Distributed Solar Generation for Duke University Employees (2014-2015)

Rooftop solar prices have dropped precipitously over the past few years, making renewable energy more accessible at the household level. However, market barriers, particularly in North Carolina, continue to prevent many consumers who are ideal candidates for rooftop solar from purchasing and installing a renewable energy system. Consumers also have limited access to third party experts qualified to answer questions and provide guidance throughout the purchase and installation process. Yet widespread adoption of solar technology has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, lessen the environmental impact of electricity generation, increase grid security via distributed generation and decrease long-term electricity costs for consumers.

The Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative, in partnership with faculty leads from the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the Sanford School for Public Policy, explored opportunities for encouraging Duke employees to purchase, install and/or use solar energy for their homes. This project aided the University in achieving its target emission reductions. The team members created a Duke University program that empowers employees to 1) determine if they are an ideal candidate for rooftop solar; 2) make the best decisions regarding rooftop solar installation; and 3) install rooftop solar if they are an ideal candidate.

Team members researched the technical, policy and economic aspects of residential solar. They attended conferences, collaborated with Duke administrators, interviewed community stakeholders and partnered with local solar installers. They discovered historically low prices and a narrowing window of opportunity to take advantage of North Carolina’s renewable energy investment tax credit. Next they created and conducted a solar marketing campaign, Solarize Duke, targeting Duke employees. By providing access to quality information, qualified local installers, a limited-time discounted pricing structure and attractive financing options, the team streamlined employees’ ability to take full advantage of residential solar while providing social and economic benefits to the Duke community.

During three months in Spring 2015, the program connected some 200 employees with two top Triangle area solar installers: Southern Energy Management and Yes! Solar Solutions—to install discounted solar at employees’ homes. The program takes advantage of 2016 federal and 2015 state solar tax credits, combining them with vendor-provided group discounts to deliver price cuts of as much as 65 percent in many cases.


Fall 2014 – Spring 2015

Team Outcomes

Distributed Solar Generation for Duke University Employees: Using Rooftop Solar to Promote Climate Neutrality (poster by Ellis Baehr, James Ferguson, Daniel Ketyer, Jennifer Sekar, Jennifer Williams)

Duke University Pilots an Energy Efficiency Program for Employees (session at North Carolina State Energy Conference, April 21, 2016)


Daniel Ketyer

Daniel Ketyer

Daniel Ketyer

Daniel Ketyer

James Ferguson

James Ferguson

James Ferguson

Jennifer Sekar

Jen Williams

Ellis Baehr

This Team in the News

National Guidebook Maps the Way toward ‘Tipping Points’ in Solar Adoption

Program Simplifies, Lowers Cost of Solar Installation

Grappling with Climate Change Policy

Fall 2014 Recap: Distributed Solar Generation for Duke University Employees

Soft Cost Reductions for Solar

Solar Tax Incentives in North Carolina

Bass Connections Solar Team Learns from the Clean Energy 4 Raleigh Campaign

Introduction to Distributed Solar Generation for Duke University

I can say without a doubt that Bass Connections was the best experience I had at Duke. Starting with a vague notion of what we wanted to accomplish and actually pushing it through is something to be proud of. I look forward to coming back in five or ten years and seeing the solar panels this project helped to install. –Ellis Baehr

Team Leaders

  • Charles Adair, Duke Sustainability Program
  • William Pizer, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • Timothy Profeta, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

/graduate Team Members

  • Ellis Baehr, Master of Environmental Management, Energy and Environment, Environmental Entrepreneurship
  • Jennifer Williams, Master of Environmental Management, Energy and Environment

/undergraduate Team Members

  • James Ferguson, Environmental Sciences (BS)
  • Daniel Ketyer, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Jennifer Sekar, Biomedical Engineering (BSE)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Ryke Longest, Duke Law
  • Michelle Nowlin, Duke Law