Catch the bug: rooftop solar is highly contagious!

We’ve been hearing about the rapid expansion of solar power, and most of us have probably noticed more rooftop panels and small community solar projects in fields.  But it turns out that solar’s spread is not simply due to climate concerns or enticing economics: there’s a strong “contagion” factor, as new solar owners encourage their friends and neighbors to get on board.  Check out this animation, from northern Colorado:

According to SolarCity, the largest solar installer and leasing outfit in the US:

Word-of-mouth referrals have helped push Hawaii to achieve America’s highest solar adoption rate (nearly one out of five of households in the state have gone solar). On the island of Oahu, some 32% of single-family households live underneath a solar rooftop.

Five thousand miles east of Honolulu, the influence of Solar Ambassadors is also evident in suburban New Jersey. In Gloucester Township (#3 on our list), more than three of five SolarCity rooftops can be traced to word-of-mouth referrals. New Jersey ranks fourth place nationally for total solar power capacity, in part thanks to this strong neighbor-to-neighbor dynamic.

We do need to mention that these stats are tracking only installations done by SolarCity, and, not at all incidentally, the “referred by a friend” rates are surely helped by its Solar Ambassador program, which rewards both their current customer (with $200) and the new customer (with a free month of lease payments).

But the more comprehensive Vox article that introduced me to these graphics also highlights that independent studies have found the same “contagion” effect in several states; it seems that adding one rooftop system on a block increased the average number of installations within a half-mile.  In some areas, contagion is enhanced by a community-organized bulk buying program, known as a Solarize initiative; these initiatives have run successfully across the country.  Here’s a solarize guidebook from the National Renewable Energy Lab. Whether an organized neighborhood effort, informal encouragement from friends, or a green twist on keeping up with the Joneses, I think we can all agree this is a communicable condition that we’d like to encourage!



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    Joanne Ott


    How do suggest engaging investment in community solar gardens (CSG)? The coop model is especially targeted in creating wealth for communities in the form of investment in CSG and savings for clean technology lower income participants. Yet most of the investment is in larger chunks that is not as regenerative for community wealth building. Any ideas? In MN we have Cooperative Energy Futures that has numerous CSG projects in the pipeline but doesn't fit the institutional investor appetite. Any ideas let me know.
    Joanne Sienko Ott, CFA, MA


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