Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Qiong Zhang, Ph.D.

Committee Member

James Mihelcic, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Maya Trotz, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ali Yalcin, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Roberta Baer, Ph.D.


consumer adoption, socio-technical systems, policy formation, systems dynamics


The majority of global electricity is generated using fossil fuels as an energy source, and the science linking fossil fuel combustion with negative environmental impacts is clear. Recognizing this link, decarbonizing the electricity system is a critical component of climate change mitigation. However, moving electricity generation, distribution, and end-use behavior patterns to renewable energy is a complex socio-technical energy transition challenge with a number of economic, policy, technological, societal and environmental barriers. Energy transition work tends to be siloed within these topics; ignoring complex socio-technical interdependencies impacting electricity system transition dynamics. This work fills the knowledge gap with a ‘systems level’ study, exploring socio-technical interdependences that provide a deeper understanding of energy transition dynamics.

California is used as a case study; with both utility and household scale system dynamic models are presented here. At both scales, supportive policies are crucial to renewable energy sourced electricity (RES-E) uptake, and inconsistent policy-making has been identified as a significant challenge to diffusion. The utility scale study integrates Advocacy Coalition Framework theory into traditional energy system modeling, examining pro-fossil and pro-renewable energy coalition’s competition for policy formation. This innovative approach extends the current reductionist paradigm by including the complex process of policy formation, and its subsequent influence on energy transition dynamics. Results indicate fossil fuel based political lobbying creates policy instability, slowing the transition to renewables. A second finding is the difficulty green advocacy coalitions have opposing political manipulations of well-resourced fossil fuel special interests, even with growing societal climate change concerns. Model simulations also indicate a substantial increase in transition rates when carbon lock-in is addressed. Carbon lock-in is system inertia, where the expensive, and long life spans of fossil fuel power plants create economic challenges to their early retirement. At the utility scale, transition management must include addressing fossil fuel industry resistance; either through reducing their ability to manipulate policy, or empowering green advocacy coalitions ability to enact supportive RES-E policy.

At the household scale, a significant amount of research examines societal factors influencing consumer adoption of residential solar home systems (SHS). Consumer decisions are still not well understood, and these studies examine how consumer attitudes of technology, the quality of available information, and a number of socio-demographical determinants influence the willingness to adopt. This research is also siloed, and a knowledge gap exists on how such elements influence adoption decisions at a systems level. This study addresses that knowledge gap by integrating the theory of diffusion of innovations, and the theory of planned behavior into a Bass diffusion based system dynamics model. Results confirm previous research identifying SHS expense as a primary barrier to consumer adoption. However, novel findings indicate consumer knowledge, and perceived ability to engage in adoption behavior is more critical than economic concerns. A third finding shows the effectiveness of a systems level intervention, where multiple consumer concerns are addressed simultaneously. Implications for household-level transition management indicate addressing consumer confidence in their decision is more important than addressing high SHS cost through supportive policies. Increased consumer adoption may be driven by facilitating consumer access to access to accurate, easily available information and implementing systems-level business models addressing economic, policy, technological, informational factors simultaneously.

Energy system modeling has evolved since it’s beginning in the 1970’s, first examining energy security challenges, then moving to energy-economy in the 1990’s and energy-economy-climate concerns in the 2000’s. The next evolution in energy system modeling must include energy-economy-climate-society interactions. These two case studies clearly indicate both the importance of such systems level research, and societal factors inclusion is critical to understanding energy transitions.