Solar adoption in the rural Midwest : the diffusion of solar photovoltaic technology in two Midwestern states
In a nation of diverse geographies, many regions across the United States' vast rural landscapes have expressed support for the current administration's policies. At the same time, these rural areas have displayed a slow acceptance to renewable energy. In an effort to reduce government oversight and bring jobs back to rural communities struggling from high unemployment, the current administration has promised to lower environmental regulations and increase fossil fuel extraction with little regard to scientific research warning of the outcomes from climate change. Consequently, the U.S. finds itself immersed in a rhetoric promoting a revival of coal mining and other practices proven to negatively impact the environment. All the while, rural residents ignore job opportunities for skilled workers and increased revenues for their local communities, both of which could result from advancing solar photovoltaic (PV) technology in these areas. Compounding the challenge of increased solar adoption in rural areas of the Midwest, existing research has predominantly focused on major urban areas or large scale RETs like wind power. Few studies have explored the barriers and motivations of adopting solar technology in rural areas of the U.S. The purpose of this study was to better understand the challenges and opportunities for rural solar adoption in the Midwest and explore the political and regulatory impacts. The qualitative study was conducted using a grounded theory approach to theorize strategies in overcoming these barriers while promoting PV arrays as an energy source in rural areas where many residents are slow to embrace renewable energy. Twenty-four participants from Illinois and Missouri, representing various sectors of the solar industry, provided diverse perspectives on residential-scale rural solar adoption. Adopters, installers/consultants, advocates, government agencies, and utility companies were interviewed to collect data on the barriers and opportunities facing solar adopters in rural areas. The data revealed several key themes related to the diffusion of solar technology in the rural Midwest. Not only did multiple factors and motivations that affect solar adoption arise as a theme, but also diverse barriers and challenges became an obvious second theme. Furthermore, multiple utility types emerged as a theme because they create inconsistent statutes and levels of support. Similarly, each state's policies and incentives for renewable energy surfaced as a theme. The final two themes centered on the perception of solar adoption in rural areas and the diffusion of solar technology through the adoption process. The findings highlighted the effects of political environments on residential-scale PV installations in rural areas and the potential that energy storage advancements has to increase solar adoption. Additionally, growth for solar adoption in rural areas depends on a target audience willing to invest in PV arrays. This growth is possible by making solar technology assessable through firsthand experience. Accordingly, the findings support the promotion of solar technology through the development of a technical training center to educate and train potential adopters, installers/consultants, utility companies, and policy makers.
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