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[UPDATED FEB 10] From Retail Customer to Movement Builder: 5 Houses Up, 5 Houses Down

A new pilot program will be tested in select suburban cities with current solar customers that allows them to come together as catalysts of change in the movement towards clean renewable energy. Current solar owners will be invited to an appreciation event in which they will be given greater insight into the vision of what a world with clean energy will look like. This event, co-hosted by non-profits and solar companies, will help each solar owner engage their close social networks to share this vision, opening with the simple question "How can we better improve our neighborhood" and invite their neighbors, friends, family and colleagues to a block party exploring their collection of ideas, with solar as one of the suggestions to explore.

Photo of Karen Marie Bacolod
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The questions that began this idea was between a group of current solar sales employees and regular everyday people, their friends and family. 
1) What types of everyday social interactions and pressures push us towards an idea we are not so familiar with or understand? 
2) What helps create an environment of trust among neighborhoods that allows us to see one another as collaborators instead of people trying to benefit from one another?
- Part 2 of this question: How do we transform the perception of solar Sales people in retail store as part of a movement rather than someone who is " just trying to benefit from selling me something" (View of sales sharks in car sales, insurance sales etc.). How do we distinguish the sales of solar from traditional sales of other products as the necessary energy resource needed in the 21st century that benefit the common good?

In order to create a movement around solar energy, solar companies can help engage their current customer base to be at the forefront of this transition. Often, solar customers convert because they see the financial benefit to making the switch, but often are not fully aware of the greater picture, greater movement they are now a part of. Solar companies and non-profits promoting environmental stewardship have the opportunity to move these key players into awareness of the vision of a clean energy world and initate unexpected change in their community. 5 houses up, 5 houses down is a "social innovation" that recognizes that no digital technology can ever replace the quality and influence of a genuine face-to-face interaction. This program will build a sense of group inclusivity among current solar customers that can give them the confidence together to engage their neighbors. In turn, this social innovation will give the presence of solar in a community greater visibility among potential solar owners. As long as the solar company and partnering non-profits can provide their current base of solar supporters with the resources to engage their neighbors, friends, and family, the transition to clean energy can accelerate led by the early adoptors of the community.


There are three main concepts that help us believe this program can potentially succeed:

1) Face-to-face interaction creates opportunities to discover common values and create a shared sense of purpose: 
Once current solar customers see and meet others in their community who share the same decision, they can feel even more confident about their decision. Combining this positive reinforcement with a presentation about their new role in the potential behind the renewable energy/solar movement is a formula to creating a new and inspiring ethos as being part of the in-group who is bettering our world. Creating this feeling of the in-group will help them gain the courage to speak to others in the 5 doors up, 5 doors down pilot program being tested in partnership with non-profits and solar companies. As long as resources are available and we do not feel alone, this new energy will be key to propelling the program, increasing awareness of the benefits and helping more people chose renewable energy.

2) Trust is what we need to build to accelerate the transition:
In solar sales, we often realize that we are not selling solar systems or a product, but more learning how to develop trust. When there is a new idea or product, you need to trust the person telling you about it in order to move you in one direction, change your mind or support an unfamiliar idea. The higher the trust, the lighter the "push" needs to be to help the person make a decision and the more natural it feels. Usually high trust is given to friends and family over some solar expert that I just met in a retail store. Experiences and people we know help make our decisions. Most of the time, current customers chose to switch to solar because a friend, family or neighbor gave them the "push". From a solar sales experience perspective the most successful interactions that result in a home converting to solar is that the person gave you a greater level of trust that did not require a strong "push". The lower the level of trust, the harder your "push" ends up becoming, the more pressured it feels and the less likely we trust the person we are speaking with, no matter the data presented to us. Considering the various types of interactions that "push" or persuade people into going solar, we have to diversify the ways in which people are introduced to going solar. Current customers, engaging their neighbors is the greatest opportunity communities can sieze to start the dialogue and to spead the knowledge and understanding of the incredible finance, benefits and options to homeowners. 

3) Working with people who are not tied to financial benefit are necessary allies: Non-profits working to promote environmental responsiblity, stewardship, or any social cause for the matter, are key to building a movement that creates tust. Many people involved in non-profits would volunteer their hours knowing they are contributing to a greater cause such as helping the rapid transition to renewable energy. Using their passion and honest stories/motivations to enage current customers, we can help community perceptions shift away from viewing solar companies as another monoply replacing the utility to an open innovation that is transforming our world, one community, one solar customer at a time. 

UPDATE [FEB 6]
Please review the attached file titled "Research for 5 Houses Up, 5 Houses Down" for a summary of our survey findings which support the above mentioned assumptions. To support the revised iteration of this program this link takes you to a recent summary of a study conducted in determining the main factor for people to convert to solar energy.

UPDATE [FEB 7]
Final Pilot Program Version of 5 Houses Up, 5 Houses Down
The main pilot program phases/components:  

1) Appreciation/Program Initiation Event

Event Outreach
Current solar customers are contacted and invited by their personal solar consultants to attend a customer appreciation event with food/drinks in their local city/neighborhood to meet others who also went solar. The event will be marketed differently to each solar owner, as determined by the solar representative who helped the owner initial convert to solar and developed a prior relationship. The table below frames the marketed event based on the client’s motivations since the event will address all of the given incentives, but the option most appealing would be highlighted.

