NOVO: Diffusion of Innovation for Energy

Posted: April 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

The Diffusion of Innovation theory is one that looks to explore the why and the when that a population adopts some form of innovation. It is essentially looking at understanding the function of how change is created, specifically in the context of social change. Everett Rogers, an expert on this theory, asserts that a significant portion of the probability of successful adoption of an innovation relies on 5 key elements. In this post, I want to briefly discuss these 5 elements and how we can relate them to altering the global energy market. I want to say, that this is a longer post than normal but it needed a little lengthy to cover the necessary information but I think you will find it interesting and worth the few extra words.

Element 1: Relative advantage. This is the perceived notion of how the innovation compares to the status quo, where the perception is determined by the groups of users that the innovation impacts. Obviously, the greater the perception of advantage, the more likely to see adoption. In energy, we can look at this in two broad ways which can be either the individual or the society as a whole. I will speak to the society as a whole for our purposes, as I think it is more appropriate. Because the perception of the relative advantage can be due to a number of variables, there is potential for large variations in this. Subgroups of the society will differ according to what they value the most. For some, costs are the most important where for others it may be the issue of climate change and environmental concerns that are the dominant variable. This is very easy to identify in the micro-aspects of society, and also evident at the national level with the introduction of government policy that encourages cleaner energy sources, even when it is more expensive. However, I contend (and I would not think it is a radical thought) that cost of these cleaner energies has played a significant role as a barrier to larger scale incorporation. The trade-off between cost and environment (i.e “guns or butter” idea) is strongly related, and we see that as governments have more concern for climate they are willing to spend more on clean energy, where the opposite situation also exists.

Element 2: Compatibility with existing values and practices. This is the idea that the innovation needs to be consistent with the existing values and needs associated with the society. I don’t need to touch on this much, as I think that for our purposes the existing values and needs of energy are easily identifiable. I think that renewable energy does have some problems here in that the acceptance of some of these sources as efficient supplies is not absolute across society.

Element 3: Simplicity and ease of use. How easy is it to transition to the innovation? It is difficult for energy. From development of economies to scale to the development of the necessary infrastructure, renewable energy has a long way to go before absolute adoption. Even in terms of policy, how easy is it for investment of renewable energy projects and how easy it is to get the incentives? Especially for energy, I think this is a very important barrier that we have to meet in order to provide the adoption at a large scale. Between this and the costs, I think this may be the more significant because even those that value climate more than costs, can be barred from utilizing RE when the ease of use is absent.

Element 4: Trialability. How permanent is this or can we just experiment? Again this can be difficult due to the nature of long term projects, which would mean long term experiments. If we change our energy infrastructure, only to find out that RE is not an effective large scale source, then there will be a problem. Finding ways to alleviate this concern is important so that there can be a kind of contingency plan for the potential that it does not provide the required level of reliance. I think this is where the intermittency problem sits.

Element 5: Observable results. How easy is it to see the impacts? For governments, it can be difficult because economic payoffs may not be seen for years, and that is a difficult political issue. For the climate, we can see emissions reduce, but how quickly can we see the improvements in climate change and dangers of pollution?

In another post I will address how to reach the different types of people within this theory and how energy can be applied to the various groups. I ask that you think about these elements and comment your ideas for how we can address them as I believe this can be a significant way to find solutions.

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