The Solar Power Bug: Has Your Neighborhood Caught It?

Here’s a thought for solar marketers: If you’ve done a few rooftop projects in a neighborhood, don’t be so quick to move on to fresh terrain; knock on some doors in that same area – a new study suggests it could get you more business.

According to researchers at Yale and New York University, writing in the journal Marketing Science, residents are more likely to install solar power systems if there are already such installations within their zip code.

solar power contagious

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The researchers used data from California from January 2001 through December 2011, during which some 85,046 households requested residential installations with the state’s three big investor-owned utilities.

In analyzing the data, the researchers said they controlled for other explanations beyond “causal peer effects,” making sure that the numbers didn’t just reflect the marketing activity of companies, for instance, or clustering of people inclined to be interested in solar power.

They said that for each installation in a zip code, the chance of another installation going in increased by 0.78 percent. Word of mouth and the visibility of the panels did the trick, the researchers said, and that’s something marketers might be able to cash in on as they try to bring down the cost of customer acquisition.

“Our finding of an increasing effect of new installations in a zip code suggests that targeting marketing efforts in areas that already have some installations is a promising strategy,” the researchers wrote.

Other tendencies popped up in the study as well: “Higher adoption rates are also associated with the percentage of the population who are male, white, have over a 30-minute commute, and have home repairs,” according to the study.

In a press release, co-author Kenneth Gillingham said that result could be explained by an unusually large number of engineers working in Silicon Valley popping up in the study.

Larger households also were more likely to catch the solar bug.

“Our demographic interaction results further suggest that efforts to leverage peer effects can be targeted to particular areas based on demographics, such as those with larger household sizes and many commuters,” the researchers wrote.

And here’s a provocative little possibility tucked into the last paragraph of the study: These principles, the authors speculate, could apply to “other green technologies, such as hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles, geothermal heating, and outdoor high efficiency lighting.”

The Marketing Science abstract is here. The full paper is available as a PDF from Yale University here.

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.