Adopting solar water heating

Knowledge and information

A good starting point to begin characterizing the adoption process is to look at what information residents wanted before adopting a new technology' like SWHs (at the time). This relates to the first stage of the innovation-decision process, that is, knowledge (see Rogers, 1983 and Chapter 2). Table 6.1

Table 6.1 Showing the retail market’s coding structure related to the types of solar hot water information that the residents interviewed in Barbados wanted before adopting their SWHs

Coding structure

Sub-code frequency




Retail market

Systems in stock







Retailer system durability




Capacities available


Retailer system capacities available


Retailer system types available




Retailer system maintenance regimen




Retailer system capital cost


Retailer system cost


Retail cost package


Market retailers


Popular market retailers


Cost vs. conventional electric water heating



Consumer experiences with retailers


Household size impact


Infrastructural house size impact


No information


Source: The author.


The frequency is defined as the number of residents’ answers that were tagged with the associated sub-code.

shows the types of information that the residents who were interviewed wanted at the time of adopting their SWHs. The table shows this as the subcode labels which arose during the analysis and how they relate to each other in forming more substantive classes of information.

One observation to note is that there are five residents whose responses indicated that they did not search for any information prior to purchasing their SWHs, for example:

None. We were building the house at the time and I went to a sale and it was offered for 500 dollars [Barbadian dollars]. You wouldn’t take it at that price? I asked someone the average price for such a system just to compare prices and was told it is usually around 5,000 dollars.

(Resident 26)

This is likely because residents forgot what information they sought out, and/or SWHs have become such a passive technology' that it seemed like a natural thing to have adopted one. Therefore, SWHs may have been perceived as a common consumer good bought to meet lifestyle demands (Niu et al., 2017) — which is a sign of mainstreaming (see Chapter 2).

Nevertheless, the most salient information desired relates to the SWH system sizes that were available on the market at the time of adoption (see Table 6.1); the residents seemed more interested in the retailers’ ability to provide adequately sized SWHs, for example:

The biggest one [item of information] was the size of [storage] tanks available — how much hot water would it provide since it needs to be adequate enough for our usage. You don’t want to have a case where the hot water runs out.

(Resident 28)

As can be seen in the table, this is also set in the wider context of obtaining technical information such as the systems’ operability; performance, that is, effectiveness and reliability; longevity, that is, durability and lifetime; types of systems available for sale; the costs involved; and finding out which were the retailers on the market.

Persuasion and motivations

The second stage of the innovation-decision process is becoming persuaded to adopt the innovation (see Rogers, 1983 and Chapter 2). It is useful to have an idea of what motivated the residents to adopt their SWHs because the power of choice is a key element of adoption and culture as shown in Chapter 3; human beings make decisions that are biased and reflect emotions and instincts (Gordon, 2011). The analysis pointed towards there being nine different potential motivators that persuaded the residents interviewed to adopt their SWHs.

The first is related to the personal dislike for cold water and shows the value of‘comfort’, for example:

My two young children complaining about cold water.

(Resident 21)

The second motivator is based on the beliefs that using electric water heaters and pilot light heating systems to heat water have safety risks, as well as that using SWHs is safer. For example, with respect to electric water heating residents stated:

after talking to people, many of them reported to have gotten shocked from electric water heating, so an electric water heater was not suitable.

(Resident 21)

The resident who owned the pilot light heating system believed that:

it is also not safe having an open fire in the house.

(Resident 17FBDS)

These views positioned ‘safety’ as another motivator.

Third, residents value ‘durability’. Several expressed displeasure with the fact that the electric water heaters’ elements, the component that heats the water, are fragile and in need of regular replacements. For instance, this was a nuisance because:

You always have to buy replacement elements for electric water heaters.

(Resident 18)

One other resident also said that their parents had to replace their electric water heater’s element every six to seven months. Further, another compared their SWH to the electric water heater’s fragile elements and pointed out that by comparison, their SWH has a regular service regimen (ever}' five years) which suggests that it was perceived as more durable.

‘Reliability’ is the fourth motivator based on the beliefs that the sun is an infinite resource so is a guaranteed heat source, and more explicitly, alternatives such as the aforementioned pilot light water heating systems are not believed to be dependable or reliable.

A fifth motivator arose as ‘convenience’ through beliefs tied to electric water heating requiring some time before providing hot water; pilot light water heating and LPG stoves simply being perceived as being inconvenient; and the convenience of one-time capital cost payments for SWHs, for example:

Boiling water on the stove was an inconvenience.

