What is the Social Science of Solar Adoption?

Social science disciplines seek to understand human behavior and decision making. Applying those scientific insights to solar adoption can help to better understand why people decide to go solar, encourage new business models and practices, inform decision makers, and speed up solar adoption. Having a greater understanding of these factors can help to reduce the soft costs, or non-hardware costs, of going solar. Learn more about how soft costs work.

Why is the Social Science of Solar Adoption Important?

There are many dynamics behind human learning, effort, and experience that affect technology adoption. Investigating these dynamics and how they interact can help accelerate the pace of change for solar energy technologies as they are developed and deployed. A more rigorous understanding of solar technology evolution helps to uncover key levers for accelerating solar adoption. Additionally, with the availability of large data sets and computational tools, quantitative analyses of solar diffusion can reveal the complex processes underlying the spread of solar technology and lead to greater adoption.

Lack of scientific and technical knowledge—or the inability to access that information—contributes to many soft costs. Understanding the barriers to greater solar adoption can unlock new opportunities to reduce overall solar costs and help the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) meet its goals. Learn more about SETO’s goals.

SETO Research in the Social Science of Solar Adoption

SETO funds research projects that increase our understanding of technology evolution, soft costs, and barriers to U.S. solar deployment. This includes leveraging decision science and solar datasets to build our understanding of how and why solar technologies are adopted.

SETO has funded three rounds of Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Studies (SEEDS) research to help the solar industry understand the peer effects of solar energy:

  • Round one in 2013, which integrated the use of cutting-edge analytical and computational tools with real-world market data and pilot tests to accelerate technological breakthroughs and remove roadblocks to greater cost reduction;
  • Round two in 2016, which leveraged decision science and solar datasets to build our understanding of how and why solar technologies are adopted, with a specific focus on low- and moderate-income solar adoption and institutional decision-making; and
  • Round three in 2020, which studies how solar adoption interacts with other emerging energy technologies, such as energy storage, including behavioral impacts associated with co-adoption and the value of combined systems. 

SEEDS research has informed Solarize campaigns across the country, which leverage peers and social networks to reduce the cost of residential solar adoption through a group purchasing strategy, and has helped determine the type of framing and messaging works best to encourage adoption.

To view specific projects that support the social science of solar adoption, search the Solar Energy Research Database.

Additional Resources

Learn more about soft costs research, other solar energy research in SETO, and current and former funding programs.