Primary Initial Motivation: Save Money

Marketing Invitation: Have food, drinks on us and learn about a new support program to help solar owner increase referrals and gain monetary compensation from solar company

Primary Initial Motivation: Better the environment

Marketing Invitation: Have food, drinks on us and learn about a community block party we want to throw for your family, friends and neighbors about steps they can take to do their part

Primary Initial Motivation: New technology adopter

Marketing Invitation: Have food, drinks on us and learn about a and attend a networking event to meet forward thinking adopters and the chance to win a raffle for high tech item

Event Logistics

Event will be held at a local community venue such as a community center, school auditorium, park facility etc. The program initiation event’s location will only be announced once a critical mass of 20-30 current solar owners are confirmed to attend the event. The event location will also be mapped according to the RSVP of attendees.  Depending on the partnership that is established in the community or the results of survey answers among event attendees about their ideal meeting location in the community, the event will be determined with the attendees preferences in mind. The event will most likely occur in the evening and will be recorded live for any solar owner who was not able to attend the event.

Event Activities
The main concern is that it is fun, local and engaging. During this co-hosted event by a solar company and partnering, local nonprofit, solar owners would learn about the new movement/vision they are a part of in helping communities rapidly adopt renewable energy. The presentations and activities are meant to help them gain a greater sense of recognition for their decisions, catching them off guard in gaining more from the event than they originally expected from the initial invitation. The first phase of the event will begin with refreshments and drinks to allot for different arrival times. The guests will then be greeted by the host solar company and nonprofit with introductions about the mission of each company and reason for creating a partnership (being that, both have distinct challenges in engaging people about renewable energy/environmental responsibility that they other has strengths that can be leveraged to overcome the challenge.*please refer to comment response below to Natalie Lake for explanation of challenges and strengths). Short presentation will be followed by an engagement event facilitated by non-profit to share personal stories about switching to renewable energy. (Language will be directed to renewable energy in general, to make connection for homeowners to solar) After sharing stories, non-profit leads short session of what a community with 100% renewable energy may look like based on the collective knowledge of the group. SolarCity then outlines plan to organize event in the community, a block party where families can have fun learning not just about solar, but all the components of what a community with renewable energy will look like, solar owners just have to invite people and request permission to canvass their neighborhood highlighting you as a neighbor who endorses it. Solar owners will also be asked to invite their local neighbors, friends, family and colleagues to event and informed of the support nonprofit will provide. [Update 2/10] Possible non-profits that may be great in facilitating a conversation such as this would be Transition Network, Pachamama Alliance, Climate Reality Project or any other non-profit that focused on education and awareness regarding solutions to environmental sustainability. 

2) 5 houses up, 5 houses down campaign  

Event Outreach
Volunteers from various non-profits, the homeowner's personal solar sales consultant and if willing, the solar owner, will engage the solar owner’s closest 10 neighbors around the question, "how might we be able to better our neighborhood". This question will allocate the ideas of the block which will be featured on a meet your neighbors wall during a block party event. This program is much like the canvassing that every solar company does anyway. The question of "how might we be able to better our neighborhood" is an approach that has a shifted meaning, intention and purpose. It can be an effective catalyst to taking part in the rebuilding of our neighborhoods, allowing us to get to know our neighbors again. The flyer will feature a diversity of organizations (from solar company to local retail shops, nonprofits) at the event that will be marketed to “engage the entire family about how to have fun while saving money, protecting our resources, air and water, and eating BBQ, *vegetarian options provided. Neighbors will also learn about the games that they can participate in to win a large array of raffles, from kids bikes to home energy improvement items. Solar owners will make the same invitations to their local friends, family and colleagues over the phone or in person on their own time and let them know to come to a workshop at the event the solar owner is going to participate in. Nonprofit and solar representatives will greet with “Hi I am part of one of the many organizations sponsoring a block party for the community…” Canvassers will also conduct short survey of the invitees’ most interested environmental questions and concerns to help support planning for final program phase. Finally, if there was no contact made, informational pamphlets and flyers about the upcoming block party (opportunity event) will be left. 

Event Logistics
Neighbors will be engaged on a weekend day in the afternoons. Volunteers and solar representatives will be matched to the neighborhoods closest to their own homes. Volunteers will not need to be provided much support since canvassing is minimally required to engage homeowners 5 houses up and down from the solar owner’s home. More homes can be canvassed according to the preference of the canvassers, but the point is to create quality interactions to encourage homeowners to join. All canvassers will then gather for one day of canvassing all homes within a 2 mile walking distance of the chosen location for the block party to maximize attendance.

Event Activities
If available, volunteers and canvassers are encouraged to meet before canvassing and after to enjoy one another’s company for lunch or celebration at a local establishment. Such activities is often critical to creating a sense of shared purpose together that is important to preventing burnout, creating a group culture of positive support and continue momentum for final phase. Perhaps a competition can be encouraged between teams of volunteers and canvassers. If nonprofit is related to school program around environmental education, high school/college youth would be ideal canvassers.

3) Opportunity event  

Event Outreach
Based on the collection of survey answers by canvassers, the sponsoring nonprofit and solar company will engage local schools, businesses, community groups and governmental officials to contribute workshops and activities for attendees to participate in. Outreach will also be made to possible sponsors for raffled item donations.

Event Logistics
Location of the event will be based on an ideal safe space for at least 200 RSVPed guests, ideally, the event space will be an open public park or recreation area. These events will heavily require coordination with community parks and recreation departments of city, sparking collaboration even further. Partnerships to successfully conduct this event should be somewhat led by members of the community. The Solar company and nonprofit’s success in identifying a community volunteer organization willing to spearhead this event will be key in creating a successful block party event. As the pilot program continues, templates for organization can become streamlined to be adjusted to the community being engaged (such as new communities, low-income, etc.)

Event Activities
During the entire block party celebration (opportunity event) attendees will be participating in various workshops to earn raffle tickets towards prizes auctioned at the event. Of course, one of the main workshop highlighted activities will be for community members to come together and join discussions on renewable energy and hear the stories of current solar owners. This workshop will be one of the most featured events along with other like workshops such as water conservation and energy efficiency workshop. Environmental based nonprofit missions can help plan other activities that are fun, engaging and informative. Food and refreshments will be provided throughout the event with an emphasis on being a sustainable, environmentally responsible event. The event will have educational activities for all in the family, with a kid, teen and adult track. [UPDATE 2/10] Please review Pilot Program Adoption Case Example attachment below for updates on opportunity event activities.  

