Researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology have received $250,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study how utility customers use electricity, how utility companies distribute power, and how consumer acceptance levels and economic factors affect the adoption of renewable energy, specifically solar power.

“We want to understand the factors that affect electricity use and adoption of solar energy,” says Dr. Islam El-adaway, Hurst-McCarthy Professor of Civil Engineering at Missouri S&T, who is conducting the research with Ph.D. student Gasser Ali. “This is one of multiple steps we hope to take. Once we understand more about economic factors and customers’ attitudes, we can take it to the next level.”

El-adaway says solar power can offer several benefits to consumers, including lower costs and greater reliability and power quality as traditional power plants age and may be taken offline.

The researchers will collect and analyze electricity usage and transmission data to forecast how communities are changing through consumer behavior and utility company needs.

With their collaborators at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville (UTK), El-adaway and Ali are working closely with the southeastern electric grid of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to gather information about the physical components of TVA’s electric grid: transmission lines, the AC transmission grid and generating units. The researchers will use customer surveys to determine how residential electric consumers use power and how motivated they are to participate in programs that allow them to reduce power consumption during periods of higher prices. Researchers will also gather information from commercial power users about their experience and concerns with solar power.

Ultimately, the research findings will be incorporated into courses at Missouri S&T and will be used to raise public awareness of the benefits of solar power by offering panel sessions and exercises at national conferences, regional workshops, and local meetings with consumers, business leaders and utility operators.