Background: An effective social learning process which enhances public understanding of photovoltaic installations in residential dwellings and the economic instruments used by governments to encourage investment in this form of energy is regarded as an important component of implementing renewable energy policy in Australia.
Methods: The development of social learning was explored in deliberative workshops conducted in 2005 and 2012 in New South Wales, Australia. Participants had informed discussion of the operation of photovoltaic panels and how such panels could be integrated into domestic building structure and the economic instruments used by their State and Federal governments to encourage the installation of grid-connected photovoltaic systems. Their attitudes to the technology and investment were surveyed at the end of the workshops.
Results: The participants expressed favourable attitudes toward the design, reliability and environmental benefits of such technology and positive attitudes towards the building integration of such panels. However, despite this, the participants were unwilling to invest in this technology, primarily because in 2005 they perceived the financial benefits of doing so as being marginal and in 2012 they were framing investment decisions in terms of reductions in tariff rates since 2010 rather than current returns.
Conclusions: Social learning principles can provide a range of benefits for communication and decision making in the informed promotion of grid-connected photovoltaic technology. Public perceptions and citizens' investment decisions should move beyond framing decisions relative to subsidy levels to consider long-term investment returns. Retailers and installers of residential photovoltaic systems in Australia are encouraged to promote the option of building-integrated panels given favourable preferences shown for such technology.