Solar

Solar Fluff: Investigating “PV and ME”

Since its inception, the PV and ME blog — with its mandate to explore “The Soul of Solar” — has been vilified by some of the most respected solar professionals for its lack of useful content. The critics have been scathing, condemning it as “juvenile gibberish of gobbledygook” and “a meaningless megawatt of immature mumbo jumbo.”

In a June email to WASTE, the Worldwide Association of Solar Trade Experts, solar authority and writer Ernest Lee Stern attacked the blog as “PV poppycock,” damning PV and ME‘s founder, William P. Hirshman, as a “lightweight solar journalist” whose articles have “all the clout of a greeting card.”

Prior to his PV and ME blog, Hirshman worked for nearly 15 years as an associate editor at the once-highly regarded solar and mattress magazine FUTON International. After FUTON stopped giving him his monthly mattress, Hirshman resigned. While months of hardcore freelancing on the business of the technology followed, he slowly came to the conclusion that the solar industry needed more than just the cold, hard facts. And thus, PV and ME was born.

But soon after the first posts were published in PV and ME, solarites from all parts of the industry began venting their outrage at its perceived superficiality. One detractor dubbed PV and ME “The Blog of Blarney.”

As the reactions grew ever more vociferous, the independent blogging watchdog Google Lords Over the Blogosphere, or GLOB, started an investigation into whether the bi-monthly journal should be banned from the web. Part of that inquest centered around interviews GLOB conducted over 11 days in mid-July with members of the solar community.

Some of the excerpts from GLOB’s interviews:

☼ Mr. Paulie Selliken, CEO of Sunnytech Sun Shining Super Solar Inc. ($SSSS)

GLOB: Mr. Selliken, $SSSS Inc. encompasses the solar value chain from ingots to modules. As a mogul in the business, what do you think of PV and ME?

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“Riveting”: A solar fairy tale

Selliken: Hirshman wouldn’t know a silicon crystal from a sugar crystal. And his so-called humor? His attempt at jokes is simply embarrassing. (“Once upon a Grime: A Solar Fairy Tale” – PV and ME Question #4: What’s so funny about solar?). Why should I care about humor in solar! PV is a serious business, and a business has no room for funny stuff!

GLOB: So there is nothing humorous about solar?

Selliken: Of course not! It’s all about cold, hard facts! [He pauses, then whispers]. And of course earning me lots of money.

Mr. Noah X. Pirt, head solar market researcher at Rippauff Consultancy

GLOB: Mr. Pirt, Hirshman has referred to some solar consultants as “solar insultants.” What do you think of PV and ME?

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Intersolar Europe: Another solar fair

Pirt: Hirshman is the insultant. I care a lot about researching supermarkets and advising my solar clients how they can save money there by using coupons. This guy has the audacity to imply that those of us in the solar business are damaging the very atmosphere we say we want to protect (“A solar booking on Double Standard Airlines”PV and ME Question #8: Do we really need so many solar trade fairs?). I care about the Earth as much as the next insultant, I mean consultant. It bothers my conscience every time I have to get into my big SUV and drive to my private jet to fly to another solar trade fair!

GLOB: So there is nothing insulting about solar consulting?

Pirt: Of course not! I believe in giving my clients the cold, hard facts, whether they are true or not! [He pauses, then whispers]. And of course taking lots of their money.

Mr. PR Barnum, communications manager at Ringling Solar

GLOB: Mr. Barnum, as the ringmaster of spin at one of the biggest solar distributors and installers in the world, your company has sold millions of dollars of modules and installed thousands of systems. What do you think of PV and ME?

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Hirshman: PV clown with a solar crown?

Barnum: Listen, I know clowns and believe me, Hirshman is the biggest clown around. He is making a three-ring circus out of solar. If we let this travesty called PV and ME continue, Hirshman is going to ruin the good and profitable scam, I mean name, of solar. Why do we need to stir up the dirt when there’s a potential sucker, I mean customer, born every day? (“[Somewhat Less than] Fifty Shades of Solar”PV and ME Question #2: Are solar people clean and green or dirty hypocrites?). I want my press releases on installation deals to be “Breaking News”, not “Braking News”!

