Political Ideology Effects on Purchasing Solar Photovoltaics

Relationship between political leanings and motivations for solar and system sizing

CSE recently conducted research to find out if political ideology helps determine people’s motivations for adopting solar photovoltaics (PV) systems and, if so, whether these characteristics play a role in determining the size of installed systems. The results show that people’s motivations to adopt PV are based in part on their political beliefs but, contrary to expectations, their choice for system sizing is independent of their political ideology.  

Political leanings & PV adoption

Solar PV systems deliver a range of benefits to consumers. Solar can save money on electricity bills, provide a hedge from price volatility and future rate hikes and help the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants produced by conventional electricity generation. However, the value that different customers place on these various benefits is unclear. CSE wanted to find out what benefits of solar motivate people to purchase PV and if one’s politics play a role in valuing these benefits.

We surveyed people who bought or leased PV in San Diego and asked them to rank several factors that may have played a role in their decision, such as “lower my electric bill,” “protect myself from future rate increases” and “help the environment.” Based on more than 1,200 responses, we found that political ideology (from conservative to liberal) does influence why individuals adopted PV. Our results show that liberals tend to be motivated by environmental considerations while conservatives are motivated by avoiding future rate increases.

Political persuasion & system sizing

Next, we wanted to know if people’s belief system carried over to a measurable effect on the design of their PV system. Would conservatives put in systems sized to maximize economic return, whereas liberals’ systems might be oversized to minimize their home’s environmental impacts?

To find out, we used two statistical models and analyzed income, size of home and other building characteristics, ownership structure, membership in environmental organizations and number of years until retirement. We examined each customer’s modeled usage before and after they installed their PV system. Given the link revealed earlier, one might expect liberals to size their systems so that their net usage after the installation of solar would be minimal. But, our findings reveal no relationship between system sizing and peoples’ political persuasion.

Implications for solar marketers, contractors, and regulators

This research shows that people do adopt PV based on their political beliefs, but regardless of political leaning, that factor does not affect PV system sizing.

There are messages here. For PV marketers and contractors, understand and speak to the values of your customers when selling solar because their reasons for wanting it will vary just as their political attitudes do — and it will increase your effectiveness. For regulators and policy makers, take some comfort in knowing that regardless of consumer ideology and the associated motivations, once the decision to adopt PV is made, system sizing is largely unaffected by political views.

About Timothy Treadwell

Tim was our former Director of Engineering, Research and Analysis