In his classic book, Diffusion of Innovation, Everett Rogers defined the Innovation Adoption Cycle. When a new product or service is introduced, it is first purchased by a small segment of the population he called Innovators. This is followed by Early Adopters, then Early Majority, Late Majority and, finally, Laggards. When a product hits the Early Majority Stage it starts to enter the mainstream market and reach a broader audience.
When a product crosses into the mainstream, it can result in major upheaval and change. How the product is produced, marketed and sold changes quite quickly and with dramatic results. Examples abound: the dramatic shift to buying e-books made Amazon a power player in the publishing industry and put Borders out of business. Interest in organic foods made Whole Foods a major player in the supermarket industry. The bottled water industry is a classic example of small regional brands being bought or overrun by the likes of Nestle, PepsiCo and Coca Cola. For many in the solar world it is clear that we have crossed this tipping point from a niche product to a mainstream commodity.
A SunPower report called Innovative Solar Strategies states, “the solar power industry has significantly matured. The days of one-off projects driven by Innovators and Early Adopters are past…Now that solar has “crossed the chasm” and moved into the mainstream, the Early Majority is building upon experiences of the earlier phases.”
A Solar Nation article, Is Solar Mainstream Yet? sees the same trend, noting that “history tends to repeat itself…almost all innovative technologies have started small…but eventually managed to disrupt the market and gained great success. Global trends seem to indicate that solar energy, a small player among energy sources for several decades, will now have its time to shine (pun intended).”
This growth speaks for itself. According to SEIA, solar has experienced an annual growth rate of nearly 60% over the last decade. In 2016 alone, “the U.S. installed 1,665 megawatts (MW) of solar PV in Q1 2016 to reach 29.3 gigawatts (GW) of total installed capacity, enough to power 5.7 million American homes. With more than 1 million individual solar installations nationwide, the industry is on pace to nearly double in size in 2016. The residential solar market remained strong, with a fourth consecutive quarter with more than 500 MW of capacity brought online.” Not only is the industry seeing record numbers in terms of installations, iconic businesses across the world (including Apple, Amazon, and Ikea) are choosing solar to power their operations.
For those in the solar industry the question is no longer whether solar has gone mainstream. Rather, the focus should be on what it means for you, as a dealer. Whether you are a supplier, retailer, installer or manufacturer, the growth and maturity of the solar market will have a huge impact on your business. This growth offers great opportunity as more and more homeowners and businesses embrace the idea of installing solar. At the same time, it’s important to remember that it also presents great challenges as you learn to navigate an industry with far more competitors and greater choice for the consumer.