Social Media & Grassroots Marketing Drive Solar PV

Pennsylvania might not be the first state that springs to mind when you think about solar energy. But the state is a leader in solar and Philadelphia, the host city for the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) PV America 2009 conference is a Solar America City.

This morning, during the general session, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said that hosting the conference in Philly shows that solar is something that can be done anywhere, it isn’t just an industry for well off people, it creates jobs at all levels of the economy. The industry also creates opportunities for many people to get into trades who could possibly one day own their own companies.

During the same session, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell called on Congress to make the investment and production tax credits for renewable energy permanent and to pass a stronger federal renewable portfolio standard. Rhone Resch, SEIA’s president and CEO emphasized the last point and said the next few weeks will be crucial for RPS provision of the Waxman/Markey bill as it is currently undergoing markup in the Senate and could come to a floor vote in the next two weeks.

However, the political challenges are not the biggest hurdles facing the industry…::continue::

“The biggest challenge we face is educating people about the true costs of solar energy,” Resch said during a press conference this morning. He said solar companies need to make the case that a solar system can for example be added to a mortgage if and homeowners choose to refinance, it might make the mortgage payments a bit higher, but the system starts generating revenue from day one and with incentives in most states and at the federal level consumers only pay about a third of the overall cost.

So how does the industry make this case? That’s the question that everyone seems to be grappling with.

The first step, according to Kristin Sullivan from the City of Philadelphia’s Solar America Cities Partnership, is using grassroots programs like the Solar America Cities program to bring solar down to the local level and let people know the technology is there and accessible.

From there Resch said, it’s important for the industry to reach out through the media. And while a national ad campaign touting the benefits of solar energy might still be a few years off, social media like Twitter and YouTube and web based publications are already being used by the solar industry.

Finally, Dr. Tim Anderson, general chair of the 34th Photovoltaic Specialists Conference, which is co-located with PV America, said that bringing the entire industry together is the most important step forward. Having engineers, marketers, and students looking to get into the industry to one place allows for them to network and make the connections that will help to create the future of the industry.

I’ll be blogging and tweeting ( more from the conference tomorrow, so stay tuned.

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