It’s indisputable that solar energy is positioned for unprecedented growth in the years ahead, but does repeated emphasis on that promising future actually hold the industry back?
That question buzzed through my mind last week as I listened to NPR correspondent Tom Gjelten conclude a segment on natural gas by emphasizing that “renewable energy sources are still in the future.” What we really need, he contended, is a transition fuel.
Renewable energy sources are still in the future?
Solar energy is already a multi-billion dollar global industry that’s been growing at a clip of about 30% to 40% per year — some years even faster — for nearly a decade. According to a recent study conducted by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) and Management Information Services Inc. (MISI), renewable energy and energy efficiency represent more than $1 trillion in annual revenue in the U.S. alone. That’s not the future, that’s in the here and now.
I reflected on the implications of Mr. Gjelten’s statement. It’s not what this one correspondent said that’s so concerning. It’s that he’s one of thousands of others who unwittingly assert the same damaging message to potential customers — that solar energy (or renewable energy) is primarily about tomorrow, not today.
What is the economic cost when so many influencers make such an assertion? If potential customers erroneously think that renewable energy is not yet ready for prime time, then why would they seriously consider purchasing such technology?
History shows that when people hear something over and over they tend not only to believe it, but to repeat it. I can’t count the number of times friends or neighbors have said, “Oh, you work in solar? That’s wonderful,” adding “Someday in the future it’s going to be big!”
Solar energy has a “future” problem. If people view solar through the lens of tomorrow, they’re less likely to consider using it today. And no matter how large the industry has already grown, these misperceptions serve as a drag on the industry in terms of sales, scale and profits.
Continued emphasis on the future potential of solar is robbing the industry of the power of now.
What’s the solution?
First, avoid using the “F-word” — future — to describe the potential of solar energy and other renewables. These technologies are deployed and enjoyed by millions across the globe — lowering long-term energy costs, reducing carbon emissions and generating green jobs.
Second, encourage friends to participate in this weekend’s ASES National Solar Tour, where they can see for themselves how solar energy, energy efficiency and other sustainable technologies are being successfully used today. This is the world’s largest grassroots solar event, with more than 150,000 people in some 3,000 communities across the U.S. slated to attend. Hundreds of tours are taking place this Saturday. If you haven’t yet been, you need to attend.
Now in its 14th year, the National Solar Tour includes hundreds of open-house tours of solar-powered, energy efficient homes (and businesses) — even wind-powered, geothermal and micro-hydro-powered homes — across the U.S. The tour presents a real “Aha!” moment for many in attendance, particularly those who have never been in a solar or green home. When people speak with neighbors benefiting from these technologies and see how satisfied they are with them, they’re sold on solar and its power of now.
Neighbor-to-neighbor conversations about renewable energy are powerful. And they reinforce how this technology has reached Main Street — middle-class families, duplexes, townhomes, small businesses, schools, county buildings and countless others. The National Solar Tour is growing at a remarkable pace, nearly doubling in size in just the last few years. This year’s tour features 30% more locations than last. Learn more at: www.NationalSolarTour.org.
Finally, if you hear a presenter or reporter or friend imply that renewable energy is the wave of the future, help set the record straight. Politely remind them that the future is now. Solar energy has gone mainstream. Renewable energy is an economic powerhouse.
The formula for increasing the use of these technologies isn’t a secret. It starts with millions of little conversations with neighbors, friends, families and colleagues — that costs are down and incentives are up. Renewables like solar are no longer the technologies of the future — they’re the futuristic technologies of today.
Neal Lurie is the Director of Marketing & Communications for the nonprofit American Solar Energy Society, the nation’s leading association of solar professionals and grassroots advocates. The ASES National Solar Tour takes place on Saturday, October 3 in 49 states across the U.S.