By Yann Brandt
[Last] week on Sept. 12, the solar industry was addressed by President Bill Clinton at SPI 2012. President Clinton is labeled the explainer in chief for a reason, and the 10,000 solar professionals in the room saw why. In a limited, trade-press only event that was not a campaign stump, the former President explained to the solar pros that they do not explain the benefits of the solar economy well enough.
The speech was filled with examples of great results and benefits that are brought about by the solar economy; such as the jobs that have been created. After each example, President Clinton said “But, they don’t know that.” His message was that the solar industry does not adequately educate the population about the solar industry, and he is right in that assessment.
The day after SPI, I finished my morning routine at the office, and I decided to search for two terms on Twitter: “solar” and “Solyndra.” The results were staggering, in a very negative way. Today’s public opinion pulse can be found on Twitter at any given moment and what I found was a negative message campaign using half-truths and outright lies regarding our industry. Feeling courageous and motivated by the recent speech by President Clinton, I decided to respond to a few tweets. What happened next was staggering; I was bombarded by anti-solar rhetoric for the following few days.
It would have been easy to turn the other cheek and let other people lie but what followed was great. I responded with factual data, much of the data that President Clinton used to make his points. The solar economy includes 100,000 jobs, 5,600 businesses, and a positive economic effect from the investment tax credit. Within two days, I was blocked by many of the original solar antagonists. In my mind,the solar industry had won a small battle in our war to spread knowledge about the solar economy.
We must engage individually and as a group to educate the population. People do not know what we do not tell them, this will be our “Now you know” campaign about the solar economy. It will go something like this,
- The solar economy includes 100,000 jobs and 5,600 business, many of them small.
- The solar economy generated over 100% year over year growth in installed capacity last quarter.
As an industry, we have our failures and hurdles, but our successes have been great. Let’s work together to jumpstart the “Now you know” campaign and stop the solar industry from losing the messaging war.
You may be wondering what you can do as an individual to help. I say that each of one of us needs to be a part of it or it will be difficult to accomplish the goal. We may be short of money, but we are rich in values and successes. Let us use our strengths to our advantage. Write an op-ed or letter to the editor about an article that may have been misleading or untruthful about the solar industry. If you are on Twitter, keep a tab open with the search term ‘solar’ and respond to one or two tweets that are misinformed.
As a tool to help you keep up to speed, I have created SolarWakeup.com: a daily rundown of the top stories in the solar industry. Each morning I comb through the papers nationally and find the stories (positive and negative) that impact the solar industry from a strategic standpoint. These are articles I have searched for during the past five years as a solar executive.
Many articles each day do not paint a pretty picture of our business. We can and must respond in mass. There are 100,000 of us that make a living in the solar industry. Imagine if each of us writes on op-ed, gets on the radio or uses other media once a year to educate the public about the solar economy, then we will have achieved the goal of the campaign: “Now you know.”
Brandt is the president and chief executive officer of Braya Solar, a consulting and project management firm which continues to lower the project costs while representing the PV system owner. Ensuring the needs for risk, bankability, longevity, schedule and budget of the project are met, Braya’s leadership delivers customized project solutions to developers and investors. He blogs at yannbrandt.wordpress.com and is on Twitter @yannbrandt.
For Editorial Director Frank Andorka’s take on Clinton’s speech, click on his recap, “Solar Power International Day Two: The Big Dog Still Has It.”