Connecticut, that salty and no-nonsense New England rectangle with an exceptionally well-heeled panhandle, recently ranked as the third healthiest state in the nation for residential solar behind its neighbors to the west and north, New York and Massachusetts.

As it turns out, the predominate force behind the spread of solar in the Constitution State, bolstered by generous rebates, high electricity costs and renewables-embracing legislation, doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with those fine regional traits of self-sufficiency, pragmatism and moral uprightness. (Connecticut is the Land of Steady Habits, after all). Rather, photovoltaic panels are popping up on rooftops across Connecticut due to the fact that neighbors are simply attempting to mimic — or outdo — their neighbors.

Fascinating, sure, but the fact that neighborly influence/competition is the top driver behind residential solar installations in Connecticut may not come as a surprise to many. After all, we’re dealing with an old and diminutively sized a state where the top tired-but-true stereotype is that Nutmeggers are all up in each other’s business. In the former stomping grounds of Martha Stewart and Ira “Stepford Wives” Levin, the act of keeping up the Joneses isn’t just common — it’s du rigueur.

A recent study conducted published in the Journal of Economic Geography, two researchers from Yale University and the University of Connecticut used data culled from the state’s Clean Energy and Investment Authority to further examine the approach that Connecticut homeowners have taken toward solar. “People have called it green envy before, where you want to be green so that you can show off your greenness effectively,” explains study co-author Kenneth Gillingham of Yale to the Washington Post. “You want to conserve, and be environmental, but you want to do it in a conspicuous way,"

In their study, Gillingham and co-author Marcello Graziano geocoded the locations of 3,843 residential solar arrays installed in Connecticut between 2005 and September 2013, tying each to a U.S. Census Bureau-designated “block group” — that is, a statistical tract or cluster of blocks generally containing anywhere from 300 to 6,000 people. The overwhelming trend that Gillingham and Graziano noticed was this: When one solar array went up in a single home in a block group, several more would quickly follow in a somewhat contagious manner with each “clustering of adoptions” spreading in a “wave-like centrifugal pattern.”

Explains the Post:

The installation of one additional solar photovoltaic rooftop project within the past six months in a given area increased the average number of installations within a half mile radius by .44, or almost one half. As the spatial area widened, meanwhile, the influence of peer solar installations steadily decreased, a finding quite consistent with a theory of peer influence. Within a mile radius, the installation of one solar panel in the prior 6 months increased installations by .39, and within a 1 to 4 mile radius, by .12.

Interestingly, the trend — what Gillingham and Graziano refer to a “a spatial neighbor effect conveyed through social interaction and visibility” — was not exclusive to Connecticut’s more liberal and wealthy communities clustered in and around the aforementioned panhandle in the southwest section of the state that's home to some of the most affluent zip codes in the country. Urban density doesn’t have much to do with it, either.

“I was expecting it to all be the wealthy communities," Gillingham tells the Post. "Pretty much, solar is going to be in the wealthiest places in Connecticut. But the pattern wasn’t that way at all."

The town with the highest concentration of solar array-filled block groups is Durham, a tiny outpost of about 8,000 residents located in the central part of the state at asignificant remove from Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan, Westport and other storied, solar-friendly communities along Connecticut’s Gold Coast where liberal leanings and sky-high incomes enter the decision-making mix.

As the Post elaborates, Durham is solidly middle-income and also not exactly uber-liberal — in the 2012 election, votes in Durham slightly favored Mitt Romney. Sure, the growth of solar in wealthier Connecticut communities may very well play into the hoary “rich neighbor trying to outdo rich neighbor” stereotype that has come to define the entirety of the state. However, in less moneyed towns sporting a wealth of PV panel-topped homes such as Durham, it all comes down to well-placed yard signs advertising a just-installed solar array and curious homeowners having friendly chats with their neighbors across the way.

Via [Washington Post], [Vox]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

For Connecticut homeowners, going solar is just another way to keep up with the Joneses
A study finds that the biggest factor driving the state's residential solar growth is peer influence — neighbors wanting to be like their neighbors.