The intent of this is to explore the perspective of (potential) users of decentralized energy systems. Moving beyond economic feasibility, illustration of how values, attitudes, specific needs and experiences are linked to why and how certain decentralized energy systems are successful.
Consumers' Perception of Photovoltaic (PV) Systems
The purpose of the research presented is to empirically investigate the individual mental models involved in the decision making process involved in purchasing a photovoltaic (PV) system. Specifically, the research explores significant motives the motivate people to purchase a PV system. Within this context, 'mental models' represent an individuals cognitive representations of specific concepts and their relationships about a particular attributes such as attitudes, emotions, symbols, actions, and other values. 'Mental models' also guide every day decisions and provide explanations for individual behaviour.
Also incorporated into the research analysis is 'The Means-End Chain Theory' by Jonathon Gutman from 1982. The theory evaluates relations that link attributes to consequences, and subsequently values.
Samples & Methods
The research sample was comprised of 17 semi-structured interviews or roughly 60 minutes each. A method used in the sampling was the laddering technique which allowed researchers to ask open ended 'why' questions. Subsequently, the interview transcripts were evaluated for their qualitative content. The sampling also took into account different attributes and characteristics of interviewees to provide a range of information.
The results generated two principal mental models:
- Economically Dominated
- Ecologically Dominated
The aforementioned models were subsequently compiled into an aggregated model. The information that was analysed through the process demonstrated that there are different types of consumers with complex motivational structures that go beyond environmental consciousness and pure economic utility maximization. External factors such as polices and societal discourses may affect different consumers in different ways. It may be less fruitful to call upon consumer consciousness and more effective to affect the different desired consequences. For example, motivating consumers with the positive outcomes such as social recognition or participation in the "Energiewende" (German Energy Transition Initiative). In addition to profit maximization and amortization of investments, other motivations found in the research are socially driven. Beyond investigating PV systems, this research is potentially applicable to other micro energy systems.
Technology & Region
- Researchers should strive to understand the formation and social practices prior to implementation as a part of the research process.
- Currently, there is a lack of attention towards behaviour patterns and adapting technology to users.
- With regards to technology and regions, one can considers examples such as biogas in Tanzania, coffee dryers in Peru, and grid connection as well as waste collection as combined with energy bills in Brazil. An even more local example could be that of vermi-composting at home.
Experiences & Lessons Learned
- Ordinary development projects do not have the time to genuinely address community needs or foster community participation. There are limitations and also an aspect of arrogance in focussing merely on 'basic need.' Perhaps 'users perspectives' could be an 'add on' in project design.
- Any interviews completed to gauge users' perspectives requires sensitivity, and perhaps an interviewee with a background similar to the interviewer. This is particularly important with projects and people in the south, who may require an approach that is not too intellectual.
- Implementers should strive to be aware of current and new technologies that change social practices. There is a need to operationalize non-monetary affordability. With regards to project feasibility studies, they are quite often too narrow in focus, and too technical, and socially limited (typically limited to economics).
- It is also important to consider users' perspectives not only at the beginning of a project, but after to monitor effectiveness.
- Users satisfaction and perspectives are important for word-of-mouth diffusion, and often depends on the people serving as role models. There is also a need to be aware of investment costs compared to service costs that may be incurred over the long term.
- Successful experiences that some participants described involved users who had prior knowledge of technology.
- Should inform people so that they can make informed decisions.
- The knowledge of practise as opposed to theory was highlighted with regards to changing behaviours.
Further Research Questions & Objectives
- More attention could also be directed toward 'modern' methods of analysing user behaviours and perspectives. For example with maps, and observation, etc.
- Should or could users be considered as customers? Perhaps the approach to projects should be as a social business?
- It is also effective to look at the instrumental needs that users have instead of an open approach to 'trying to understand.'
- Other important questions that arose were relevant to users, and whether or not they had an idea of what they desired, and also whether researchers and implementers knew these clients well.
- Lastly, the aspect of companies providing solutions as opposed to pushing solutions onto the people was discussed as this often leads to failure.
- How do we share knowledge of options available?
The article documents the proceedings of the session “Users' Perspectives" of the international conference “Micro Perspectives for Decentralized Energy Supply”, February 27 - March 1, 2013.
The following Photopresentations from the program did not actually occur (the corresponding papers are included in the MES 2013 Proceedings, available at http://www.microenergysystems.tu-berlin.de/conference/mes-2013/):
1) Patrick Devine-Wright & Wendy Wrapson: 'Home is Where the Hearth is? Focal Points of Heat, Low Carbon Heating and Domestic Thermal Experience',University of Exeter, UK
2) Jenny Rinkinen: 'Disruption and Change? Understanding Transitions to Decentralised Energy Supply in Finland through Power Cuts',Aalto University School of Business, Finland
- ↑ Marco Sonnberger, ZIRIUS, University of Stuttgart
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 As part of the session, participants were encouraged to split up into groups. The group settings provided a smaller context in which participants could use knowledge, experiences and new learning from the session to discuss the general theme of Users Perspectives. Three general headings were posted as starting points for discussion: Technology & Region, Experiencesand Further Research Questions.The following summarizes the proceeding discussions, and is loosely organized for ease in reading an understanding.
February 28, 2013
Moderator:Ellen Matthies, Workgroup Environmental Psychology and Cognition at the Ruhr-University Bochum
Facilitator: Kathrin Friederici, MES Postgraduate Program, TU Berlin
Documentation: Robin Chang, Joint International Master in Sustainable Development, Universität Leipzig