Globally, electricity systems are undergoing a significant transformation to green energy in response to technology change and climate policy. Yet, in some countries with high renewable energy potential, the transition is hardly evident.
In Canada, for example, installed solar capacity is approximately 1.0% of total capacity in 2014 (National Energy Board, 2016, p. 81). This paper contributes to the renewable energy policy and adoption literature using the exemplary case of rooftop solar. Focusing on adoption intention, our contribution centres on the role of visual exposure to solar technology, as well as more generalized forms of knowledge about the energy system and public engagement in energy issues.
Research draws on a national survey of 2065 Canadian residents and a combination of latent and observed variables within a non-linear structural equation model. Our findings reveal that the combined experience of perceived knowledge, public engagement, and visual exposure to renewable energy technology significantly influences adoption intention. Through this cluster of community level variables, we make policy recommendations to enhance solar adoption through neighborhood and community level visibility of solar technology.
Regarding the role of knowledge in adoption intention, our results indicate that certain kinds of knowledge are crucial to the adoption process. In so far as general factual knowledge of the energy system was not a predictor of solar adoption intention, our results sustain criticism of the knowledge deficit model (Simis et al. 2016). Factual knowledge of energy systems is not a predictor of solar adoption intention. Results indicate, however, that perceived knowledge of the energy system (i.e., confidence about what it is and what it represents to a person rather than the science behind it) predicts adoption intentions.
In addition to knowledge, we also examined the extent of public engagement in energy related issues (i.e., writing letters, attending rallies, etc.). Results show that citizens who are engaged in energy issues are also more likely to adopt solar technology. These insights hold important policy implications, showing the extent to which general improvements in civic engagement on energy issues can enhance the transition to renewable energy sources. Rather than pushing citizen engagement and information about specific renewable energy options, proponents can achieve a level of openness to adopting renewable energy by encouraging people to think and learn about the energy system in general.
Examining visual exposure to solar technology and adoption intention, we show that proximity to solar technology at the community level can make a difference. These findings support diffusion of innovations theories that emphasize social interaction, social networking, and sensory environments. Moreover, we find evidence for community factors that are uniquely influential in this study. These factors include regional effects (i.e., living in Atlantic Canada), age, engagement on energy issues, and visual exposure to solar technology infrastructure. Community factors in concert with individual-level adoption characteristics is a key empirical contribution from this study, providing a deeper understanding of how adoption behaviour is incentivized – a key factor in the energy transition agenda within many jurisdictions.
From a policy perspective, these community-level perspectives are significant. Although marketing and educational campaigns often form around individual characteristics, factors such as gender and income are much less salient in this study. Instead, community factors have a stronger link to adoption intention. For example, installing solar panels in public spaces like community centers where people can see them holds promise for meaningful enhancements in solar adoption intention. In addition to seeing solar panel community projects, public engagement is also within the realm of public policy making. To the extent that green energy proponents can facilitate dialogue and public engagement on energy development issues, this policy tool is positively linked to solar adoption intention.
These findings are described in the article entitled Predicting intention to adopt solar technology in Canada: The role of knowledge, public engagement, and visibility, recently published in the journal Energy Policy. This work was conducted by John Parkins, Curtis Rollins and Sven Anders from the University of Alberta and Louise Comeau from the University of New Brunswick.
- National Energy Board, 2016. Canada’s Energy Future 2016: Energy supply and demand projection to 2040. Ottawa, ON.
- Simis, M. J., Madden, H., Cacciatore, M. A., & Yeo, S. K. 2016. The lure of rationality: Why does the deficit model persist in science communication? Public Understanding of Science, 25(4), 400-414.