We all know why people go solar: investment purposes, immediate savings, environmental concerns, and grid independence. But who are these people? One of Malcom Gladwell’s best-known pieces, The Tipping Point, can clue us in on who these leaders of the energy revolution are. His work, along with scientific findings on the topic, suggests the “tipping point” is fast approaching.
Less than ten years ago the United States had a mere 30,000 homes with solar photovoltaic systems, today 750,000 homes are powered by the sun. But we’ve still not hit the point where the majority of homeowners are following suit. The solar movement has not quite passed the “tipping point”, a phrase Gladwell describes as “that one dramatic moment in an epidemic when everything can change all at once.” So who are these Innovators and Early Adopters responsible for making solar the fastest growing energy sector?
Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen
To install a solar array on your home is not an easy decision when your neighborhood is full of bare roofs. But one leader that believes in the technology can reshape a whole community and start a movement. And as Derek Sivers said best, “The first follower transform[s] the lone nut into a leader.” All homeowners who have made the transition to solar today, whether they realize it or not, are leaders – innovators - risk takers, that have taken the first step in bringing our planet to a greener future.
Some of these leaders are Connectors, linking diverse backgrounds, from Engineers to Hippies, Farmers to Financial Planners. Some are Mavens, putting their trusted word behind a technology they have researched extensively, and sharing this knowledge with their peers. And some are the Salesmen, who have made it their mission to promote a technology that the mass market has not yet adopted. They started selling solar before the economics made any sense.
And of course, before these leaders transformed their own communities, there were the pioneers that laid the path for the industry. Jigar Shah unlocked the multi-billion-dollar solar market with “no money down solar”. Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk co-founded the nations largest residential solar installation company, SolarCity. Joe Barton, a Texas Congressman authored the Energy Policy Act of 2005, containing the solar investment tax credit that ultimately gave birth to the industry we know today. And this industry may soon see drastic changes.
The Tipping Point
Based on Gladwell’s analysis, there are several key factors that play a role in whether a trend or pattern will take hold.
- The Law of the Few – A few key types of people must champion an idea before widespread popularity can be obtained; scientific research backs this up with math. According to scientists of the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, “when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society.” If this proves true, solar is on the brink of mass adoption. Greentech Media, an industry leading research publication, has found that there are currently 9 million U.S. households that are ideal for solar. The 10 percent threshold of that number, 900,000 solar installations, will be hit before the end of 2015.
- Stickiness – Today’s popular culture of health and wellness is conducive to the solar industry. Solar makes you feel good the same way Whole Foods makes people feel good when they walk in the doors to $6 bottles of asparagus water. Solar makes homeowners cool, generates pride, and is fiscally attractive. Solar is beginning to trend.
- The Power of Context – Gladwell drove home how minute changes in an environment can have major effects – the whole Butterfly Effect Theory. Yale University researchers found the same theory carried over to solar, with peer influence being the number one reason people go solar. Solar is something that sticks out. You can’t hide the fact you have gone solar - even if you want to! The visual repetitiveness of solar systems in highly saturated markets leads to an unconscious self-persuasion to go solar. A solar system’s bold presence often leads the homeowner to boast about it proudly. These leaders are critical to the market, as they have become the voice of the industry. Solar companies, door-to-door salesmen, cold calling, and in your face advertising have become noise to the consumer. But when your neighbors or your hairstylist begins discussing solar organically, the tipping point is nearing. Hearing about solar outside of targeted marketing means that something special is happening. Today, my company Pick My Solar is experiencing hundreds of people taking the time out of their busy lives to attend Solar Workshops so they can join the craze.
We can throw facts and theories at the wall all day to create a case that solar is about to tip. But instead, let’s have a reality check.
Google’s Project Sunroof – Yes, Google has entered solar. Google is not looking to jump on a fad, but to be ahead of the coming wave. Their Adwords department is seeing cost per clicks averaging $10 - $15 in some markets for solar keywords. They have data out the kazoo on market trends, and if Google entering the market isn’t a clue that solar is about to tip, I don’t know what is. They will help bring solar mainstream. (Pick My Solar is one of eight proud partners on their new Sunroof service.)
People are Buying Solar Online – Pick My Solar is an online bidding platform allowing homeowners to buy solar solely online at great prices and with free expert advice. When a market finds itself at a point where an objective party is required to sort through the noise, that market is becoming a significant force, it’s becoming mainstream. Our customers at Pick My Solar are leaders of their own movement, of not only adopting solar technology, but also using our technology to improve their buying experience. In our early market, I have personally experienced our own “super infectors” who have individually brought us literally dozens of new customers based off of their own experience. These customers are our Connectors and Mavens who will someday be responsible for our own tipping point. To all of our customers, I thank you for giving our novel idea a chance.
“Emotion is contagious” - Gladwell
Have you ever heard someone speak about his or her solar system? They are proud. They boast about how much their system is saving. They are full of passion. They are full of emotion.
The Tipping Point is coming.