Methodology behind the State Policy Opportunity Tracker (SPOT) for Clean Energy

The Center for the New Energy Economy (CNEE), in partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), built the State Policy Opportunity Tracker (SPOT) for Clean Energy to serve as a hub of information on both existing state clean energy policies and, uniquely, future policy opportunities.

SPOT synthesizes existing information related to 37 clean energy policies at the state level and documents whether a given state policy exists and where it stands related to 3 – 6 policy components.

This resource is not a state scorecard. It is a planning tool for states as they develop their clean energy policy roadmaps. In line with this goal, each policy has a downloadable 2-page policy brief, source information, and links to organizations that specialize in each policy area. The overall value of this hub is to inform decision-making processes by providing policymakers, regulators, and interested stakeholders a clear snapshot of existing state policies as well as opportunities for future policy adoption.


37 Clean Energy Policies

CNEE developed a list of 37 state clean energy policies. We categorized each policy into the five categories shown in the figure below.


Policy Stacking

Example of Solar Policy Stacking. Taken from Strategic Sequencing for State Distributed PV Policies: A Quantitative Analysis of Policy Impacts and Interactions. V.A. Krasko and E. Doris (NREL, 2012). With permission.

Example of Solar Policy Stacking. Taken from Strategic Sequencing for State Distributed PV Policies: A Quantitative Analysis of Policy Impacts and Interactions. V.A. Krasko and E. Doris (NREL, 2012). With permission.

A major cornerstone to this resource is a framework developed at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) called “policy stacking”. [1] The basic idea behind policy stacking is that there is an interdependency and a sequencing of state policy that, when done effectively, can yield greater market certainty, private sector investment, and likelihood of achieving stated public policy objectives.

Here is a simple example. Third-party solar financing is an important policy to open the competitive marketplace for solar deployment. Without a robust net metering policy, however, third party financing cannot be successful. In this example, net metering should come before third party financing in order of adoption.

Each of the 37 clean energy policies that CNEE analyzed is also assigned to a level of the “stack” based on whether the policy is best characterized as a market preparation (1st tier), market creation (2nd Tier), or market expansion (3rd tier) policy.

  • Tier 1, Market Preparation: Policies in this stage remove technical, legal, regulatory, and infrastructure-related barriers to clean energy technology adoption. Policies in this stage do not seek to create a market or change decision-making by potential adopters. They enable early adoption but do not explicitly support adoption.
  • Tier 2, Market Creation: Policies in this stage create a market and/or signal state support for clean energy technologies. These policies drive market demand for clean energy and create certainty for investors by establishing a long-term public commitment to the market.
  • Tier 3, Market Expansion: Policies in this category implement incentives and other programs in order to expand an existing clean energy market by encouraging or facilitating technology uptake by additional market participants.

Determining Existing Policy Gaps

CNEE analyzed the 37 clean energy policies for each state. While the first policy component asks a more general question, “Does the policy exist in the state (Yes or No)?”, there is a great deal of variation related to the content of state policies in their stringency, design, and effectiveness. For example, both California and Virginia have a Net Metering Policy, but among other differences, California’s policy allows meter aggregation for customers of investor-owned utilities (IOUs) while Virginia’s policy does not address aggregation.

Therefore, additional questions in this gap analysis attempt to discern established and strong policies from nascent, weak ones. These questions assess the various components of the policy and are also answered in a binary (Yes or No) fashion. For example, the policy component questions for Shared Renewables include, “Does the state allow virtual net metering?” This and the other Shared Renewables policy component questions were answered across the 50 states, offering a consistent means of comparison.

CNEE conducted a state-by-state, policy-by-policy data collection exercise to answer roughly 10,000 distinct questions (50 states X 37 policies X an average of 5 questions per policy). To do this, CNEE leveraged data from 18 organizations (listed below). Ultimately, the answers to these questions inform the gap analysis chart for each state policy, where a state that has all of the specified components of a policy does not demonstrate a gap in that policy area, whereas a state that does not have the particular policy in place would have a complete gap. Any policy component question that received a “No” within a policy reflected a component “gap” within that policy (see the example below).


Example of a state policy component gap analysis diagram.

External Review

After completing the initial 50 state gap analysis, CNEE contacted several organizations for their review of the policy component questions and incorporated their feedback into the analysis. The organizations include the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center, which maintains the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE), the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), the Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, Freeing the Grid, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Energy Information Administration (EIA), National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO), Building Codes Assistance Project (BCAP),  The Cadmus Group, Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), PACE Nation, Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA), Gridwise Alliance, Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), Edison Foundation, and the Coalition for Green Capital.

Continuous Improvement

Because state-level energy policies change often, this resource cannot remain static. CNEE is always looking to improve the timeliness and accuracy of the data found on SPOT. Please contact us if you have a suggestion, or if you find an error in the dataset.

[1] Source: V.A. Krasko and E. Doris, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2012. Strategic Sequencing for State Distributed PV Policies: A Quantitative Analysis of Policy Impacts and Interactions.