Peer Diffusion – Driving Energy Upgrades in Communities Worldwide

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Did you see the new light bulbs your neighbor installed last month? How about the solar panels across the street?

Feeling like you’re missing out on “must have” energy upgrades turns out to be one of the most surefire drivers of residential energy efficiency in American markets and abroad. A seminal study from the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and Building Performance Institute (BPI) has identified the power of what they term “peer diffusion” in affecting behavioral change regarding energy and water use.

The study defines peer diffusion as a “form of communication within and between networks of people that (1) occurs through varying forms of social comparison and social interaction around an innovation (i.e., a new behavior, idea, or technology) and (2) ultimately promotes the broader adoption of that innovation.”

Shifting habits on a societal scale can drive major fluctuations in resource use, especially when those changes in habit decrease energy and water consumption. Where the burdens of inefficient energy use are lifted, households and communities see a multitude of benefits.


Cold Feet Stalling Energy Efficiency Improvements

Americans have a peculiar relationship with home energy performance. The RMI and BPI study points out that two thirds of US homeowners consider home energy performance a top priority, yet almost half have done nothing to improve it. Even the people that do take steps to improve efficiency rarely invest in whole-home energy upgrades.

When push comes to shove, there is a large gap between intentions and actual investments in residential energy efficiency across the US. This disconnect represents a huge opportunity for resident engagement strategies to scale demand for sustainable technology. Unfortunately, the residential energy industry currently under-applies many of the major factors identified by RMI and BPI as key drivers of investment in energy upgrades.

The Promise of Peer Diffusion

Peer diffusion shows potential as a method to increase social interaction and comparison around energy upgrades. Making home improvements visible and conversational can inspire action among neighbors, who might contract service providers to install energy conservation measures of their own.

When programs are created that enable participants to show off their own home energy improvements to their family, friends, and neighbors, these upgrades become a point of conversation. When their benefits are discussed, home improvements prompt increased investment in energy upgrades among peers.

Best Practice for Energy Upgrade Providers

There is much to learn from utility-run behavior programs, rooftop solar trends, and water conservation campaigns, among other examples of peer-to-peer influence. Residential energy service providers and program administrators have found success in deploying robust digital and in-person strategies to enable the spread of energy efficiency across communities.

Companies are wise to tap into these insights and facilitate social interaction and comparison. By supporting peer diffusion before, during, and after the installation of sustainable technology, service providers can drive increased homeowner demand for energy upgrades.

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