Research Brief

The Relationship Between Adoption of Rooftop Solar and Attachment to One’s Surroundings

Applying the behavioral concept of “place attachment” to the logistics of battling climate change

Federal climate change legislation passed in August 2022 provides nearly $370 billion to help build out technologies to reduce our environmental footprint, and to incentivize the uptake of cleaner energy alternatives that are already available.

One of the bill’s targets is boosting installation of rooftop solar panels on homes. The federal tax credit was raised from its recent level of 26% to 30% of the cost — with no cap — through 2032.

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Estimates of the percentage of U.S. homes with rooftop solar vary — all under 10% (Australia’s at about 30%). Rapid adoption could allow the U.S. to close many more coal fired power plants and other energy sources that spew greenhouse gases. California has more than 1 million homes with rooftop solar — roughly 1 in 14 — and the state is counting on a quadrupling of solar in coming years.

Los Angeles County has abundant sunshine, and environmentalism is generally popular. Are there motivations beyond government subsidies and calculations of payback years that are worth exploring to hasten the transition?

The Theory of Place Attachment

In research published in Energy Policy Journal, UCLA Anderson’s Charles J. Corbett and Hal E. Hershfield, along with UCLA Law School’s Henry Kim, Timothy Malloy and Benjamin Nyblade, and Alison Partie of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, tease out one potential driver: one’s level of connection to the local community. Known in academia as “place attachment,” this mindset has been shown to increase one’s sense of environmentalism.

For this project, the researchers explored place attachment as a potential stand-alone factor in two distinct stages: the willingness to consider rooftop solar and the decision to install rooftop solar. They also separately measured how one’s level of environmentalism might impact the decision to consider and install.

The team used an eight-question survey — established in prior research — to measure the 3,700 participants’ self-reported sense of place attachment. Responses were averaged and then used to explore the solar choices participants made in relation to their level of place attachment.

Consideration of solar came out quite differently than intent to install.

The likelihood of consideration barely changed whether place attachment was at the 20th percentile or the 80th. (It increased 0.4 percentage points.) But the same quintile jump in environmental attitudes increased willingness to consider by nearly 11 percentage points, to 77.8%.

For the likelihood to actually adopt solar, when the level of self-reported place attachment increased from the 20th percentile to the 80th percentile, the increase was significant, from 21% to 26%. Higher levels of environmentalism didn’t translate into significantly higher adoption: the same quintile jump for environmentalism increased adoption from 22.1% to 23.9%.

Considerable Differences Between Consideration and Adoption

UCLA Anderson’s Corbett cautions that the “intriguing” findings may be best used as impetus for further analysis. He points out that the researchers’ approach wasn’t designed to unambiguously “disentangle” place attachment from other potential factors, such as how long someone has lived in a home or how many generations of a family have lived in that neighborhood, though the analysis does control for some such factors. Nor does this research point to why place attachment seems to be effective in getting considerers to adopt, yet “has no meaningful effect” in nudging individuals to consider rooftop solar in the first place.

“This distinction between the factors driving consideration versus adoption has implications for policymakers,” the team concludes. “When confronted with homeowners who are already considering rooftop solar, policies should perhaps not continue to emphasize its environmental attributes, but can leverage the effect of place attachment instead.”

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About the Research

Corbett, C.J., Hershfield, H.E., Kim, H., Malloy, T.F., Nyblade, B. & Partie, A. (2022). The Role of Place Attachment and Environmental Attitudes in Adoption of Rooftop Solar. Energy Policy Journal. 162, 112764.

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