Pilot Program Funding 

The coordination of volunteers and funders for this program has been found to be extensive if wanting to maximize the effects. While larger solar companies, such as SolarCity, may have the financial resources to implement such a program, it could take a collection of smaller retail and specialized solar companies to achieve the same type of program. Smaller solar companies, may modify the community event to a smaller, neighborhood gathering solely focused on presenting the benefits of solar energy. Funding from governmental grants to organize events in our communities could also be a resource to fund an event such as this. While the block party is an ideal scenario which would create the most natural and authentic interaction among individuals, the same quality can be generated by a smaller BBQ style gathering for invitees with an experience similar to that of the appreciation event where common stories are shared and a visioning activity is created by the community. Along with funding, the investment in time is often harder to receive, this program will take an extensive amount of investment by the nonprofit in coordinating canvassers and workshop presenters. Given collaboration is the key factor we are looking to generate from this pilot program, we intend to eventually create a template for organizing that can reduce the time needed to research best practices.   

[UPDATE FEB 7]
Applying the progam to a current solar company
**Please review the attached document "Adoption Case Study" for funding and strategy ideas applied to a solar company, SolarCity. 
This program can be initiated by all solar companies who have a high density of customers in a small city. As we consider what Shouvik Banerjee suggested in moving solar sales past "away from niche market retail to the greater vision of a renewable energy movement", we find that solar companies like SolarCity have the opportunity to lead in transforming solar into a movement. Many resources are usually diverted to hiring more sales people, but not seeing the true value of investing in the social infrastructure to cultivate a rich "soil of trust", if you will, within neighborhoods would be a lost opportunity. If the presentations are able to create that positive picture, kept simple and backed by resources, the community trust can build the movement. 


Larger Vision of 5 Houses Up, 5 Houses Down

Essentially, most economic analysts would find solar energy to inevitably becoming the world’s main source of energy by mid-century. Residential solar is often one of the first major points of interaction for our communities to engage with the vision of what a sustainable world will look like. Investing in quality engagement around this critical piece of awareness raising is crucial to creating the capacity within our communities to increase public demand and ultimately create the political will towards the rapid transition necessary to renewable energy. Ultimately, we see residential solar as a vital pivot point in the discussion of our individual role in the greater climate challenge. While the climate challenge need not be explicitly discussed throughout the pilot program to encourage the transition, ultimately a positive interaction around solar technology is an important precedent to community stakeholders of our cities in learning to working together. The sooner we are able to increase and expand the interactions of our social networks, the sooner we are able to collaborate positively in a world with increasing climate challenges. The larger vision of 5 Houses Up, 5 Houses Down, is to create a practice of focusing on small actions to create meaningful impact. Ultimately the ability to building resilient, sustainable communities relies on a foundation of strong interconnected community members (civic, private, public and government) able to recognize its shared responsibility to one another.

Expanding Prototypes

Expanding the pilot program model around retail customers, just as homeowners who went solar can engage their social networks, schools and businesses can leverage this strategy as well to influence their networks. Schools who have converted to solar energy, can partner with nonprofits and solar companies as well to coordinate similar events. In this scenario, the students can learn how solar helps their school reduce costs and redirect funds to improving school programs. Students may be able to identify if their home has also gone solar and help one another help their peers encourage their parents to convert to solar energy. By having students invite parents to an opportunity event where they all learn about the benefits of solar energy for the home, perhaps parents will be more willing to listen to retail store solar representatives. Schools who have gone solar can also be brought together to learn of their collective potential to influence other schools at an opportunity event modified for their situation. Small and large businesses who have gone solar can come together, discuss their success stories of converting to renewable energy and coordinate an opportunity event to reach across industry divides to spread the word of how solar makes business sense. Chambers of commerce can be a great starting point for these events.

Adjusting to diverse, low-income communities

Too often, solar is misunderstood as a luxury inaccessible to low-income communities in the US. With regard to current solar efforts for low-income communities, there is already a lot going on. One notable mention, a non-profit organization called GRID Alternatives installs solar systems completely free for families living under the poverty line. While, the greatest misconception with solar for low-income families is they may not have the financial resources, the lease option provided by solar companies actually provides no cost installation and maintenance for the system and the home simply pays a monthly bill for the electricity generated by the panels priced at a lower rate than what their utility company will likely charge. Another misconception is that low-income families often have low bills. Solar representatives often find that low income families tend to have two or more generations living in one home, saving money instead of buying another home. Thus, their energy usage is higher with more people. As long as there is one person with a fairly good credit rating, usually the only requirement for applying for the solar lease, the family can go solar. Essentially, the greatest barrier to low income neighborhoods is just the same as in middle income ones, the access to knowledge. Creating free events for these neighborhoods to attend and listen to one another share positive stories is the key to spreading awareness and rapidly transitioning these communities!
For low income communities , we recognized the characteristic of diversity among these communities to the strength to consider and leverage. Often low-income is a mix, at least in the LA county area, of ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds. Thus, we had an idea to utilize the 5 houses up, 5 houses down campaign phase to ask neighbors, family, friends, and colleagues of solar owners to simply identify and share more about background, such as their second language, hobbies, faith, ethnic makeup, values, etc. as a way to inform the strategy of marketing or type of event that potential neighbors colleagues and friends will attend. After the engaged pool of invitees are grouped, we would then ask the solar owner, most like in values, interests, etc. of the particular targeted group, to share their story with a group of like potential solar owners. Whether it is second languages, particular hobbies, or faith based, we could help current solar owners create custom opportunity events targeted towards a particular focus of people. Often a message comes across much easier for people when the messenger shares a common understanding, interest or value. The vision of solar energy will thus be best carried through their real life experiences. While this adjustment to the model may take more planning.
During our research we also uncovered the great concern for safety in low-income communities where crime can often be a concern during large gathers. In reflecting on this insight, we considered the prototype of incorporating schools as a collaborative partner with the solar company and nonprofit to be vital to providing a secure space for gathering, as well as a controlled group of invitees. Rather than door knocking, the main type of engagement would be students reaching out to their parents who, in turn, access their close social networks. For communities with fewer financial resources, cutting out time to attend such an event would also become a barrier. Thus, providing webinars as an alternative to meeting in person would be a possible solution to this. Though, these are often less attended, they can provide information in the safety of the home, while still creating some form of social interaction.

