Peer pressure plays an important role in spreading new trends and habits. But what impact does social influence have in the diffusion of disruptive innovations that challenge prevailing transport technologies and mobility practices? Funded by the ERC, a team led by Dr Charlie Wilson is looking into this matter.
Innovations are defined as disruptive when they create a new market, a new set of demands and preferences. Car clubs, mobility-as-a-service, ride-sharing, shared autonomous vehicles, electric vehicle-to-grid, and electric bikes are all examples of potentially disruptive innovations on the fringes of mainstream markets, but which could help transition towards a lower-carbon society. In the absence of strong policy incentives, social communication from users to non-users is an important means by which these innovations spread. In order to strongly reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and, eventually, contribute to mitigating climate change, these innovations must diffuse from small market niches into mainstream markets.
Dr Wilson is interested in how and why disruptive low-carbon innovations are adopted and how they spread. Information exchanged on social networks, interpersonal communication or interactions in local neighbourhoods influence people’s behaviour. Does this apply to disruptive innovations with significant emission reduction potentials? Can these diffusion processes be harnessed to accelerate change?
Using rigorous scientific methods applied to a wide range of data collected in multiple countries, Dr Wilson addresses this critical knowledge gap, opening up a new scientific field on disruptive low-carbon innovation. Results could have strong implications for energy, environment, and climate change policy, supporting the development of models, strategies and actions to accelerate low-carbon transitions. The SILCI project could give new insights to meet the climate mitigation targets agreed by the EU.
Dr Charlie Wilson is a Reader in Energy and Climate Change at the University of East Anglia, and a co-leader of the Accelerating Social Transitions research theme of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the UK. He is also a visiting research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria. His research interests include energy innovation and its role in long-term decarbonisation.