What is the Social Science of Solar Adoption?

Social science disciplines seek to understand human behavior and decision making. These disciplines can answer key questions like why people choose to go solar, what barriers prevent adoption in general and in specific populations, and how can policies and programs increase adoption. Answering those questions 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?

Economic, information, and social dynamics can all affect technology adoption. Investigating these dynamics and how they interact can accelerate the spread of solar energy technologies as they are developed and deployed. A range of methodologies have been used to understand how people make these choices including interviews, surveys, and experiments. Additionally, with the availability of large data sets and computational tools, analyses of actual solar diffusion can reveal the complex processes underlying the spread of solar technology in the field.

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 improve 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.
  • Round three in 2020, which studies how individuals and communities learn about solar energy and how solar adoption interacts with other emerging energy technologies, such as energy storage, including how co-adoption shapes energy use and the value of combined systems.  

SEEDS research has informed Solarize campaigns across the country, which leverage 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 that 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.