Adjusting to new communities

Newer communities with weak social ties can be a huge hinderance to implementing an effective pilot program in a community. However, the pilot program has the opportunity to be introduced as one of the first community building events sponsored by the various local public, private and governmental stakeholders of the community. The event would be marketed simply as a meet your neighbors event with outside solar owners coming to the event, explaining their experience with the program and its success. Thus, this program will not be piloted in a new community until successful results generates the solar owners needed to speak for the program itself since there will be no solar owners in the new community. Nonetheless, newer communities tend to attract young families looking that are often more open to the offerings and idea behind solar technology. Truly, the adoption of the new community in the pilot program will depend on the available resources surrounding the developing of the community. Again, this may also be where virtual communities may play a significant role in that, as we collect data about homeowners and track the location of their friends and family are, we could create an opportunity event where potential solar homeowners in a community who at least know someone (friend, family, colleague) that has gone solar can meet to discuss concepts. In turn, they can become the early adopters in the community and those who encourage. others to convert as well.
 

What community does this idea benefit and who are the main players?

The main players are suburban neighborhoods, solar companies and non-profits working to discover the needs of a community. Through this program, community stakeholders, like local businesses, city councils and schools, can be included overtime as ideas for neighborhood improvements arise from the opportunity events. For example, in my own community, a high concern is crime and a great solution that does not require added financial investment is engaging neighbors in starting a neighborhood watch. This has already happened in certain parts of our city, but is not universally practiced. Ironically, it is a simple invitation to an event and a willing host that sparks solution in communities and engages citizens into the development of a community. Going solar can become associated with a neighborhood that is well-connect and united in their values. Truly, while going solar initially has been a great benefit to individuals families, as the movement builds, it can be seen as an unexpected catalyst for change.

How does your idea specifically help your community rapidly transition to renewables?

Their choice to going solar turns into them becoming invited into a greater movement, getting to know their neighbors, and gaining a new sense of purpose and hope for their community. This choice creates a greater "push" force in our communities to accelerate the adoption of solar energy. We no longer see it as a choice for us to make individually, but an opportunity for us to rediscover our shared challenges, opportunities and values.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

As current solar employees and knowing several solar customers, we can enroll these customers into the idea and engage non-profits about the idea for the program. Finding a small suburban neighborhood with a high density of customers, at least 20 people who have gone solar, to pilot this program is possible. At first, the events will have to be provided by the employees and non-profit, but as long as we provide and track data about the rate of conversion to solar around the homes in the neighborhood, it could possibly start a pilot program that successfully creates the transition of solar systems to a retail product to an entry point towards a movement. This idea was sparked by a conversation among solar sales employees who want to try new ways in engaging the customer base and overcoming our greatest obstacles. This pilot program is meant to diversify the strategies and types of interactions that motivate people to going solar.

California is at the forefront of solar with the recent announcement from Jerry Brown with the states commitment to 50% renewable energy generation by 2030. We envision this program to begin in the suburban areas of Los Angeles County, where cities are small in population and the population is highly diverse.

What skills, input or guidance are you keen to connect with from the OpenIDEO community to help you build out or refine your idea further?

Collaboration from non-profits with presentations they already use to engage people about the positive vision of what renewable energy and solar can mean for our communities. Insight from current solar companies of the financial resources they can convert towards a pilot program or third-party non-profit that can test this idea. Contribution from the OpenIDEO community about how to collect and allocate the data collected by non-profits in the area interested in starting a program such as this and partnering with one, two or several solar companies.

Please indicate which type of energy is most relevant to this post:

  • Solar

This idea emerged from:

  • A Group Brainstorm

38 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Oriol Segarra
Team

Hi Karen and group!

What a neat idea, I don't know if you will still be following the comments of this idea, but I would love to know more about it. I'm working in a solar company and we want to encourage not only 1 customer to go solar but him and all his neighbors. I also think the community power is one of the biggest factors to overcome fossil fuels. Would love to get more insights on how this initiative worked for your group. Regards!

Photo of Karen Marie Bacolod
Team

Hi Oriol! Thanks for following up with the idea and checking in. We have our test event coming up in September. Since the inception of this idea, we've had a lot of learnings in terms of coordinating the right people to organize everyone. We are currently doing small get togethers of at least 3 or 4 neighbors. Our event in September brings together a larger group of people and will be a bigger test run. Community power is the biggest factor to enable the rapid transition towards renewable energy adoption. As soon as our group's idea has been implemented, we will update the OpenIdeo platform for sure and you will be the first I contact! Warm Regards! Karen

Photo of Natalie Lake
Team

Hi Karen,

Wow this would be amazing. I love the idea of having current solar customers become ambassadors for solar in their communities. Are you currently an employee of Solar City. Your colleagues you brainstormed with, do they also work for Solar City? What non profits are you involving in this idea?

What sort of incentives are you looking at providing to the ambassadors aside from the luncheon? Perhaps, they could get a portion of their system paid off (if they chose to purchase their system in increments) or they could have a month of free electricity for each household to sign up (if they chose to let Solar City install and are simply paying Solar City like they pay their utility.)