You pay a lump sum for your solar water heater but after doing that you don’t have to worry about that [paying for the system] again.

(Resident 31)

Related to ‘convenience’ is ‘practicality’ as a sixth motivator. It is drawn from the belief that the hot water provided by several of the residents’ prior electric water heaters did not provide hot water to where it was needed, for example:

Hot water is used for washing dishes and the electric water heater doesn’t accommodate this.

(Resident 24)

As stated in Resident 24’s quote, their electric water heater was not capable of providing hot water where they needed it, that is, in the kitchen to wash dishes. This was also complemented by another resident’s more direct belief that solar water heating is, quite simply, practical.

The seventh motivator is attached to the beliefs that using electric water heating increases the electricity bill and is expensive — though it is dependent on how often it is used. In addition, using SWHs was believed to be cheaper than electric water heating and conserves electricity. Such beliefs point towards residents valuing ‘cost-effectiveness’. Examples include:

electric water heating makes your electricity bill high.

(Resident 31)

Electric water heaters are expensive.

(Resident 32)

Finally, residents value ‘social validation’ and ‘awareness’ as the eighth and ninth motivators. Residents reported valuing the word-of-mouth from peers, seeing SWHs that have been installed by peers and seeing television advertisements. The best example of a supporting quote is:

It [solar water heating] was introduced on television for a period of time, people bought it, and I also heard about it from some of them.

(Resident 25)

Figure 6.1 shows the motivators that persuaded the residents to adopt their SWHs: comfort, safety, durability, reliability, convenience, practicality, cost-effectiveness, social validation and awareness were motivators for technologically transitioning to solar water heating. However, the convenience and comfort provided by using solar hot water are the most salient.

Showing the relative significance of the motivations for adopting solar water heating based on the inductive thematic content analysis of the interviews conducted with residents in Barbados

Figure 6.1 Showing the relative significance of the motivations for adopting solar water heating based on the inductive thematic content analysis of the interviews conducted with residents in Barbados.

Making the adoption decision and implementation

Many industrialized countries established solar water heating industries by the 1980s (McVeigh, 1984). But Barbados’ had its origins in the 1960s, and it took off when Solar Dynamics was established in 1974/1975 as well as when its first major rival, SunPower, entered the market in 1978 followed by a third, Aqua Sol (which later became Solaris), in 1981 (Bugler, 2012; Kogers et al., 2012; Samuel, 2013; CDB, 2014; Husbands, 2016). "

The Government also implemented several policies to promote the adoption of SWHs, for example in 1974, 20% tax breaks were offered for SWH manufacturing; 30% tax on electric water heaters; tax refunds for eligible SWHs for homeowners; and legally mandating solar hot water for new build governmental housing (Bugler, 2012). In addition to these policies and the establishment of an indigenous manufacturing and retail industry, retailer-led marketing and advertising (specifically from Solar Dynamics) and the 1970s oil price hikes were also factors that made solar water heating in Barbados an attractive economic option (Bugler, 2012).

The solar water heating market was dominated by the three companies well into the 2000s but Solar Dynamics had 55 to 60% of the market share and the remaining was relatively evenly distributed between SunPower and Aqua Sol/Solaris (Perlack & Hinds, 2003; CDB, 2014). Solar Dynamics was and is the market leader in solar water heating (ECLAC, 2003).

The oldest SWH owned by any of the residents interviewed was adopted in 1983 and the most recent was in 2014. In the wider industry, SWH adoption increased from 12 systems in 1974 when the industry ‘started’, to 1,848 in 1980; 19,370 in 1990; 31,000 in 1999; between 32,000 and 35,000 in 2002; and between 45,000 to over 50,000 in 2009 (Jensen, 2000; UN, 2002; Perlack & Hinds, 2003; Bugler, 2012, 1; Husbands, 2010; NREL, 2015a). Getting more recent figures proved challenging but thinking about the SWH penetration lends perspective.

Nearly 75% of the SWHs in Barbados are residential (Moore et al., 2014, 6). Sources such as the CEIS (2015), Gray et al. (2015), and the IEA-ETSAP and IRENA (2015, 1), however, report that 80 to 90% of households now have solar hot water. Given these figures, and when put in the context of the mainstreaming pseudo-threshold of 16% outlined in Chapter 2, it seems reasonable to suggest that the energy' transition which resulted from mainstreaming SWHs would have caused an energy culture shift in Barbados’ mainstream energy culture — which would have arguably been more similar to Trinidad’s before.

