Assistant Professor Chunbo Ma from the School of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UWA becomes one of the five Australian young economists who have won the Australian Research Council's Discovery Early Career Researcher Award in 2012. The research funding (A$372,000) will support Assistant Professor Chunbo Ma for the next three years to conduct his research project - Social learning: the Diffusion of Residential Rooftop Photovoltaic Panels in Australia.
Australia has witnessed a rapid uptake of solar PVs in the past few years. However, deficiencies in government policies in this area have been widely reported in the media. Changed policy parameters, underestimation of household demand, poor administration and boom and bust nature of policy suggest highly inefficient policy settings at both federal and state government levels. One reviewer comments: "In an area that is so critical to the future well-being of Australians, there is certainly room for a greater understanding of technology diffusion and more stable policy settings for the new business that policy is trying to encourage".
Solar PV adopters do not distribute randomly. An interesting observation is that adopters often cluster around the same neighbourhood or same street, which may indicate a social learning effect. Central to the project is the identification of location and diffusion of PV adopters spatially and temporally. However, such information is often kept confidential by governments or utility companies due to privacy reasons. Assistant Professor Ma proposed to use high resolution aerial maps combined with surveys to overcome this bottleneck. Reviewers comment that the project "offers a refreshingly new approach", "has major implications for other spatial behaviours beyond the solar panel issue and thus "will advance knowledge in terms of how such an investigation could be undertaken".
Assistant Professor Ma's research will seek to find out whether there are geographical clusters and if there are, how such clusters have been formed spatially and temporally. Surveys will then try to elicit the types of social learning at play. The outcomes will be useful for energy industries and the government for the effective formulation of their business strategies and policies.
Assistant Professor Chunbo Ma (School of Agricultural and Resource Economics) (+61 8 6488 2534)