I think an experience map would illustrate this idea beautifully if you guys are interested in putting one together.

https://d3gxp3iknbs7bs.cloudfront.net/attachments/4d9f8db8-8d5e-4331-ab6c-4d44cc659589.pdf

Cannot wait to see your pilot!

Photo of Jay Goyal
Team

Karen congratulations on this great initiative!
Usually people don’t see too much into the future .They are usually more confined to their immediate surroundings and time until something really moves them to make a change. That is why we see bigger actions when we talk of immediate savings or anything that can happen in a short time.
Showing positive outcomes (from solar energy) and discussing in community can definitely bring a change in the thoughts but I think the bigger change is possible if you could show what if we don’t use this and how it can impact our future generations? You can consider creating and displaying video clippings/picture clippings to the community gatherings showing future if we go the solar energy way or if we go the other way and how the environment (show the difference in the visuals and the sounds) will be different in both the clippings. Then take the participants views and discuss how they can make a difference and how their decisions can make a small change to their future generations.

Photo of Rosa Belerique
Team

Hi Karen,

This is fantastic! This will be especially effective face-to-face, which makes it stand above the rest in my opinion. It will be great to hear more about how you'll bridge the gap surrounding low income neighborhoods who might not have any solar panels (yet!). As a representative on the sustainability committee at Otis College of Art and Design we're constantly looking for ways to reach out to our local community. With sustainability as a near and dear topic to our campus this would be something I welcome to hear more about. I look forward to hearing more.

Photo of Karen Marie Bacolod
Team

Dear Natalie!

Thank you for your enthusiasm for the ideas potential. Yes I am a SolarCity employee. I've been working for the company for a few months now. Before my work with them, I was working for various non-profits in grassroots community organizing around environmental justice issues and supporting policy/legislation for environmental stewardship. Working in both settings towards the same goal, I realize both their strengths and weaknesses:

From being with SolarCity I see the great potential of innovation and business to drive and provide the necessary resources (financing, no cost installations, etc) to provide every household with a renewable energy solution. The challenge is however, getting people past their previous experiences with sales personnel and products in general as well as an array of misconceptions about solar technology. This is a conversation I continually have with fellow employees, that often people are too blinded by past experiences or are just too busy in retail stores from ever truly listening to the opportunity and real benefits to switching to renewable energy. From being with non-profits, the intention and passion is there around community building, but so often they lack the resources to continue the work and volunteers can become burned out. Thus it makes sense for forward thinking companies like SolarCity and non-profits such as Transition Network, to combine their resources to help create environments where people are best able to absorb knowledge, share it with others and and help to break down the mental barriers we put up against one another.

As far as incentives from the solar company that would participate in this type of pilot program, it would really be up to the company and nothing I could ever answer. There are some companies that already provide monetary incentives to customers who refer potential ones. For these events, I can see companies considering to reallocate a few resources to host small gatherings and non-profits to provide the volunteers and activities to engage information. Your idea got me thinking about how customers who really truly want to help with a project such as this, could potentially be our greatest allies. In a sense if they are willing to rather contribute the money they would have earned for a referral, towards continuing a program such as this, I could see the movement snowballing!

Lastly, thank you for suggesting the experience map as it has been very informative of our process!!

Photo of Karen Marie Bacolod
Team

Dear Jay Goyal,

I completely agree that these events should use engaging activities that challenge us to think beyond our own individual situations. Above all else these activities should be informative, fun and simple for people with busy lives!!! As far as showing both sides of our consequences to renewable energy, I am always hesitant to bring in too much focus on the doom aspect. Also at times, I've found engage people with "There are only two roads and your choice counts but only one is right!" is not as effective as allowing them to come up with their own conclusion/solution first. I want to make an emphasis on positive choices however. Perhaps more of the focus will be the current solar owners sharing their stories of how solar has impacted their lives and helping the new potential solar owners imagine a neighborhood, community, city that runs on clean renewable energy! What do you think about this activity?

Photo of Karen Marie Bacolod
Team

Rosa! Thank you for your support in our face-to-face, community approach! With regard to your interest in adjusting the idea to low-income communities, there is already a lot going on. There is an amazing non-profit organization called GRID Alternatives that installs solar systems completely free for families living under the poverty line. The greatest misconception with solar for low-income families is they may not have the financial resources. The lease option with solar companies actually provides no cost installation and maintenance for the system and the home simply pays a monthly bill for the electricity generated by the panels priced at a lower rate than what their utility company will likely charge. Also, another misconception is that low-income families often have low bills. We find that some low income families tend to have two or more generations living in one home, saving money instead of buying another home. Thus, their energy usage is higher with more people. As long as there is one person with a fairly good credit rating, usually the only requirement for applying for the solar lease, the family can go solar. Essentially, the greatest barrier to low income neighborhoods is just the same as in middle income ones, the spread of knowledge. Creating free events for these neighborhoods to attend and listen to one another share positive stories is the key to spreading awareness and rapidly transitioning these communities!

For low income communities , we recognized the factor of diversity as the strongest factor to consider and leverage. Often low-income is a mix, at least in the LA county area, of ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds. Thus, we had an idea to ask current solar owners to identify more about their background as a way to inform the strategy of marketing or type of event that potential neighbors colleagues and friends will attend. We would ask the customer to share their story with a group of like potential solar owners. Whether it is second languages, particular hobbies, or faith based, we could help current customers create events for a particular focus of people. Often a message comes across much easier for people when the messenger shares a common understanding, interest or value. The vision of solar energy will thus be best carried through their real life experiences.

