Edited by Kathleen E. Halvorsen, Chelsea Schelly, Robert M. Handler, Erin C. Pischke and Jessie L. Knowlton
Chapter 11: Applying transdisciplinary research to enhance low-to-moderate income households’ access to community solar
Community solar programs are promoted as an effective strategy to reduce economic, technological and social barriers preventing households and businesses from accessing the benefits of photovoltaic solar electricity. More recently, community solar has been identified as a tool to address the challenge of energy poverty facing low-to-moderate income households. However, many community solar programs fail to achieve high participation rates from this population. This chapter reflects on utilizing the transdisciplinary research process to design a viable community solar program using an on-going case study in a remote rural community with a high proportion of low-to-moderate income households in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Our research team, comprising university scientists and local public policy practitioners, gained access to social, technical and political context which helped to shape a more socially acceptable community solar program. Utilizing a transdisciplinary research approach, our current study suggests that program designers should consider community-scale criteria when considering participation, such as the retention of energy generation in the community, the opportunity for community-level decision-making and to benefit local non-profit organizations, and community pride that stems from innovation and leadership. The work offers additional support to previous findings that suggest that trusted technical experts, such as institutions of higher learning and local leaders, can assist in sociotechnical transitions like renewable energy adoption.
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