Encouraging voluntary government action via a solar-friendly designation program to promote solar energy in the United States

Xue Gao, Casey Canfield, Tian Tang, Hunter Hill, Morgan Higman, John Cornwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sustainable development requires an accelerated transition toward renewable energy. In particular, substantially scaling up solar photovoltaics (PV) adoption is a crucial component of reducing the impacts of climate change and promoting sustainable development. However, it is challenging to convince local governments to take action. This study uses a combination of propensity score matching (PSM) and difference-in-differences (DID) models to assess the effectiveness of a voluntary environmental program (VEP) called SolSmart that targets local governments to engage in solar-friendly practices to promote the local solar PV market in the United States. Via specific designation requirements and technical assistance, SolSmart simplifies the process of acting on interest in being solar friendly, has a wide coverage of basic solar-friendly actions with flexible implementation, and motivates completion with multiple levels of designation. We find that a local government's participation in SolSmart is associated with an increased installed capacity of 18 to 19%/mo or with less statistical significance, an increased number of installations of 17%/mo in its jurisdiction. However, SolSmart has not shown a statistically significant impact on soft cost reductions to date. In evaluating the impact of the SolSmart program, this study improves our understanding of the causation between a VEP that encourages solar-friendly local government practices and multiple solar market outcomes. VEPs may be able to promote shifts toward sustainable development at the local level. Our findings have several implications for the design of VEPs that promote local sustainability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2106201119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number11
StatePublished - Mar 15 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • soft costs
  • solar photovoltaic
  • solar-friendly practices
  • technology adoption
  • voluntary environmental program

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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