Research Summary

Promoting residential renewable energy via peer-to-peer learning

Using Social Learning to Encourage Renewable Energy Use in Homes

Applied Environmental Education & Communication
2017

Many homeowners are interested in using more renewable energy within their houses, but are unsure how to incorporate or use those systems. An educational option for homeowners is eco-home open days, or Open Homes. In Open Homes, homeowners who have made energy refurbishments open their houses to people who are interested in adding green energy systems to their residences.

This study takes place in Finland, using a variation on the Open Homes idea as part of a climate initiative for local governments. The researchers asked two questions about Open Homes events: First, during such events, 12 what kinds of learning happens at individual, network, and institutional levels? Second, do Open Homes events have the potential to be self-sustaining?

The framework of Open Homes draws from social learning theory, which suggests that people learn complicated social behaviors by attending to and imitating others. Learning from one’s peers offers an alternative, and perhaps more effective, way to teach about sustainability and energy conservation than top-down, expert-based approaches.

The Open Homes visits took place in three municipalities in Finland. Each visit was 3 hours, moving between three to four homes with renewable energy heating systems. The researchers identified three levels for analysis: the individual, the network, and the institutional. To gather data at the individual and network levels, the researchers noted what homeowners said and did during the visits, invited some of the homeowners to complete a short survey, and asked if the homeowners would be willing to complete a follow-up interview. Of the 54 people who responded to the survey, the researchers interviewed 10 homeowners 1 to 2 years later. To analyze the institutional level, the researchers interviewed and emailed local government officials.

On the individual level, the researchers found three main kinds of learning: participants and their peers learned about renewable energy systems through (1) directly interacting with the systems themselves, (2) seeing the types of people who use the systems, and (3) gaining hands-on information about the systems. Only 2 of the 10 participants interviewed proceeded to invest in similar energy systems, and a few others went on to make minor changes inspired by the tours. However, almost all of participants said they were more energy conscious after attending the Open Homes.

On the network level, Open Homes prompted conversations about renewable energy during and after the tours, helping create new advocates and inspire existing ones. On the institutional level, Open Homes successfully continued in one location, Mynämäki, but not in the two others.

The Bottom Line

Open Homes, which is a demonstration educational program that offers hands-on tours of real houses using energy-efficient systems and face-to-face interactions with peers, offers an effective way for communities to encourage the use of renewable-energy systems. Within the Open Homes context, seeing regular people using such systems reveals that such systems are solutions that participants can use, too. Peer-to-peer learning can extend beyond the program as well: Open Homes participants talk with people who did not attend the program, telling them about both the homes as well as renewable energy solutions.