So, having presented this regime-level overview of SWH adoption, it is worth highlighting how the residents who were interviewed got their SWHs since it would give an in-situ qualitative appreciation for the state of the regime’s solar water heating industry'. It will also capture the holistic innovationdecision process (see Rogers, 1983 and Chapter 2) to see what organic elements of adoption emerged; and it sets the wider context for the knowledge and persuasion stages looked at before by giving insight into the residents’ views related to the decision, implementation and confirmation stages of their adoption of solar water heating. There are five different adoption pathways based on the residents’ accounts.

The most popular and common option involved becoming familiar with the solar water heating retail market and its retailers; liaising with these businesses on investment options; settling on a retailer; signing up with the company; agreeing on a payment plan (down payments or full upfront payments); and finally, having the system installed. Examples of responses that add contextual summaries are:

I looked to see who were the main players, then engaged people who have had experience with these players before buying it, and then spoke to the popular retailers relative to quotations; installation; maintenance; savings and discounts; as well as installation time.

I can’t remember exactly but I know at some point, I would have went to the company; filled out their forms; selected an available payment plan; made the down-payment; then came the installation; and finally paying-off for the system.

(Resident 19)

Interestingly, with respect to choosing a retailer, this was linked to the business’ popularity and establishment, and the impression given by residents was that popularity and establishment are linked to retailers’ numbers of systems sold, size of customer-base and length of time they have been in business, for example:

I asked around from companies. [I] wrote down questions I had and sought the answers from them — and eventually chose the company that was around the longest.

(Resident 21)

The retailers’ cost-effectiveness was another factor. Whilst there are inherent values that make more popular, established and cost-effective retailers the best option for residents, in some cases, the retailer was only chosen because they were believed to be the only ones on the island at the time, for example:

[I] Called up the retailer, made a down payment, [and] they came and installed it. At that time there was only one retailer — and besides, all the brands that we have today serve the same function.

(Resident 25)

When we got it. Solar Dynamics was the sole provider at the time then the others came in after.

(Resident 27)

Based on the above, at the time of all the residents acquiring their different systems (between 1983 to 2014) there was more than one company operating. Therefore, the fact that residents thought that there was only one company can perhaps be due to retailers’ marketing and extent of visible brand adoption at the time. Perlack and Hinds (2003) suggest that Solar Dynamics’ marketing was a huge driver of the early SWH industry, and the company also has the largest portion of the market. Therefore, it is easy to see why residents could believe that there was only one company operating at the time if the market leader’s promotions were so dominant.

A second adoption pathway is through door-to-door sales representatives. One resident outlined that a salesperson offered them a rent-to-own proposal and after three years of‘renting’, owned the system. Interestingly this resident even acknowledged that:

most people also usually just go to SunPower or Solar Dynamics.

(Resident 24)

The third option is through non-manufacturer retailers (versus manufacturer retailers e.g. Solar Dynamics). One resident outlined that they got their SWH through a hire purchase plan with a non-manufacturer-retailer; another did so more informally by visiting a garage sale and bought a second-hand SWH; and one other compared quotes from a private individual and reputable company, weighed the pros and cons of each, then chose the private installer.

A fourth adoption narrative is linked to the real estate market because one resident reported buying their present home (which they have been residing in since 2013) with the SWH having been already installed. The fifth option is through social networks and relationships because a resident simply said that they got their SWH through a family member who works in the SWH retail business.

These five adoption pathways include several norms, for example there is only one company on the island; practices, for example completing installation permits; material culture, for example payments; and external influences, for example retailers’ marketing and advertisements. These features of the incumbent mainstream energy' culture already begin to differentiate the residents interviewed in Barbados from those in Trinidad. However, whilst the features are part of the mainstream energy culture, the impact of using a SWH should now be in the spotlight.

To do this, the previous mainstream energy culture needs to be compared with this present one to highlight the changes linked to SWHs — and this shows the value of looking at the mainstream energy culture from Trinidad in Chapter 5. So, the following sections are dedicated to pointing out the mainstream cultural changes associated with the adoption of SWHs and what a mainstream (solar) energy culture looks like after the mainstreaming of SWHs.

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