Photo of Victoria Dzindzichashvili
Team

This is a very inspiring idea. I agree that the main obstacle is building trust, and that consumers are generally very wary of salespeople. The events and community-building also raise overall awareness of climate change and energy issues, even for those who may have already gone solar (I'm thinking about your comment below that most people go solar to save money ). These events would not only help to get more people to go solar, but would help raise awareness around the urgency of the issues we face with regard to the environment and create a space for people to further promote the use of renewable energies. Great job!

Photo of Nathan Lucy
Team

Karen, my team has been doing a lot of work on the many ways to motivate people to adopt RE. We've generated several ideas on our own, but we want to know what's really working in the field. If you implement these events, would you consider sharing your experience with me for possible inclusion in our Motivations Interactive Guide?

Here's the idea if you're interested: https://openideo.com/challenge/renewable-energy/ideas/incentives-reference-guide.

Photo of Karen Marie Bacolod
Team

Hi Nathan! I was going to mention your project in my own idea as a possible collaborative partner to further iterate and explore the motivations that drive this change forward. Of course, no matter the final form of the project, I am determined to identify some key metrics that would show the potential impact of this project as this as far as accelerating the capacity of a suburban areas to transition towards sustainable community. Having your Motivations Interactions Guide could help identify key strategies the community to take if it were interested in organizing an alternative means to generate renewable energy. Solar for every rooftop may not be as desirable as a community solar co-op. I'd be interested in also learning about other real field examples your project tracks to research the progress of current practices.

Photo of Nathan Lucy
Team

Congratulations on having your idea selected, Karen! And thanks for your interest in collaborating. My team is still on board, although due to other commitments, we'll be moving more slowly as we develop our idea. The major next step for us is getting user feedback. If you'd like to provide us with some feedback, would you email me at nathan@nathanlucy.com and we can set something up? (probably a Skype call)...

Photo of Joanna Spoth
Team

Hi Karen! In the last few days of Refinement, I want to pose a few thought starters: How might this idea be adjusted for new communities, including low income communities? Do you have any first-hand accounts of what current solar owners think of this idea? What about people in the same community who don't use solar? Those types of conversations could shed a lot of light on this idea!

Photo of Karen Marie Bacolod
Team

Hi Joanna! Thanks so much for your questions! I have many updates ahead of me tonight and tomorrow and will try to summarize the responses we did have with current solar owners. Could you please clarify what you mean about people in the community who don't use solar?

Photo of Joanna Spoth
Team

W-O-W at your updates! Can't wait to take a closer look. It might be too late, but by people who don't use solar I simply meant people who are reliant on fossil fuels for their energy, but live in a community where transitioning to solar would be an option. I was curious about their perspective about an idea like 5 Houses Up 5 Houses Down and if you'd had a chance to speak with them. Maybe your updates will fill me in! :)

Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

Fab to see you've used the DIY Toolkit templates! (devised by folks I've collaborated with in India for Nesta in the UK)

Photo of Darr Reilly
Team

Karen we sat at dinner here in vacation at an eco house in panama on the ocean and talked of your idea- 5 houses up, 5 houses down. All love it. Simplicity!!
Comments were: yes, trust is paramount-with no fiscal benefits going to home owners, some icon on Facebook for homeowners as they bring in the 10 neighbors so friends can cheer them on, liked your potluck idea where all 10 come at once.
Then brainstormed getting word out there. The annual National Solar Tour in our area is big. All owners r anxious to spread the word and open their houses- usually in mid October. Maybe tour goers could each be invited to 5up and 5down bringing them to a friendly owners home - to bring to scale more quickly. Also how can we utilize connections with Solar Decathlon? Bet there's a way to leverage that.
- Considering "Tell me and I'll forget. Show me and I'll rember. Engage me and I'll understand" ...wonder how the potluck could have paper and pens so guests could draw collectors on sketches of their houses or what is some little thing they can do that's beyond show and tell?
- Giving kudos to the community that grows together instead of individuals. I see some challenge where the winning classroom received tickets to the 2014 Solar Decathlon in France last year which of course is expensive and overkill here but certainly in line goals.
Well - sorry no ideas to further the project at this stage of the game.. What u have is great.
I can talk after Sunday if that would be of service.
My best wishes!!!!
Darr
Notes: The ASES National Solar Tour is the largest grassroots solar event in the nation, involving about 150,000 participants and 5,000 solar-energy sites nationwide.

Photo of Karen Marie Bacolod
Team

DARR!!! Thank you so much! These are amazing suggestions on how to get word out about an event like this! I especially love the idea of doing tours of homes and incorporating our connection to the SolarDecathalon! I would love to talk to you on Sunday about the idea of what homewoners would do at the event together as memorable interactions. Just listening to a presentation would be absolutely boring. Also thanks for the suggestion about the ASES, perhaps they would be one of the first non-profits I would approach to collaborate on this idea!

Photo of Darr Reilly
Team

Karen I'm home late late Sunday so how about talking Monday??

Photo of Karen Marie Bacolod
Team

Monday works much better!

Photo of Ken Bodger
Team

Hi Karen,

This is an excellent proposal: Straightforward and businesslike, it leverages the the fact that humans are social animals, motivated by peer and group effects, to increase the attractiveness of going solar.

I look forward to seeing your concept progress!

Photo of Karen Marie Bacolod
Team

Thank you Ken for the comment! As OpenIDEO suggests, design is best when it is human-centered! If you are able, I'd like to send you a research survey that hopes to gain more insight on the effectiveness of the actual experience people would go through. Please let me know if you could contribute!

Photo of Ken Bodger
Team

Hi Karen,

Sure, if you feel my input into the survey will be helpful, send it to me.

Photo of Ernesto Villaseñor
Team

Hi Karen:

So I've read your proposal and the overall angle of approach towards creating awareness of solar/renewable energy. "Five houses up, five houses down," is a great way of getting the local neighborhoods engaged in the larger topic, which is moving the community towards renewable/alternative sources of energy, but I still feel that there are other areas that are left out and should be included in the proposal.

