Reducing Information Barriers to Solar Adoption

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Governments across the world are searching for less polluting energy technologies to address unreliable access to the grid, and off-grid consumer solar technologies are a viable solution to provide electricity during outages. In India, rooftop solar technology can fill a gap during grid outages by smoothing consumption, and the government has set a target to achieve 40 GW by deploying decentralized rooftop systems, particularly in rural areas. However, rooftop solar installment remains low. This study asks if Indian customers are not adopting rooftop solar because they lack information about the products. The results suggest that if technology companies provide these potential customers with more comprehensive information, they will be more likely to adopt rooftop solar systems.

Researchers conducted experiments in 25 districts across the states of Bihar, Odisha, and Uttar Pradesh and found that potential customers with access to more information about solar products and their benefits reported a “strong interest” in adopting rooftop solar systems 6% more frequently than those without this information. However, those customers were then only 1% more likely to adopt solar technology. In a survey asking potential customers why they had not adopted the solar rooftop system, whereas 28% cited solar products as being insufficient for their needs or not a priority, 68% cited financial restraints. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers speculate that restrictions on mobility across states and villages and the resulting loss of income may have skewed whether customers would adopt the technology.

These results suggest that while improved access to information significantly increases the intent to adopt rooftop solar systems, credit barriers remain an obstacle for many families. To determine whether financial incentives would be effective, researchers could conduct another experiment isolating cost barriers as an obstacle to solar adoption. Nevertheless, to increase interest, solar panel companies should invest in more robust information systems like those in the study to make their products more easily understood.

Methods and Results

The researchers in this study collaborated with a solar company to use a mobile application, the Sales Support App (SSA), developed using past sales data and pre-experiment surveys of prior customers. The app standardized information on solar products and how each meets different energy needs, which helped build customers’ confidence in the professionalism of the sales agents and the accuracy of the information they provided. To avoid targeting systematically different potential customers, sales agents with and without the app followed the company’s sales model and used a list generated by the company’s network of local village contacts (called urja mitra). All sales agents who visited potential customers received tablets and the same general sales training, with those carrying the app on the tablets receiving further specialized training. The remaining sales agents used tablets loaded with the basic, general catalog. To control for potential financial barriers, the study sample consisted of middle-class households, and the solar company implemented a pay-as-you-go model as a financing option.

Within the target districts, sales agents operated in 74 census blocks. The study implemented a baseline and endline survey via telephone to assess customers’ take-up and satisfaction with the sales process and the solar products. For the baseline, researchers surveyed a total of 2,246 customers, with 1,185 later meeting with agents trained to use the specialized app, and 1,061 in the control group. In the endline survey, researchers surveyed 1,539 potential customers, with 856 from the control group and 638 from 34 meeting with agents using the specialized app. 73% of the surveyed sample was from the state of Odisha, followed by 15% from the state of Bihar and 12% from Uttar Pradesh.



Meera Mahadevan (University of California, Irvine), Robyn Meeks (Duke University), Takashi Yamano (Asian Development Bank, Philippines)

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Climate & Sustainability, Economic Development, Rural, Technology Diffusion, India