In the United States, reducing electricity probably won’t lead to a significant reduction in direct oil consumption. Instead (in terms of fossil fuels) it is more likely to reduce your consumption of coal and natural gas. In turn, low oil prices aren't necessarily working against solar deployment in a direct sense.
The United States uses just under 100 quadrillion british thermal units (quads) of energy each year. Of those 100 quads, almost 40% is used for electricity generation. However, less than 1% of that electricity is generated using petroleum. According to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's latest "Estimated U.S. Energy Use" graphics and data from the Energy Information Administration, 39% of electricity in the United States is generated using coal. Another 46% is generated using natural gas (27%) and nuclear power (19%). Hydroelectric power (7%) and wind (4%) are also significant contributors.
However, while crude oil and solar power are not direct substitutes, the cost of oil is frequently viewed as an overall indicator of energy prices. In turn, when oil prices drop, solar's perceived value could as well. Furthermore, coal and natural gas are direct substitutes for solar power in power generation (ignoring environmental concerns, government policies, etc) and the cost of these two fossil fuels could be directly influenced by oil prices.
But, moving forward, government policies and concerns regarding the environmental and health impacts of fossil fuel use as well as advances in energy storage technology development could still drive solar power forward in 2015. Recent data published by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) show that solar installations increase the value of homes across multiple markets in the US, providing another incentive for residential solar installations.
In her article on solar as an energy gamechanger, Plugged In's Sheril Kirshenbaum stated that "What happens over the coming decades? I suspect utility companies will have to change their business model–because solar is changing the game."
For now, one will have to wait to see what 2014 and 2015 data reveal.
Photo Credit: Graphic by LLNL, published 2014.