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The Green Life: Are Solar Panels Contagious?

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April 25, 2011

Are Solar Panels Contagious?

Solar neighborhood Upon noticing that solar-panel installations in California showed a pattern of clustering, researchers at Stanford University set out to determine why some neighborhoods were rife with photovoltaic panels while others had none.

What they found is a positive example of the human tendency to conform to social norms: We do what our neighbors do. People are encouraged by their neighbors’ ability to pay for and understand new technologies, and local contractors become more adept at installing and maintaining them. Others simply want to keep up with the Joneses. The Stanford study found that for every 1% increase in the number of solar installations within a given ZIP code, the time that passed between subsequent installations decreases by 1%.

So if you want to make your neighborhood greener, lead by example: Install a few solar panels, show your neighbors how they work, make them envious of your shrinking energy bill. Then watch them follow suit.

--Zoë J. Sheldon

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