Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Solar Market Development

The strategies historically employed to spur expansion of the solar (PV) market are almost always product oriented. They are typically based on the progressive lowering of prices through economies of mass production, combined with subsidized “buy-down” programs or "feed-in tariffs" for residential and commercial users. Lowering “cost per watt” is seen as the key to unlocking a vast potential market for photovoltaics.

Numerous past studies and development efforts have promoted this “product path” to solar (PV) market expansion. PV products are subsidized or supported with the primary goal of achieving economies of mass production and eliminating barriers to use. Examples include:
  • federal and state buy-down programs
  • coordinated government procurement of PV
  • elimination of barriers to capital formation
  • legislative packages supporting distributed energy
  • legislative and regulatory assistance to states
  • prohibition of restrictive covenants and ordinances
At the same time, steps are taken to make the product (PV) more “attractive” to the consumer. These include: legislation that encourages deployment of PV systems, sales tax exemptions, interconnection standards, net metering laws, and other programs designed to ease or eliminate barriers to adoption.

Here's a classic example as stated in a research report by the Renewable Energy Policy Project (REPP):
The product path requires government involvement to increase the diffusion rate of consumer [PV] products through setting market rules, making strategic purchases, and other innovative support.
This product-centric approach emphasizes pushing photovoltaics into various applications or markets under the assumption that lower prices, attractive financing options, and the absence of barriers to implementation, will automatically lead to consumer demand.

In contrast, the underlying belief in free-market enterprise is that people do things for their own reasons. So low price and ease of implementation do not exclusively drive market expansion. People must want to buy what is being offered. And motivating people to want something -- especially if it’s technical in nature -- requires the influence or involvement of preceding groups of people in the marketplace.

Most “for profit” organizations working to accelerate market adoption focus on winning over groups of buyers in sequence according to their psychographic profiles. This involves identifying a group of early buyers who initially value a product offering, and then communicating or promoting a combination of tangible and intangible benefits in ways that lead to the sale of product. After capturing the first group, the organization refocuses its collective attention on the unique needs of the next group, and so on. In this way, a succession of customers act to pull the market forward as the product is adapted or “positioned” to address their varying needs.

From the standpoint of pure capitalism, it is important to realize that there is no guarantee solar power will automatically become widely adopted when it costs approximately the same, or even somewhat less than conventional sources of electricity. Many other factors influence market adoption.

Related Articles:
Product Adoption Fundamentals

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