Individual and contextual barriers to solar self-consumption

A qualitative and quantitative assessment of laundry loadshifting behavior in Dutch households

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To use solar energy efficiently, reduce emissions and net congestion problems, prosumer households should substitute grid-consumed energy with self-consumption. Loadshifting is a low-cost measure to increase self-consumption, shifting energy-intensive behaviors (such as running the laundry machine) to periods of time when energy is produced. Research on the behavioral foundation of loadshifting is scarce. At a time of growing PV integration, leading to a debate on balancing responsibility and the dismantling of the Dutch net-metering scheme, the Netherlands makes for an interesting case to study this issue. This study aims to assess the barriers limiting Dutch prosumer households from loadshifting the use of their laundry machine to a time when their solar PV system is producing energy.

Literature shows that loadshifting not only depends on the individual, but also on the material and institutional context. Therefore, combining the individual-focused theory of planned behavior and context-focused social practice theory is useful to study barriers to loadshifting. The newly constructed model consists of 10 measurable constructs possibly underlying barriers to loadshifting. The included constructs are sufficiency attitude, motivation, user beliefs, know-how, monitoring skills, habits, hassle, practical knowledge provided, institutional policies and regulations, and feedback provision by system design. To test this model a mixed-methods approach is taken. Qualitative data is obtained through six semi-structured interviews with solar energy experts and is analyzed through thematic content analysis using ATLAS.ti. The quantitative data encompasses 283 survey responses from Dutch prosumers, analyzed mainly through a multiple regression analysis in SPSS.

Qualitative findings largely verify the model. According to experts, a low sufficiency attitude, passive user beliefs, limited practical knowledge, strong habits, hassle, limited know-how, low monitoring skills, financial motivation and low feedback provision are all relevant barriers to loadshifting behavior. Barriers found in addition to the predefined model include high age, panel orientation, a lack of clear policy, safety concerns, outdated machinery, and low interpretability of energy bills. On the other hand, only low monitoring skills, strong habits, limited practical knowledge, and passive user beliefs significantly limit loadshifting behavior in the quantitative analyses.

Findings highlight the need for cooperation amongst the energy sector, home appliance producers, policymakers, consultants, researchers, and prosumers. Furthermore, technology should support human behavior, rather than expecting behavior to adjust to technology. For example, technical measures that do not require dramatic habitual change can easily support loadshifting, such as panel orientation. If the encouragement of habitual change is desired, dismantling the Dutch net-metering scheme in combination with providing a monetary self-consumption bonus is recommended. Moreover, prosumer knowledge on self-consumption and prosumers’ monitoring skills should be increased.

Strengths of this study include its mixed-methods approach, the large quantitative sample size and the novel combination of two theories. However, not all relevant barriers could be considered, and policymakers were not interviewed directly. Lastly, most constructs were quantitatively measured using two questions only. Future research is needed mainly to assess potential interaction effects between habits, hassle, and know-how. Additionally, other barriers can be assessed, such as the effects of motivation or values on loadshifting.