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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The geography of solar energy in the United States: Market definition, industry structure, and choice in solar PV adoption


The solar photovoltaic (PV) installation industry comprises thousands of firms around the world who collectively installed nearly 200 million panels in 2015. Spatial analysis of the emerging industry has received considerable attention from the literature, especially on the demand side concerning peer effects and adopter clustering. However this research area does not include similarly sophisticated spatial analysis on the supply side of the installation industry. The lack of understanding of the spatial structure of the PV installation industry leaves PV market research to rely on jurisdictional lines, such as counties, to define geographic PV markets. We develop an approach that uses the spatial distribution of installers’ activity to define geographic boundaries for PV markets. Our method is useful for PV market research and applicable in the contexts of other industries. We use our approach to demonstrate that the PV industry in the United States is spatially heterogeneous. Despite the emergence of some national-scale PV installers, installers are largely local and installer communities are unique from one region to the next. The social implications of the spatial heterogeneity of the emerging PV industry involve improving understanding of issues such as market power, industry consolidation, and how much choice potential adopters have.

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