechanism for moving renewable energy into the marketplace."
Currently offered by more than 85 utilities in 29 states, green pricing gives consumers an option to help support additional electrical production from renewable resources, including solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal and biomass resources.
Green power marketing also has seen success in a limited number of states with retail market competition, but the recent suspension of customer choice in California represents a setback to the development of competitive market choices in other states.
"The California experience shows that the transition to competitive retail power markets will not be smooth," said Ryan Wiser of LBNL, another co-author. "If competitive retail markets fail to materialize, utility programs must pick up the slack."
The authors note that realizing the full potential of green power markets will require, among other things, a combination of better information and consumer education about electricity supply choices and the development of market rules and public policies that support customer choice.
NREL is managed by Midwest Research Institute, Battelle and Bechtel. The lab is a leading center for research into photovoltaics, wind energy, plant- and waste-derived fuels, power and chemicals, energy-efficient buildings, advanced vehicle design, alternative fuels use and renewable hydrogen production, storage and utilization.
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California.
Visit NREL online at www.nrel.gov.