Sunday, April 11, 2010

Solar Forces a Change in Behavior

I think it was Nathan Lewis of the California Institute of Technology who first said that solar energy-generated electricity does nothing "new." People already have electricity.  And that is true.  Solar doesn't offer an improvement in capability.  But that's not the real barrier to the public's adoption of solar power.

Most emerging technologies are introduced when their performance is not as well developed as established products.  And in order to become competitive over time, technologies like solar must be refined and improved by a sequence of users (starting with innovators and early adopters).

The key issue here is not that solar is an under-developed technology or that solar provides something people already have.  The key issue is that solar, like many technologies, forces a change in behavior.  With solar you must have panels (or PV material) installed, rather than use a built-in connection to the grid.

A recent survey by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) as reported on Renewable Energy World indicates people are in favor of solar power but would prefer that it is supplied by their utility.  Why would 75% of people surveyed want their utility to install solar?  Because that way they can realize the environmental and renewable benefits of solar, without changing their behavior.

As long as everyone agrees that centralized solar electric power delivered through a grid is the best path to a sustainable future, then our objectives are clear.  We need to focus on utility-scale solar and improve our centralized system of delivery.

However, if distributed generation and residential solar are a better way to go, we need to find a way to get people to change their behavior.  And getting people to change their behavior requires more than just cost reduction and government subsidies.  Encouraging people to change their behavior requires the influence or involvement of preceding groups of people in the marketplace


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6 comments:

Daniel said...

I disagree with your blog/post headline.

Going solar forces an action/purchase decision, not a change in behavior.

The point here is that once the solar is installed, I continue with my life the same as before.

Unless you somehow think that upgrading to a marble countertop is a behavioral change, I think you are using sloppy terminology.

Warren Schirtzinger said...

Hi Daniel!

Thank you for helping to clarify my post.

You are correct. The behavior change I'm referring to is during the purchase process. If the customer chooses power from the grid, then it's a simple phone call.

But if the customer chooses solar, then the process is much more complex: finding solar dealers in the area, selecting a dealer/installer, meeting with the installer, discussing the system size, analyzing energy usage, taking steps to be more energy efficient, paperwork/permits/rebates, etc, etc.

It's a world of difference. And even if it only happens once, the behavior change is big enough to discourage lots of potential buyers. People in general resist behavior change.

Again, thanks for letting me know where I need to be more specific in my blog posts.

-Warren

Warren Schirtzinger said...

Another way to describe the impact solar has on customers is by looking at the definition of "discontinuous innovation." Discontinuous innovations are new ideas, products, services, etc. that require people to change their current behavior to something very new and different – examples include the automobile, telephone or personal computer. (and solar)

The cellphone is not a discontinuous innovation because it is basically the same as using a telephone...without the cord. Very little change in behavior is required.

Discontinuous innovations also tend to be difficult to sell because it means you have to convince people to change their behavior.

Daniel said...

Warren,

You are 100% focused on the buying process when discussing customer behavior.

The problem with using your terminology, is that people reading it might think you mean that people with solar on their home act/behave differently than other people simply b/c they have solar on their home. (i.e. like if you have solar you can't turn on the TV at night or boil water on a cloudy day)

Warren Schirtzinger said...

I think "change in behavior" is a legitimate part of either side of the equation, the purchase process AND ongoing product usage.

My good friend and colleague (Steven Strong) says he always starts a solar project with an emphasis on energy efficiency. Rather than simply calculate the customer's current energy usage, and then provide enough PV to meet it, Steven teaches the customer to reduce usage first…so less PV is required.

Ongoing energy efficiency is a change in behavior. And so is the process of purchasing solar.

Renewable Energy Kent said...

You've bought up some really interesting points here. Thanks a lot.