California low-income households were more likely to participate in a state-subsidized rooftop solar energy program if they received direct referrals from family or friends, a new study has found.

While policies like the federal Inflation Reduction Act include measures to provide clean energy to low-income households at minimal or no cost, the dissemination of these services has thus far faced numerous challenges, according to the authors, who published their findings in Nature Energy on Thursday.

Customers eligible for these services may lack information about the relevant technology, be distrustful of program providers or simply not have the bandwidth to inquire about the application process, the authors explained.

Aiming to identify ways to make participation more appealing, the researchers collected data from homeowners who received fully subsidized solar through California’s GRID Alternatives, which administers the state’s Single-family Solar Homes program.

Although the program had already established that referrals were an important tool for finding new participants, the researchers said they wanted to pinpoint cost-effective and scalable strategies to optimize this process.

“Growing evidence points to the power of social networks to encourage adoption of new energy technologies,” lead author Kim Wolske, a research associate professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, said in a statement.

“For subsidized low-income programs, existing program participants may be especially important,” Wolske continued. “They know what it takes to qualify and can more readily identify eligible friends and family.”

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