Catalyzing Community-led Solar Development: Escaping the Prisoner's Dilemma by Enabling Cooperative Behavior

Open Access
Ferster, Bronson P
Graduate Program:
Energy and Mineral Engineering
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
February 15, 2019
Committee Members:
  • Jeffrey Brownson, Thesis Advisor
  • Zhen Lei, Committee Member
  • Gretchen Macht, Committee Member
  • community solar
  • catalyzing
  • game theory
  • cooperative behavior
  • project development
  • onboarding
  • shared solar
  • Prisoner's dilemma
  • repeated games
  • social utility
  • collective action
  • solar
  • photovoltaics
  • PV
  • decision
  • strategy
This work presents an empirically tested method to initiate community solar development by enabling cooperative behavior. Shared solar represents only a fraction of distributed photovoltaic generation despite advantages over other distributed solar models. There is an absence of research investigating how agents decide between the various solar models (e.g. residential; community), and a development framework that addresses the unique characteristics of community solar is needed to increase development. In this work, a non-cooperative game modeled stakeholders’ codependent decision between models of solar development. The non-cooperative game served as the uncatalyzed control experiment where there is not facilitated communication. An experimental “catalyst” for onboarding community solar was evaluated to analyze the influence of facilitated cooperation on project development. In the experiment, stakeholders were engaged through demonstrated practices that effectively lead to high-utility cooperative behavior. A cooperative game model was constructed to quantitatively measure the influence of the catalyst. The control non-cooperative game revealed a rational agent preferred a low-utility independent solar strategy to a higher utility cooperative solar strategy (20% difference in normalized welfare). This result emphasized the need for an intra-active force (such as the proposed catalyst) to reach the most economically efficient outcomes, and it established a mechanism that partially explained the broad absence of shared solar. The efforts to facilitate cooperative behavior successfully catalyzed two community-led solar projects in a locale previously void of shared solar. The experimental catalyst was the dominant player for onboarding community solar: it was responsible for 53% of the effective onboarding in the region, and the catalyzed community-led solar projects experienced an increase in onboarding effectiveness by a factor of 2.4 and 2.8. The community solar catalyst can be applied in other locales to overcome barriers inhibiting shared solar development.