Spring 2018 - 60630 - PA 682GB - Policy Research Project on Global Policy Issues

Diffusion of Innovations: Interplay of Social, Economic, Technological and Policy Drives in the Solar Industry


The world’s energy system is in the midst of a massive transformation driven by higher energy prices, rapid technological change, and new global environmental priorities. Solar technologies that convert solar energy into electricity are an exemplar of this transformation. In many ways, the solar industry is still in its infancy compared to conventional sources of energy (coal, oil and gas), but the unprecedented pace of technological change and market innovations in this industry is already having a significant impact on the energy industry, including changes to electricity rate structures in parts of the U.S., trade wars between the U.S. and China, and the hope of electricity services to the billions of poor in underdeveloped parts of the world.

In this Policy Research Project (PRP) we will study some of the underlying social, economic, technological and policy processes that have shaped (and continue to do so) the solar industry. Examples of general topics to be explored within this PRP include:

Comparative effectiveness of policy instruments, such as upfront subsidies vs. feed-in-tariffs, in enabling a broad deployment of innovative technologies like solar.

Modeling of diffusion of innovative technologies, including GIS integration and individual-level decision-making: how do social, behavioral, economic and technological forces interact to determine the spatio-temporal patterns of technology adoption?

Knowledge ecosystems and linkages to local economic development: what lessons can be drawn for how and where innovation happens and the role of policy in enabling that? What is the role of domestic capabilities and institutions in enabling innovation-based economic growth?

Market impacts of broader solar deployment: what impact will a large-scale deployment of solar technologies have on the electricity system? What business models are/will be most effective in deploying solar and similar disruptive technologies?

International cooperation and capacity development, for example bi-lateral agreement between U.S. and India for a broad range of joint work in the electricity sector.

Client and Other Partners

The client for this PRP will be Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). Researchers and faculty from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), University of Wisconsin-Madison and Yale University will also participate, either as advisers or as project participants. This PRP will be funded under LBNL’s long-term U.S. DOE-funded Academic Partners Program (APP), which includes LBNL, NREL, UT Austin, U. Wisconsin-Madison and Yale.


Students will be organized into subgroups of 3-5 students, and each subgroup will lead a specific topic. Early on in the PRP, there will be mini-workshops on methodological aspects of the PRP, including ones on “Frameworks for Innovation and Diffusion,” “Regression modeling techniques,” “Intellectual property and patent systems,” “Complex systems and agent-based modeling” and “Measuring Diffusion and Peer Effects.” Through guest lectures, the PRP will also draw heavily upon the expertise of researchers and practitioners in the area.

To address the chosen topics, each student team will develop and implement a systematic approach typically associated with any rigorous research project: research design; data collection; modeling and analysis; paper preparation and revisions; and presentation of results. Papers/reports resulting from the PRP will be presented at a conference in late Spring 2018.