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Understanding consumer knowledge, perceptions, and preferences regarding pro-environmental technology: The cases of plug-in electric vehicles and utility controlled charging

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Consumer demand is an important aspect of a successful transition to low-carbon technology. In this study I explore consumer knowledge, perceptions, and preference formation for two such technologies: purchasing a plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) and enrolling in a green electricity program (to power the PEV). I explore this through in-depth interviews with 22 households in Metro Vancouver, British Columbia. Results provide several key insights into how consumers perceive and may come to value such technologies. First, I find that participant awareness is very low for both technologies; the majority of participants were confused about plug-in hybrid technology and did not understand the sources of electricity they consume. Secondly, once the technologies were explained to participants, most perceived both technologies according to a wide range of attributes, including functional (e.g., cost and performance), symbolic (e.g., “strangeness” and loss of control), and societal (e.g., pollution reduction). Third, I find that most participants do not have pre-existing preferences for these technologies. Instead, they construct preferences as they learn about them and reflect on their various attributes. Interestingly, the initial lack of awareness is not necessarily a barrier to participants developing positive preferences for the case technologies once explained. These findings suggest that research and policy ought to carefully consider the roles of knowledge and different types of perceptions in consumer preferences for low-carbon technologies.
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