Student capstone papers yield new insights into solar market dynamics

October 10, 2018

We are pleased to release a summary of the key findings from seven different papers completed by teams of University of Texas (UT) at Austin students, each of which explored a different aspect of the solar market.

Each paper was completed as part of UT Austin’s ‘Policy Research Project’, a nine-month capstone within UT’s LBJ School of Public Affairs. Twenty graduate students participated in the project, with each paper guided by Dr. Varun Rai and his team. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and other partners provided access to datasets and supported students doing their research.

The seven student projects addressed the following topics, respectively: (1) low- and middle-income PV adoption, (2) modeling economic and information intervention design, (3) evaluation of DOE’s Solar in Your Community Challenge, (4) property value impacts near large-scale solar facilities, (5) solar market maturity and evolution of business models, (6) social media data for predicting PV adoption, and (7) individual-level variation in adoption of innovations. Many of the papers relied on data collected and curated by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

A subset of the key findings from these papers are as follows:

  • Third-party owned PV systems and PACE-financed PV systems tend to be adopted in low- and middle-income areas, suggesting that these financing models have been effective in reaching those income groups. Solarize programs, on the other hand, tend to correlate with higher income areas.
  •  Information-based strategies that leverage peer interactions can be effective in increasing PV adoption, especially when they break free of existing social networks and create new ‘weak ties’ among previously unconnected individuals.
  • There is evidence that utility-scale solar projects might modestly impact the value of residential properties located in very close proximity, but these results are based on assessor opinions and should be corroborated with empirical analysis.
  • Installers in mature solar markets were more likely to offer power purchase agreements and pre-paid financing products, with financing offerings in nascent markets appearing to lag behind those in mature markets.
  • Google search trends have the potential to help ‘nowcast’ residential solar PV adoption, perhaps especially in cases where other relevant correlates are not readily available.

The summary brief that highlights key results from each of the papers can be found at:

The underlying student papers have are available at:

Data and analytical support of the student teams was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office.