Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Natural Resources

First Advisor

Cecilia . Danks


Public and private incentive programs have encouraged conversions to high efficiency, low emissions wood heating systems as a strategy to promote renewable energy and support local economies in the Northeastern US. Despite these efforts, the adoption of these systems remains slow. The study that is the subject of this dissertation examines several social, economic, policy and environmental factors that affect the decisions of individuals and small-scale institutions (local business and community facilities) to transition to automated wood pellet boilers and furnaces (AWPH) utilizing local fuel sources. Due to the complexity and risk associated with conversion, the transition to these systems can help further both a practical and theoretical understanding of the global transition to non-fossil fuel technologies. Chapter One of this dissertation examines this notion in more detail, as well as spells out the research questions of this study. Chapter Two delves into the research methods and their implications for other studies of energy transitions. These methods include interviews with 60 consumers, technology and fuel suppliers, and NGO and state agency personnel. These provided in-depth qualitative data which are complemented by a four-state survey (New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, and Maine) of adopters and informed non-adopters of AWPH systems (n=690; 38% response rate). Interview and survey questions, as well as subsequent coding, was developed through use of diffusion of innovation theory, the multi-level perspective on sociotechnical transitions, as well as through collaboration with industry experts and research partners. Chapters Three and Four offer a discussion of the results and their implications. Specifically, Chapter Three examines the complex system actors, elements, and interactions that are part of the transition from fossil fuel technology to AWPH. Chapter Four focuses on the data surrounding state and private programs that encourage the use of AWPH and the implications that this data has for effective climate mitigation and energy policy. Data show that AWPH consumers, who should be considered “early adopters” due to the small number of AWPH adopters in the region, are largely value-driven but are also concerned about upfront costs and lack of available technical support and fuel delivery options. Both environmental values (e.g. desire to find alternative to fossil fuels, concern for air quality and belief in climate change) and social values (e.g. support for the local economy and wood products industry) influenced consumer decisions, especially when fuel oil prices were low. Financial incentives, which are offered by all four states in the study region, were highly influential, but additional decision support offered by a non-profit (e.g. site visits, informational workshops, local print media) were rated highly by consumers where they were available. These additional supports, as well as the community-based nature of the non-profit program, enabled a broader range of people (lower income, more risk averse) to choose AWPH as well as created more efficiency in the supply chain. This approach created a reinforcing feedback loop between broader early adopters of AWPH, normalization of AWPH technology and its associated infrastructure, and increased levels of technical support and fuel availability. These findings suggest that efforts to increase adoption of renewable technologies that use locally harvest fuels take a community-based and system-wide approach, targeting both consumer and supplier motivations and barriers.



Number of Pages

267 p.