What I am trying to understand and find are the root issues being addressed in this proposal: there's a lot of mention of the neighborhood and the neighbors who participate and make usage of solar/renewable energy as being seen as a customer rather than as an activist/advocate towards moving into green/renewable energy, which can have major setbacks in how the ultimate goal is reached.

Do not get me wrong, social entrepreneurship helps us address and bring major benefits into a community while fulfilling the cause of an entity rather than focusing on generating profits and revenue (the whole focus and fundamental of social entrepreneurship), but I still feel that there are major topics/areas that are left out in the proposal, such as gaining an understanding of how community is defined in these suburban cities (which are?) where the project will be taking place, in addition to gaining a better understanding as to how members of such neighborhoods perceive and understand renewable energies, with solar energy being an example in this project.

Also, the project solely focus on solar power as a method of renewable energy, but there are much more ways of addressing energy usage towards being and behaving in more culturally conscious and sustainable approaches towards energy usage and accessibility (the Sustainability Studies major in me is kicking in right here). What other avenues can and would such conversations/stakeholder engagement proposal(s) create awareness of the larger picture of energy usage, making more energy-efficient usage decisions, etc.?

Lastly, I'm very big on culturally/community competent projects. What avenues will and have been brainstormed/taken into consideration to ensure that the culture and sense of community of said neighborhoods where the project is to be implemented in the ways the project is proposed, developed, and executed so that individuals do really see that they are making a big impact in their community AND feel like they are the ones leading/facilitating this impact?

A culturally competent/sustainable project should be completely inclusive of the community as well as be spearheaded by members of the community and other stakeholders, with facilitation being provided by the entities who are providing the product. Most importantly, local ordinances/public policy will be key in creating a long-term, sustainable infrastructure towards retaining the broader impact it can have on the community, which should also be included in this proposal.

Pretty awesome to say the least!

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Congratulations on making it to the Renewable Energy Challenge Refinement list, Karen! We like that this idea is non-tech and non-digital and has a super explicit community building and human collaboration tie-in. It has an education and awareness element but it’s tied to a very powerful and clear call to action that we think will help communities becoming rapidly renewable.

Looking ahead to the next 12 days of Refinement our team – along with the 11th Hour Project and the advisory panel – has a few questions that may help move your idea forward. We’re eager to learn more about the marketing scheme. How might we inspire current solar owners to get out and spread the word amongst their other time commitments? What might non-monetary incentives look like for them? It would be awesome to do a few interviews of who you envision end users to be to truly try to get at their motivations. We’re excited about this concept evolving and would love to hear your large-scale ideas for how this might go beyond just door knocking and truly create a movement? What is the large scale vision for this idea? How might the approach need to be adjusted for new communities, including low income communities? There’s a lot of potential for collaboration with solar companies here, so we’d also love to hear some first-hand accounts of their reaction to the idea.

We can’t wait to see this idea continue to develop. Check out more tips for Refinement on our blog: http://bit.ly/oi-refine and http://ideo.pn/rr-refinetips

Photo of Karen Marie Bacolod
Team

Thank you for giving this idea the chance to recognize its potential and become one that truly makes an impact in our communities! There has been a lot of feedback over the past week through social media about ideas that could help elevate the idea beyond door knocking. Our greatest work as a team as been research around motivations to encourage current solar customers to help spread the word. Several solar companies already have monetary incentives to encourage homeowners to refer other potential solar homes, but our assumption is that by bringing current customers to an event that inspires their role in the movement, they will have incentive to invite others beyond the monetary incentive some companies already have. Thus, our question became how to simply entice current solar homeowners to want to meet one another or come out to an appreciation event. Currently we are collecting surveys from current customers questioning various marketing slogans they would get in emails and various scripts. After, finding which are more popular, we would have a better iteration of our invitation to the first event soon. There are a lot of updates we have to put in the idea and will do so before the refinement deadline!

Photo of Joanna Spoth
Team

Can't wait for the updates, and I'm loving reading all your responses. We've been eager for more information about your idea! Do you have an image to go along with it?

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Hi Karen, interesting post! Any chance you could find an image to go along with it? Images help grab attention and tell a story with higher impact. You should be able to use the Update Entry button on the right of your post and follow the instructions to add images from there. We know occasionally people have issues uploading images so let us know by hitting the Feedback button at the bottom of most pages of our site if you face any problems. Looking forward to seeing more of your inspiring insights on OpenIDEO.

And here's some tips on adding visual goodness to your idea: http://ideo.pn/vis-uals plus more on evolving your thought-starter: http://ideo.pn/oi-evolve

Photo of David Brown
Team

The second photo: "The 5th Sacred Thing" by Jessica Perlstein is great photo opportunity for this movement:

http://dreamstreamart.com/

Photo of Karen Marie Bacolod
Team

David!! This is definitely an incredible photo that resonates with the intention of the idea to be something that helps everyday people become connected with a positive vision for our world and communities based in solutions. So often when we hear about environmental problems, we do not get a sense of the possibilities with current technology. As Jay Goyal mentioned in the comment below, this image definitely would be the picture or visual we would juxtapose to a visual of a world that did not chose to move to renewable energy. Thanks for the share!

Photo of Matt Renner
Team

here's another one: https://www.flickr.com/photos/freethesun/8553343250/

Photo of Matt Renner
Team

This is a really great idea because it's a) simple - doesn't require multiple meetings or much enrollment and b) as you say perfectly, "5 houses down and 5 houses up is a 'social innovation' that recognizes that no digital technology can ever replace face-to-face interaction."

I would like to pursue this idea with you further - we're working on a solar-based approach in Santa Barbara, CA which could be a good testing ground for your concept. We also have a growing network of community members in our database who may be interested in this kind of interaction.

