Diffusion of Innovations: Interplay of Social, Economic, Technological, and Policy Drivers in the Solar Industry—Summary of UT Austin Student Capstone Research Projects

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The University of Texas at Austin’s Policy Research Project (PRP), a nine-month (two semesters) capstone, is a keystone of the core curriculum at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. In PRPs, small groups of students, under the mentorship of a faculty director, take on real-world problems that require special knowledge and skill sets. PRPs expose students to challenges in formulating and executing research, and in communicating academic research and related complex data to broader stakeholder communities and decision makers. The PRP structure is an innovative and effective approach for integrating research within the teaching and training of graduate students who are preparing themselves to address important real-world problems at the intersection of society, economics, technology, and policy.

The project summaries below describe seven papers developed during September 2017 – May 2018 as part of a PRP on “Diffusion of Innovations: Interplay of Social, Economic, Technological, and Policy Drivers in the Solar Industry.” Twenty graduate students, drawn from the LBJ School’s Masters in Public Affairs and Masters in Global Policy Studies programs and the Jackson School Geoscience’s Energy and Earth Resources program, participated in this PRP. Dr. Varun Rai, Associate Professor and Associate Dean for Research at the LBJ School, directed the PRP, with support from his research team including: Dr. Ariane Beck, Dr. Ashok Sekar, D. Cale Reeves, and Erik Funkhouser. Clients for the project included the U.S. Department of Energy (Casey Canfield), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Ben Hoen, Galen Barbose Joachim Seel, Naïm Darghouth, Ryan Wiser), and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Benjamin Sigrin, Eric O’Shaughnessy).

The seven projects separately addressed one of the following topics: (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, including data embedded within the annual Tracking the Sun and Utility-Scale Solar reports. Each of the seven teams in the PRP prepared a research paper. The PRP culminated with a full-day conference at UT Austin in May 2018 to present findings from the seven projects in this PRP to a broad audience of about 75 experts from academia, national labs, industry, and government from across the country.

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