Americans are increasingly aware of the potential of renewable energy to both reduce the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels -- both foreign and domestic sources -- and decrease emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases and other pollutants. As a result, renewable energy technologies, particularly, solar and wind power, are the fastest growing sources of electricity in the US. Furthermore, environmental and security concerns have sparked increased interest in small-scale, “distributed” sources of renewable electricity generation like rooftop solar panels, to reduce our reliance on large, centralized power plants. However, individual homeowners and small business owners looking to invest in these new sources of energy often face bureaucratic red tape when trying to install their own small-scale, distributed renewable energy systems.
The greatest barriers to distributed renewable energy systems in the US are not technical obstacles, but financial, political, and social hurdles. System installers often face planners and building inspectors with little renewable energy experience and no formal education for certifying system safety and reliability. Complex permitting requirements and lengthy review processes can delay installations and add significant costs to distributed renewable energy systems. Permitting standards that vary across city and town borders create additional complications and inefficiencies. In many cases, these bureaucratic hurdles stymie efforts by homeowners and business owners to install systems, and hinder the development of a national market for distributed renewable energy.
“Distributed renewable energy systems” generate clean, renewable electricity on site, where that energy will be used. The term distributed generation distinguishes these systems from the large, centralized power plants that provide the vast majority of the nation’s power. Distributed renewable energy systems can take many forms, including geothermal systems, micro-hydroelectric systems, solar panels and wind turbines. There are many programs and policies that can either help or hinder the adoption and integration of distributed energy systems.