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Marketing and Comms
Getting Consumers to See the Light on Solar

A lot of concerns that remain barriers to more widespread adoption of residential solar can be addressed with relative ease through tailored messaging.

It seems like it’s become bigger than ever. You drive around a neighborhood and more homes than ever are topped with solar panels; and with today’s government incentives and shrinking prices, things seem to only be getting better for the solar industry.

While there’s no doubt the boom is happening, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the percentage of US homes with solar energy is still only hovering at around 5 percent — almost 11 times the amount seen a decade ago, but still a far cry from dominating the energy market.

Although the horizon looks good, many challenges remain.

Money

Today, solar energy is more affordable than ever before. Only 10 years ago, those with rooftop solar panels were on the more affluent side of the socioeconomic spectrum. This is no longer the case; but price is still a barrier to the adoption of solar energy for the average US homeowner.

The average price for a residential rooftop solar system is around $20, 650, much lower than $50,000 a decade ago; plus, there’s the benefit of long-term savings. However, as short-term thinking is a common psychological flaw in just about every human being on earth, the upfront cost is still cause for hesitation for many average consumers.

Here are a few more things to consider for solar energy companies trying to convey the right message to the public about the benefits of this growing industry that provides so many benefits on so many levels.

Political divisions/regional attitudes

Unfortunately, as with nearly every issue of modern-day life, political leanings weigh heavy on how certain groups of individuals perceive everything from the food you eat to the type of car you drive and, of course, the way you decide to power your home.

California continues to lead the nation in the adoption if solar energy; and overall, 8.9 percent of homes in the Western US have rooftop solar panels on display, followed by 4.7 percent in the Northeast — which tends to lean Democrat; and only 1.7 percent in the South and 1.4 percent in the Midwest, both of which tend to lean more conservative.

Environmentalist concerns

In 2019, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore’s “Planet of the Humans” highlighted, albeit inaccurately, some of the environmental issues wrought by the renewable energy industry.

Some of the issues highlighted in the film are true — solar is not 100 percent “eco-friendly,” nor can it be marketed as zero emissions. Solar panels require raw materials such as minerals, metals and glass — which are energy intensive to mine and produce — as well as hazardous chemicals. And increasingly opaque global supply chains have raised human-rights concerns in the industry. But perhaps the biggest concern for environmentalists is land use, which affects soils and natural habitats.

Solutions and messaging

The good news is a lot of these concerns can be addressed with relative ease through tailored messaging when communicating with potential consumers of residential solar energy.

Let’s start with people’s financial concerns: The price of solar has declined by a whopping 54 percent in the last 10 years; and the US government has enacted additional incentives for low-income and disadvantaged communities, which guarantees at least 20 percent total electricity bill savings for eligible households, funded by the Inflation Reduction Act.

Studies have shown that people tend to be complacent when it comes to threats perceived as distant and relatively abstract — such as climate change. That’s part of the reason the solar industry may want to focus more on the financial savings rather than the environmental benefits, especially among demographics that tend to lean more conservative. Most consumers are interested in taking action to safeguard their financial security.

With regard to the environmental impacts of solar panels, many cities and solar companies are addressing the land-use conundrum by covering some of the nation’s 2 billion parking lots with solar panels, which would provide shade and sustainable energy to nearby areas while sparing natural habitats.

And it’s important for the public to understand the inherent environmental benefits of solar energy over that generated by burning fossil fuels. Through the first half of 2023, the current, cumulative, installed solar-energy capacity has already offset over 169 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association.

The good news

The good news is, it appears to be getting easier to convince the public that solar is the best solution for numerous reasons, regardless of politics and other previously perceived barriers.

Texas, a highly conservative part of the country, is catapulting itself into the solar-energy revolution: The Lone Star State is expected to install more utility-scale solar capacity in 2023 than any other of the forty-nine states, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

On a global scale, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that 90 percent of the world's energy may come from renewable sources by 2050. Worldwide, the solar industry is expected to grow from $94.6 billion in 2022 to over $300 billion by 2032. That’s a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.3 percent.

But this doesn’t mean the sector should be complacent. Getting the right message out is imperative if we want to live on a planet where clean energy is the norm.

“There is no replacement for good storytelling for people at all levels to connect with all the positive impacts that renewable energy and climate action can have in the world, but also for their daily lives,” said Roger Molins, Corporate Sustainability and Nationally Determined Contributions Consultant at IRENA. “From there, it’s easier to underpin the financial benefits (such as cost savings or returns on investment), improved health conditions (air quality), equity (for local communities and particularly low-income ones) and energy security (versus depending on scarce or volatile resources). A case can also be made in terms of the economy and a boost in green jobs.”

Considering all of the above, solar energy should be quite an easy sell for the world’s citizens — but as with any issue related to sustainability, which remains polarizing, we must be sure to understand each demographic and what is most important to them.

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