Modeling Photovoltaic Diffusion: An Analysis of Geospatial Datasets

Carolyn Davidson, Easan Drury, Anthony Lopez, Ryan Elmore, Robert Margolis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus Citations


This study combines address-level residential photovoltaic (PV) adoption trends in California with several types of geospatial information - population demographics, housing characteristics, foreclosure rates, solar irradiance, vehicle ownership preferences, and others - to identify which subsets of geospatial information are the best predictors of historical PV adoption. Number of rooms, heating source and house age were key variables that had not been previously explored in the literature, but are consistent with the expected profile of a PV adopter. The strong relationship provided by foreclosure indicators and mortgage status have less of an intuitive connection to PV adoption, but may be highly correlated with characteristics inherent in PV adopters. Next, we explore how these predictive factors and model performance varies between different Investor Owned Utility (IOU) regions in California, and at different spatial scales. Results suggest that models trained with small subsets of geospatial information (five to eight variables) may provide similar explanatory power as models using hundreds of geospatial variables. Further, the predictive performance of models generally decreases at higher resolution, i.e., below ZIP code level since several geospatial variables with coarse native resolution become less useful for representing high resolution variations in PV adoption trends. However, for California we find that model performance improves if parameters are trained at the regional IOU level rather than the state-wide level. We also find that models trained within one IOU region are generally representative for other IOU regions in CA, suggesting that a model trained with data from one state may be applicable in another state.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numberArticle No. 074009
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2014

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-60671


  • distributed generation
  • solar photovoltaic
  • technology diffusion


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