I think it ties in well with our vision for the Clean Energy Moonshot, which will be bolstered by a community engagement around solar, both for energy creation in a microgrid and by the social and political will it can cultivate. Check out our idea here: https://openideo.com/challenge/renewable-energy/ideas/clean-energy-moonshot-local-microgrids-and-hydrogen-storage-allow-100-renewable-energy

Are you aware of the Cool City Challenge? It also seems like it shares a lot of the same goals but with a focus on all carbon-reduction methodologies: https://openideo.com/challenge/renewable-energy/ideas/cool-city-challenge-block-by-block-organizing-for-carbon-reduction-behavior-change

Photo of Karen Marie Bacolod
Team

Hi Matt!! Thank you for the congratulations and recognizing the idea's strengths. We are looking to carry though all elements of the idea simplicity to make it easy for current solar customers to engage their neighbors. Of course! We would love to share with you the final draft of our iterations on this project and possibly test this idea in the Santa Barbara area! As we read over the ideas of Clean Energy Moonshot, we definitely would love to test this engagement model as a tool to create the social and political will to support the local microgrids and hydrogen storage solution! We are currently engaging with community stakeholders, but have yet received responses from solar companies and their reactions. We will keep you posted for sure!

Photo of Matt Renner
Team

Rad! I would suggest tweeting at Jigar Shah - he's a totally wonderful guy and may respond with some leads for solar company execs to discuss this idea. https://twitter.com/jigarshahdc

Photo of Gosia Blicharska
Team

Just one thought that came immediately to my mind - does it have to be "5 houses up, 5 houses down", I mean physically "neighbourhood"? I mean, today communities are not only the neighbourhoods, like people living in houses nearby. A person can have a strong community not necessarily connected by place, but it can be more virtual - aroung some idea, lifestyle, hobby, whatever. Of course, getting out to your neighbours is a great idea, but could it be also extended to other types of "communities" - people you work with, study with, have common interest? For example, for me personally, it would be very difficult to go out to my neighbours, who are mostly total strangers to me, while it would be much easier to organise some "energy event" at my work place. Of course, I understand the idea that one of the points of the project is to strenghten the neighbourhood, feeling of local community, etc. But the point is also to spread the idea of solar energy and inspire people to do the same - this can be done not only with your neighbours.
At the first meeting, you can ask the solar customers to define what "community" means to them. And maybe have an exercise of finding their "personal" communities that they feel attached to (or would like to be more attached to). Good luck!

Photo of Karen Marie Bacolod
Team

Gosia !! Thank you so much for this really great insight and point about expanding the idea of community further than your physical space!! There is definitely great power in bringing people with like mindset. One of the questions that the OpenIDEO judges has was how do we intend to evolve the idea beyond door knocking and I think this idea greatly expands the concept to a movement! Perhaps we could help solar customers identify their closest communities and help them identify other aspects about themselves (hobbies, faith, second languages) that perhaps could inform and create a theme for an opportunity event that could attract a certain group of people. Thus the marketing scheme could be: solar is for everyone even...people who love to knit, dads who love jesus, spanish speakers who love soccer... etc.

Photo of Addison Hokhmah
Team

Hey Karen, this looks like an amazing initiative! I think something that hit the nail dead on is that the movement towards solar is apart of this movement people are starting to make towards renewable energies; which is yet apart of the greater movement that is occurring as we begin to rethink and imagine the ways in which we shape and relate to our world.

I feel that in regards to the solar movement, it is a daunting prospect for someone to invest in going full solar and completely removing themselves from the grid. An excellent idea might be to have scalable ways for people to be able to implement solar. Perhaps using smaller panel arrays to reduce there energy consumption by increments of say 30%, 50%, and 100%. This would allow someone to work into a relation with solar energy. Slowly working towards going full solar.

Another thing that came to me while reading through was in regards to product transparency. Are solar companies able to provide full transparency of the life cycle analyses of their products? This is a big factor for people who might be conscious of solar energy but hesitant to act without knowing its impact to the environment. How do people know they're not trading a challenge we face now for another challenge we might end up facing later down the road as a result?

It's all about creating relationships and building trust. I think you have an excellent platform here for citizen engagement and participation that may just have a "jump on the band wagon" effect! Way to go!

Photo of Karen Marie Bacolod
Team

Thank you Addison for this great comment! If I am reading the first thought correctly, I do believe that the movement towards solar is part reshaping and renewing our energies with one another, seeing one another as allies in reshaping our world. If you have suggestions on activities that could be incorporated into the three phases of events (appreciation, 5 houses up/down, opportunity) that would help increase this type of work, it would be greatly helpful!

As far as going full solar in increments, I do know that solar companies definitely adjust their designs according to the homeowners preferences. Usually, people are interested in maximizing the design or amount of panels to maximize offsetting their bill. What we found in the group brainstorm is that saving money is the often the reason why most people want to try it. This comment has got me to thinking about the idea that it usually takes us small steps to get to a larger goal. Going solar does seem so intimidating and I am wondering if even there could be even smaller steps that we can incorporate into the project that allows people to eventually be willing to try it.

With regard to product transparency, solar companies are able to provide transparency of life cycles. As I read your comment, I thought about life cycle analysis in the products we consume. How are we making sure all materials we a creating are being recycled or are able to be recycled upon production. There is the chance for better technology, but what would we be doing to make sure the panels of today are not another source of waste for the future! While it is not a direct goal of these events, I did imagine that these events would at least provide everyday people a chance to talk and engage more about environmental solutions in general, further dissipating the knowledge out there. In response to the idea of trading one challenge for another, consider the consequences if the world failed to switch its main energy resource from fossil fuel to renewable synonymous with the scenario of stepping off the street/curb to avoid being hit by a bike, only to get hit by a bus on the road (consequences fossil fuels) haha