Visual observation or oral communication? The effect of social learning on solar photovoltaic adoption intention in rural China

Diyi LIU, Suntong QI, Tiantong XU*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Policymakers have increasingly utilized social learning and nudges to spur renewable energy technology adoption. To provide empirical support for designing behavioral interventions, we identify the mechanism of social learning on the intention to adopt solar photovoltaic (PV) technology by conducting a large-scale survey of 10,127 residents in rural areas of China. Using a correlation analysis and hierarchical multiple regression analyses, this paper quantifies how different channels (e.g., observation, communication) of social learning exert a moderating effect on adoption intention. We do not find any significant effect of visual observation on intention, due to a simple observing-action gap. This indicates that merely observing a PV unit is less effective than communicating about solar PV in a social context. However, active communication can increase PV installation intention via subjective norms, suggesting that people are more likely to adopt solar PV when they perceive social pressure from their surroundings (e.g., neighbors and relatives). Similarly, passive communication positively influences intention via attitude, and recommendation from local government officials (county/village head) is the most noteworthy channel. In addition, with the decline of solar subsidies in the post-subsidy era, the effect of government policy is significantly lower than that of social learning in rural areas. Our findings add new insights to the growing literature on renewable energy and provide a practical base for green behavior and public policy formulation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102950
JournalEnergy Research and Social Science
Early online date25 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (Grant No. 2022M710072 ), Tianjin Social Science Foundation of China (Grant No. TJGLQN22-001 ), Key Project of the Chinese Ministry of Education (Grant No. 22JZD028 ), National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 71834004 , 72225013 , 71904141 , 72004159 ), Lingnan University Faculty Research Grant (Grant No. 102061 ), and Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (Grant No. 63222036 ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier Ltd


  • Solar photovoltaic adoption
  • Socio-psychological factors
  • Social learning
  • Rural areas


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