US scientists study consumer interest in PV

Researchers at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, are examining consumer interest in solar energy in an effort to better understand what persuades people to buy photovoltaic systems for their homes.

The three-year research project, now in its second year, is collecting data on consumer motivations that can feed computer models and eventually support greater use of solar energy.

Indeed, Sandia says a primary goal of the project is to help increase the United States’ share of solar energy in the electricity market from its current share of less than .05% to at least 14% by 2030.

"If we can develop effective and accurate predictive models, we can help identify policy variables that could increase purchases of residential PV systems and ultimately help advance the mission of the SunShot Initiative," said Kiran Lakkaraju, Sandia’s project lead.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative seeks to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity by the end of the decade by driving research, manufacturing and market solutions to make solar more affordable and accessible for people in the United States.

Lakkaraju added that an effective model of solar purchase dynamics can be used to predict and influence consumer purchasing decisions.

The modeling project, part of the Energy Department’s Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Studies (SEEDS) program, is one of the Sunshot Initiative’s many activities that seek to make solar energy cost-competitive. SEEDS projects are designed to investigate methods for transforming the operations of solar researchers, manufacturers, developers, installers and policymakers.

Sandia’s collection and analysis of large amounts of data have led to two different models: one that predicts how likely an individual is to buy a PV system and one that predicts how long that individual will take to make the investment.

Working with project partners at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE), researchers are surveying consumers in California’s San Diego County, including 1,000 respondents who have bought PV systems and another 1,000 who have not. Data from the surveys will be studied by Sandia and Vanderbilt University quantitative modeling experts and fed into modeling tools.

Fellow California project collaborator The Vote Solar Initiative is collecting additional data for the Sandia project as part of a field experiment that will analyze how consumers respond to economic incentives, discounts and even peer effects when friends, family or co-workers purchase PV systems.