The Social Acceptance of School-based Solar Photovoltaic Projects: An Ontario, Canada Case Study
Beckstead, Claire Louise
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The installation of solar photovoltaic (solar PV) technology on elementary and secondary schools has been undertaken around the world in an attempt to tie together positive environmental action, innovative environmental education, and potential economic gains. In Ontario, the advent of the Renewable Energy Standard Offer Program and the increased focus on environmental education by the Ontario Ministry of Education has resulted in preliminary interest from some Ontario school boards in installing solar PV technology on schools. However, simply installing the technology on school roof-tops does not guarantee that the potential benefits of a school-based solar PV project will be realized. Drawing from the literatures describing the social acceptance of innovation and technology, the social acceptance of renewable energy innovation and technology, and the social acceptance of educational innovation and technology in schools, this thesis attempts to identify non-technical factors that may impede school-based solar PV project development, and ultimately, attempts to identify factors that help maximize potential benefits. The research was conducted in two distinct phases, with the results from Phase 1 informing the focus and design of Phase 2. Phase 1 consisted of nine key-informant interviews with individuals directly involved in school-based solar PV projects in Canada and the United States, and Phase 2 consisted of a case study in the Halton District School Board (HDSB) and the Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB) (Ontario, Canada). Both quantitative and qualitative data were collected in Phase 2 through 30 stakeholder interviews and 50 stakeholder surveys. Respondents in the HDSB and HCDSB generally have a positive perception of solar PV technology, but are concerned to some extent about the cost and economic viability of implementing this kind of project. Five funding models for school-based solar PV projects were evaluated by respondents to determine the effect of project funding models on overall project social acceptance. The results show that the project funding model does affect social acceptance, with 78.1% of respondents reporting that at least one of the five models would cause their support for the project to either increase or decrease. Respondents indicated a strong preference for the government/utility model, while the corporate funding model was shown to be the most controversial. This thesis recommends that a broad-based, inclusive, stakeholder-oriented approach to project development could improve trust and communication between project stakeholders, and thus improve the social acceptance for any of the five funding models. Additionally, with any funding model, teacher and administrative support and social acceptance is particularly important to help maximize the educational component of the project.