Understanding uptake of green energy

June 12, 2012
Raina Delisle
Kevin Simpson and Kirsten Dales

From saving money to saving face, there’s a variety of reasons for investing in green technology, as some Royal Roads University students have learned.

Master of Science in Environment and Management students Kirsten Dales and Kevin Simpson are research assistants for Understanding the public uptake and acceptance of a municipal green energy incentive program, a research project that focuses on Solar Colwood and is funded by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions.

Dales and Simpson recall one couple in a focus group who had quite different outlooks on participating in Solar Colwood; the wife was interested in setting a good example for their children, while the husband wanted to ensure any changes were financially viable. The couple even got their kids involved in researching solar energy.

“For them, it became about walking the talk and being a good example for their kids,” says Simpson, who adds that one of the main motivators forhomeowners who have opted for solar thermal hot water heating systems and ductless split heat pumps is financial savings.

“One common theme is when people look at their reduction in heating bills, it makes them more aware and they go for more low-hanging fruit,” says Dales, who led a literature review of renewable energy programs and barriers and uptake. “A lot of people mentioned that behavioural cascade.”

To support the research, Simpson and Dales are co-ordinating the distribution of surveys to Saanich residents to better understand their awareness of and attitudes towards energy efficiency upgrades. The data they receive will be compared with data from the same survey of Colwood residents.  

“We are trying to determine if Colwood is an anomaly,” Simpson explains. “Is it especially green or especially not green?” 

Simpson and Dales have also been helping with the research project by sitting in on focus groups and preparing reports.

“I’ve learned a lot about Solar Colwood and Colwood, so that’s been interesting,” Simpson says. “I’ve also learned that it’s really hard to get people to change. I honestly thought that the program would be more successful at this point.”

Dales says her literature review indicates that as new technologies diffuse through society there’s a lag between when innovators adopt and when the idea catches on. “It starts slow and then it has a snowball effect and away it goes,” she says, adding that she believes the complicated grant structure may have added to the slower than expected uptake in the case of Solar Colwood.

There are approximately 100 participants in Solar Colwood and the research assistants say they’ve enjoyed learning about why these people have opted for energy upgrades.

Simpson and Dales are two of dozensof students who have worked with faculty and the Office of Sustainability on Solar Colwood. Three teams of students from the Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science program are currently working on major projects that support the Solar Colwood initiative. Teams are gathering data from participating households to track energy and carbon emissions reductions, exploring the impact on home values of energy efficiency upgrades such as solar thermal hot water systems and exploring ways to expand the use of electric vehicles.

Faculty researchers say Royal Roads’ partnership with Solar Colwood is mutually beneficial: the students get to work on an innovative project in the community in which they are studying and the city gets access to the ideas and insights of learners.

“This is a unique partnership between a university and city that benefits all parties,” says Prof. Charles Charles Krusekopf.

“These kinds of community based projects provide students with hands-on experience of real-world situations, invite them to play an active role in their own learning process and give them the opportunity to start building their own social network,” says Prof. Ingrid Kajzer-Mitchell. “Student involvement has provided both the university and the community with invaluable research and recommendations.”

Learn more about Solar Colwood at Sun Fest on June 16 at Colwood City Hall, 3300 Wishart Rd, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will be solar energy demonstrations, tours of homes and businesses that have shifted to renewable energy and clean energy vendors and installers. There will also be live music, local art, activities for kids and food.