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Program Adoption Curves – Telephones and Televisions

By May 9, 2016Energy Rant

There are certain energy efficiency programs that we are never going to pursue – all those that are in the late majority and laggard stages. Those ships left the pier 10-15 years ago, and we are not going to attempt to catch them. In two words, they are widget programs, up, down, mid, over, under-stream programs of all stripes, including direct install.


The previous chart[1] shows theoretical adoption and market share curves. Of course, in reality, adoption isn’t nearly as pretty, as shown in the next chart, which is fascinating. You will want to get your own version of that here, originally published in The Wall Street Journal Classroom Edition. I’ll call it the WSJ chart.

Judging from the bubbles in the WSJ chart, other than Jeff Ihnen being plopped out into the cold cruel world, not a damn thing happened in 1966. It does appear, however, that I may share a birthday with FM radio. The phrase older than rocks comes to mind. A better spin might be that I’m 20 years younger than the mobile phone.


The chart was produced in 1999, but you can Google adoption curves to get much more recent stuff. This one is particularly interesting because it features such a massive amount of historic technology adoption going back to 1920.

Technology Adoption

Struggling Telephone

Interestingly, I think I can compare non-widget programs to certain technologies on this WSJ chart. For instance, the long blue line shown from beginning to end represents the telephone, which came online just before 1900. The first year in the WSJ chart is 1920.  Adoption of the telephone sputtered and struggled for almost thirty years, with the Great Depression really giving it a beating in the middle.

Smooth Television

Some technologies are reborn in a drastically improved or more useful form. Examples include the telephone, which went mobile; then digital; then smart phone. A better example might be the color TV whose curve follows the original black and white by roughly 15-20 years.

Program Adoption

Struggling Retro-Commissioning

Although I have no data to demonstrate it, and I doubt it exists, retro-commissioning programs seem to be struggling as the telephone adoption did back in its day. One reason retro-commissioning struggles is because it is hard. If it weren’t difficult it wouldn’t be any fun. The following two graphics illustrate the difficulty for selling retro-commissioning versus selling light bulbs to the average customer.




Light Bulb

programReference the following table for differences between retro-commissioning and widget Exhibit A, the light bulb.

programThe saving grace for retro-commissioning is that the widgets will eventually saturate buildings, many of which will still bleed waste like nobody’s business. Then what? Retro-commissioning.

Furthermore, as shown in the last row of the table above, the savings potential for retro-commissioning is much greater, making it like the elusive delicious Wisconsin morel mushroom (in season now) versus the crumby, tasteless white button mushroom from the store.

The final point regarding retro-commissioning is that like the telephone, at least at the time, people could live without it for many years before it became affordable across the board and eventually, almost a necessity of life. Retro-commissioning, like a handful of other programs such as strategic energy management and smart thermostat/internet of things (intelligent efficiency), will become a vital necessity in the future.

Smooth New Construction

Since they began in the 1990s, new construction programs have had one barrier, sometimes: the economy. Who wouldn’t want to sign up for free benefit/cost analysis and free money to assist with the construction of new buildings?

I’m no longer intimately familiar with modern Shakespearian energy codes, but when I was, the source of the code, ASHRAE 90.1 back in the 2004 edition, wiped out a bunch of easy (in theory) and substantial control requirement upgrades. At the present, states in the code lead are two editions downstream, using the 2010 edition. According to our people and utility clients, the next edition is going to make new construction programs futile under the current model. I call it the 1/x (one over x) paradox. See The Future of Energy Efficiency and Big Blue.

Like the monochrome television transition to color, new construction programs can, and therefore will, transition to a new model; that is proprietary information at this point. For a glimpse see Energy Code Compliance – Any Relation to Performance?

[1] Chart credit: By Rogers Everett – Based on Rogers, E. (1962) Diffusion of innovations. Free Press, London, NY, USA., Public Domain,

[2] At college our instructors would allow one page of notes for final exams. It was a great exercise. After cramming it on these sheets it was burned in. (I can’t believe how neatly I could write – really, stunned)

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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