Dissertation Abstracts

The Adoption of Photovoltaic Systems in Households: An Exploratory Study

Author: Sonnberger, Marco , marco.sonnberger@sowi.uni-stuttgart.de
Department: ZIRIUS - Research Center on Interdisciplinary Risk and Innovation Studies
University: University of Stuttgart, Germany
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Ortwin Renn
Year of completion: 2014
Language of dissertation: German

Keywords: photovoltaic systems , means-end chain theo , sociology of consump , laddering
Areas of Research: Economy and Society , Environment and Society , Social Psychology


In the face of declining natural resources, anthropogenic climate change, and no least the societal project of the “Energiewende”, the urgency of switching to renewable energy sources is rapidly increasing. Hence, drawing on the “Erneuerbaren-Energien-Gesetz” (EEG) the German government has put a lot of effort into establishing photovoltaic systems in German households, mainly by providing financial incentives referred to as the feed-in tariff for solar electricity. Because of the growing associated costs, the feed-in tariff for solar electricity is often called into question. This has resulted to a number of cutbacks, in turn reducing the financial incentives for the adoption of domestic photovoltaic systems. If the objective to introduce photovoltaic systems across Germany is to be achieved, means other than financial incentives need to be identified and adopted. Therefore, a comprehensive exploration of how citizens make decisions regarding the purchase of photovoltaic system is necessary in order to understand people’s decision making process.
This study aims to investigate households’ motive structures regarding the purchase of a photovoltaic system. It takes into account the individual as well as the societal context in which the purchase decision is embedded with the central question being “Why do households purchase photovoltaic systems?”
The following research questions are addressed:
- What is the role of individual and societal factors in the decision making process regarding the use of photovoltaic systems?
- To what extent do these factors positively or negatively influence the purchase of photovoltaic systems?
- How do the identified factors interact?
On the basis of a systematic review of the current state of research on the purchase decision of solar panels, research gaps are identified. In the existing research, there is a lack of a comprehensive and theoretically informed investigation of individual decision making processes for or against photovoltaic systems. Building on the existing literature a theoretical framework is developed that focuses on motivational, symbolic, as well as contextual factors influencing purchase decisions. The so-called Means-End Chain Theory constitutes the theoretical core. Its basic assumption is that people purchase products because of their ability to satisfy abstract personal motives. Thus, people create mental relationships between the attributes of a specific product and their personal values. The so-called laddering technique provides a methodological tool for eliciting consumers’ mental models of the purchase decision.
Interviews are used as the means to collect information and to build the empirical basis for the study. Overall, twenty-four problem-centered interviews were conducted.