GLOB: So there is honesty when selling customers PV systems?

Barnum: Of course there is! I believe in cold, hard facts! And hiding the bad facts with good PR. [He pauses, then whispers]. And of course earning lots of money.

Mr. Philippic Worlder, German publisher of solar magazines

GLOB: Mr. Worlder, your very big body of work has had a heavy influence in the solar sector by throwing your massive weight behind the coverage of PV. What do you think of PV and ME?

Worlder: Pound für pound, zer ist kein meat, kein goody schtuff. He want to schkare people (Don’t Worry. Be [you know, like, well, sort of kind of] Happy”PV and ME Question #1: What scares you about the future of solar?). Vhere ist das beef? Not like me, diss Hirshman guy ist ein lightweight. He cauls hiss blog “Soul of Solar”? Ist like more “Solo of Solar”! Ist journalistic — how you call it in Englisch, ach ja — master-BAH-zi-on!

GLOB: So solar is a soulless business?

Worlder: Jawohl! Dat ist vhy I put all die massive journalistic veight of me behind cold, hard facts! [He pauses, then even louder]. And of course to makes me lots of advertising money! [Evil, maniacal laughter]

Mr. Stu Ped, homeowner with a solar-leased rooftop system

GLOB: Mr. Ped, you own a house under a nice, shady stand of trees with a leased 3 kW solar system that the installer put on your north-facing roof. What do you think of PV and ME?

Ped: I don’t know. This door-to-door solar salesman told me not to read the blog, that it was bad. Then he told me not to read my contract either because it was good, and the Sun is free, and I was getting a free solar installation by leasing it with no money down and I would save money on my electric bill. (“The Real Price of Free Solar“).

GLOB: So solar leasing is good and PV and ME is bad?

Ped: I guess so. The salesman called that “the cold, hard facts.” [He pauses]. Of course,I haven’t seen any money yet.

☼ William P. Hirshman, founder of PV and ME

GLOB: Mr. Hirshman, how do you react to all of these experts complaining about the superficiality of PV and ME?

Hirshman: They couldn’t be more right. PV and ME is just fluff. No substance, nothing about the latest research or the next big market, nothing about the details of subsidies or financing. But PV is not like a coal-fired plant with nothing to it except the dirty generation of kilowatt-hours. It is not an oil-thirsty turbine with a loud polluting pump instead of a quietly beating heart. As stupid as it sounds, solar does have a soul.

GLOB: How can solar have a soul? It’s just a business.

Hirshman: Solar is a business that is more than a business — call it “earning a living” for the Earth. The same is true for all renewable energy companies (Solarman: Superman’s older brother – PV and ME Question #5: Why aren’t other solar and other renewables the best of friends?). Sure, it is absolutely necessary for these companies to make money to survive and for all of today’s many renewable energy news outlets to examine the financing, the science and the marketing of the technologies. Thank goodness they are reporting on the latest and greatest that PV and renewables have to offer — and the difficulties solar needs to overcome. However, after years of writing about all of the facts, I felt it was time to step back and reflect.

GLOB: Surely players like Ringling Solar’s PR Barnum would say, “If you want reflections, buy a mirror.”

Hirshman: But a mirror is exactly what is needed to help us improve — to reveal any hypocrisy or lingering blemishes and to examine our shortcomings — all with a bit of  humor to add some warmth to the “cold, hard facts.” If solarites in the business can’t take having  a bit of fun poked at them and PV and ME is banned, practically the only ones left to critique solar will be the powerful, dangerous and humorless enemies of the technology in their quest to rub it out — and make a lot more money.

☼ GLOB: Our thanks to all of the participants in our fact-finding mission. Before GLOB issues a final verdict on the fate of the blog, we would welcome comments from PV and ME readers — be they complaints, compliments or both.

This article was origially posted at PV and Me and was reprinted with permission.