In Pursuit of Solar's Tipping Point

A recent call to action in the solar industry reveals a common misunderstanding of the term "."

An initiative, called National Solar Quote Month, is an effort to encourage lots of people to request quotes from solar suppliers in order to bring solar power to a tipping point in 2010.  Unfortunately, the presence of a large number of people does not translate into a tipping point.

A "Tipping Point," as described by in his book by the same name, is when an idea, product, message or behavior spreads like a virus.  It is the name given to a dramatic moment in an epidemic when everything changes all at once.

On page 33 of the book, Gladwell describes the need for more than just large numbers of people to create a Tipping Point.  It requires the participation of so-called connectors -- people with unique social gifts who have an uncanny genius for being at the center of events.  In other words, connectors are "influencers."

To illustrate the need for connectors, Gladwell tells the story of how Paul Revere's midnight ride started a word-of-mouth epidemic, while a virtually identical ride by fellow revolutionary William Dawes did not.  Paul Revere was a connector and William Dawes wasn't.

So fundamentally it doesn't matter HOW MANY people are spreading the messageā€¦it matters WHO is spreading the message.

Parts of the tipping point concept have been used successfully in the electric power industry in the past.  Thomas Edison used the power of influencers to accelerate adoption of electric light when he selected financial institutions in lower Manhattan as his first customers.  Seeing the windows of the financial district aglow by night demonstrated electric lighting technology to the metro population living across the Hudson River in New Jersey.  And because the financial community was considered to be an influential source of new techniques and ideas, Edison jumpstarted a word-of-mouth epidemic that had a tremendous impact on the rest of the country.

Interestingly, a group of researchers just reconfirmed the tipping point concept by studying the social networking site, Twitter.  They found that "follower count" is a meaningless metric when it comes to determining influence.  It doesn't matter how many followers you have.  It only matters who is following you.

Concepts like the Tipping Point, the Principle of Disruptive Innovation, and the Technology Adoption Lifecycle are extremely valuable in our efforts to expand the use of renewable energy around the world.  But it's important to first understand what these concepts really entail, and how they can be applied correctly.

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