onsdag 9 november 2016

Using low-fi user-centered design methods to overcome barrier to adopting photovoltaics (paper)

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I recently wrote a blog post about a paper (abstract) that I submitted to the conference "Energy for Society: 1st International Conference on Energy Research and Social Science". Well, I submitted another abstract to the conference, "Using low-fi user-centered design methods to overcome barrier to adopting photovoltaics", and it was written by Robin Chanapai and me.

Here's the background: I was Robin's advisor when he wrote his master's thesis this past spring. Robin's thesis was presented only a month ago and it's called "Tearing down barriers of photovoltaics with usability design: Winter is coming" (see the thesis abstract below). Robin wrote his thesis within the research project called "Holistic business models and ICT solutions for prosumers" and it involved researchers from Uppsala University and KTH Royal Institute of Technology as well as energy companies and the service design company Transformator.

Something really cool is that it seems the project would pay for Robin's costs for attending the conference should the proposed paper be accepted! Here's the paper abstract

Using low-fi user-centered design methods to overcome barriers to adopting photovoltaics in Sweden

Keywords: photovoltaics, prosumers, user-centered design, interface design

Abstract: Renewable energy sources are important for shifting our energy system in a more sustainable direction. While renewables (mainly hydro) provide upwards to 50% of Sweden’s electricity demand, this could be further improved if private citizens to a higher extent covered their roofs with solar cells and became micro producers of electricity.
                        
While the conditions for successfully harvesting solar energy through solar cells/Photovoltaics (PV) exist in Sweden, the technology has not yet met with much success. A recent study (Eriksson & Enlund 2016) enumerates barriers that discourage or prevent homeowners from investing in PV. Some are difficult to circumvent like the cost of investments or rules and regulations that currently do not encourage such investments. Other problems however seem to stem from sceptical attitudes that are based on a lack of understanding of how PV works and/or of the viability of PV when taking Swedish conditions into account.
                        
While we can strive to overcome such mental barriers through informing or educating homeowners, this alone will not change their behaviors (Owens & Driffill, 2008). In this paper we instead discuss how the use of low-fidelity user-centered design methods and the resulting user interfaces can be utilized to find out more about, and build upon the positive motivations of homeowners’ interest in investing in PV. These methods are widely used in Human-Computer Interaction and adopting these methods in energy research could help bridge the gap between (homeowners’) attitudes and behaviors. We believe that a wider deployment of an information package that is based on our results could in fact lead to an increased interest in installing PV in Sweden.
                        
Beyond reporting on the results of a study, this paper also provides a framework that can be used to achieve similar results in other countries, thereby contributing to a more sustainable future.




---------- Robin's thesis abstract ---------- 

Abstract
Photovoltaics has so far not seen a huge success in Sweden. Recent studies have shown that some of the reasons could be an experienced lack of understanding of the technology, and a feeling that the lack of energy production during winter when a houses energy consumption is the highest makes photovoltaics uninteresting. The ongoing research project Holistic business models and ICT solutions for prosumers seeks to increase the use of photovoltaics in Sweden, and have created business model concepts in an attempt to break perceived barriers of photovoltaics. My task in this project was to design a tailor made ICT solution with the users’ needs in focus.

A series of interviews were conducted with households interested in photovoltaics to investigate what information is relevant to understand the business model, and create a starting point for the design process. To ensure a high level of usability of the ICT solution, an iterative design process was conducted with user tests between iterations.

This resulted in a low fidelity prototype of a smartphone application, consisting of greyscale mockups. The prototype has as much as possible taken the interviewed households’ wishes into account, while adhering to design principles set for usability design. The interviews and user tests also gave some new insights into the informants’ attitudes towards the business model suggested by the research project, which is discussed at the end of the report. 
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