National guidebook maps the way toward ‘tipping points’ in solar adoption

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Backed by research out of Yale and Duke, a newly released guidebook details a range of best practices for boosting the adoption of rooftop solar power.

Titled “Solarize Your Community,” the national guidebook makes the case for “contagious” rooftop solar. The findings are distilled from a three-year study of successful campaigns in Connecticut that tripled the number of rooftop installations, reduced the average cost of residential solar by 20% to 30%, and created local jobs in participating communities.

“Solarize Your Community” is now available at http://cbey.yale.edu/programs-research/solar-energy-evolution-and-diffusion-studies-seeds. Included is a two-page “how-to” graphic for rapidly designing and implementing a solar campaign.

The three-year campaign that was studied, called Solarize CT, used local marketing strategies that created a “tipping point” in solar adoption. Once information about solar reaches a certain level, researchers said, the uptake of solar increases dramatically. Kenneth Gillingham, an economist at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, and Bryan Bollinger, a marketing professor at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, analyzed this campaign to ferret out how specific facets affected its success.

“Our large-scale experimental findings are robust and demonstrate the power of a Solarize campaign,” Gillingham said. “It is exciting to see these academic results converted to a practical guidebook for those making decisions on renewables, whether at the city, state, or federal level.”

Bollinger added, “With the support of the Department of Energy SEEDS program, we were able to both expand the number of communities involved and test key components of the program, such as the importance of group pricing and the effect of competition during a Solarize campaign.”

According to the guidebook, the action of peers is an incredibly important motivator; during a six-month period in Connecticut, the presence of one solar rooftop project increased the average number of installations within a half-mile by nearly 50%.

Solar, in other words, is contagious, the study showed. The Solarize program is designed to capitalize on this effect while leveraging peers and social networks to spur solar adoption. The researchers found that enthusiastic volunteers, especially those who installed solar as part of the program, were key to a campaign’s success.

“Solarize Your Community” also defines the role that different stakeholders — public, private, and nonprofit — play in building an ecosystem for renewable energy investment. The coalition of organizations that supported Solarize CT created the groundwork for a robust clean energy market that no single entity alone could have achieved.

“The research findings demonstrated how residential solar PV technology can be scaled up and scaled out through peer effects and community-based campaigns,” said Bryan Garcia, president and CEO of the Connecticut Green Bank. “As we work to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and confront climate change, I look forward to seeing how research findings like this can be applied to assist in the deployment of other clean energy technologies like electric vehicles, renewable thermal, and battery storage.”

“Working together we have proven that Solarize can and will dramatically elevate the ability of communities to go solar,” said Brian F. Keane, president of SmartPower, the nonprofit partner that implemented Solarize CT. “And now, with the publication of this guidebook, all that we’ve learned over the past three years is available for every single community across the nation. So what are we waiting for? Let’s Solarize!”

Project partners include: the Connecticut Green Bank, SmartPower, the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, the Yale Center for Business and the Environment, and Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. The research and the report were both supported by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative.

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