Residential Solar Technology Adoption: Motivations for Environmental Behavior and Experiences with Alternative Energy Systems

EPA Grant Number: FP917171
Title: Residential Solar Technology Adoption: Motivations for Environmental Behavior and Experiences with Alternative Energy Systems
Investigators: Schelly, Chelsea Lynn
Institution: University of Wisconsin - Madison
EPA Project Officer: Zambrana, Jose
Project Period: September 1, 2010 through August 31, 2013
Project Amount: $111,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2010) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Fellowship - Science & Technology for Sustainability: Environmental Behavior & Decision Making , Academic Fellowships


In the United States, electricity is generated through three primary sources: coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy. However, alternative or renewable sources of electricity generation have been increasing in market share. Alternative energy technology adoption offers one potential means of addressing current dependence on fossil fuel-based, centralized electrical generation and transmission. This project will explore the historical development of electricity as a socio-technological system as well as its current structure, and examine the adoption of one form of renewable energy generation, residential photovoltaic (PV) solar technology, in order to understand several aspects of human decision making with broader implications for policy and the electric utilities industry.

This project examines the motivations for adopting residential solar electric technology through interviews with solar technology users in Wisconsin and Colorado, considering the relative importance of geography (solar radiation), policy (fiscal incentives), demographics (income, age, household composition), environmental values, and other factors in motivating solar energy technology adoption. This project aims to inform future policy intended to promote alternative energy technology adoption.


In order to conduct the proposed research, home-owning residential PV technology adopters in two states (Wisconsin and Colorado) will be identified, contacted, and interviewed. Wisconsin and Colorado offer an ideal opportunity for comparison, as they differ in solar radiation, state policy promoting alternative energy, and political identity, which may all be significant in shaping solar energy technology adoption. Factors for consideration in the sampling frame include age, income, length of homeownership, whether the PV system is off-grid or grid-integrated, and whether the home is in a rural area, a suburban neighborhood, or a centralized urban area. While qualitative research sampling frames are not intended to be representative, these factors will be considered so that participants in both states are representational. Research questions will ask about the decision to adopt solar technology and the experiences of participants as solar technology users. Questions will focus on the extent to which various models of decision making help explain the decision to adopt PV technology.

Expected Results:

Inductive qualitative research does not and cannot follow the same standards of hypothesis testing as quantitative statistical research. Nonetheless, we may consider some tentative hypotheses. The first hypothesis is that residential solar technology adopters do not fit an often-associated stereotype of ‘greenies.’ Solar technology adopters may be similar in socio-economic status (although not always and exclusively so), but may vary widely in lifestyle and commitment to environmental values. The second hypothesis is that ecological factors matter. Motivational factors are likely to vary for residents of different ecological regions. The third hypothesis is that no one current model of behavioral decision making is sufficient to explain PV adoption.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection
This project seeks to understand the human dimensions of environmental issues and pro-environmental behavior. By asking users themselves about their motivations to adopt solar energy technology, and their experiences living with that technology, this work will improve our understanding of human decision making in the context of environmental behavior and technology adoption.

Supplemental Keywords:

solar energy technologies, decision making, adoption of innovations,

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2011
  • 2012
  • Final