Let the Sunshine In: A Solar Power Blog

January 4, 2015

The Why and How of Solar Blogging

To blog or not to blog, that is the question… but is it really, for any viable solar organization? Perhaps a more pertinent question would be: “How can one not blog?” According to statistics published on the Internet, 6.7 million users currently contribute to blogging sites and 12 million users blog through social networks. The majority of bloggers are women, and these tend to be the decision makers in couples purchasing solar systems. Most importantly, 61% of consumers have made a purchase based on a blog post.

A blog is also a very cost-effective method of communication for your company, particularly as opposed to advertising or PR (though of course it will not replace them). All any organization really needs to blog, after all, is a website and a qualified person, or persons, to compose the posts. If paid advertising can be said to be a jacket-and-tie type of self-representation, then blogging reveals the organization communicating informally, in sneakers and jeans so to speak – and that’s precisely what may be needed to overcome sales resistance in some customers.

If your organization doesn’t already have a blog and decides to start one, there are several important things to do and not do. A major gaffe to avoid is to leave the decision to middle management without direct CEO involvement or even strong buy-in, or, even worse, to take aside some clerical-level employee and say, “We need to set up a blog; take care of it.” A blog reflects your organization at least as much any other part of your website, so just as much deliberation should go into its messaging, style and scheduling as any other page on your site.

The second most important imperative is that a blog about renewable energy should be… renewable. That is, you shouldn’t – as too many organizations do – publish a handful of posts and then stop. It doesn’t look professional to do this and may give the impression that your organization has a habit of failing to follow through, not to mention the fact that the whole point of a blog is to establish an online relationship with your customer base, which takes time and patience.

A third point is that you should never publish a blog post unless you have something interesting to say. The corollary to this, of course, is that you should almost always be able to find something interesting to say (or why does the organization exist in the first place?). Finally, your blog is there to tell the world who you are: it should be conceived as expanding upon the “About Us” page of your website. Never shy away from communicating what is distinctive about you.

Here are a few examples that rank high on Google listings under “solar blog.” (The present author, of course, is not endorsing any of these organizations, and is not professionally connected with any of them.)

  • Pure Energies – The prime example of “telling the world who you are,” the Canadian-based Pure Energies team, led by President and CEO Zbigniew Barwicz, recently ventured to the Brazilian Amazon (the real one, not the website) to check out the indigenous Kayapo tribe and study its way of life, and recorded this trip in a series of blog posts. The team, according to their press release, “were motivated to bring the Kayapo success story to the busy homeowners of North America to showcase a pure form of sustainability, wealth and happiness.” In so doing, they are defining for their readers their core values and hoping to connect with North American customers who share those very values.
  • HelioPower – This California-based solar provider decided last Spring to weigh in on a then-recent public controversy: the “Solar Freakin’ Roadways” viral video, which promotes an ambitious project to turn the nation’s highways and parking lots into solar farms. (The blog’s author was extremely skeptical of this plan.) By commenting upon an Internet meme that the company’s customers would likely be discussing, or at least know about, the blog writer was displaying both HelioPower’s cultural awareness and its solar experience – not to mention enhancing its presence on Google.
  • Mosaic – Describing itself as “the first peer-to-peer lending platform for solar power,” Mosaic doesn’t shy away from the task of educating its readers. In the title of the post, “Home Solar for Dummies… or Anyone Who Doesn’t Work in Solar,” the guest blogger invokes the “Dummies” brand of books for beginners. In so doing, she acknowledges that the subject of solar financing can seem, for the layman, forbiddingly complicated and technical, while also implying that she will try to write about it as clearly and straightforwardly as possible. She then proceeds to give a short and sweet review of the differences between solar loans, leases and power purchase agreements (PPAs), and to provide a brief summary of which major companies offer which types of financing. A reader would thus experience the blog as a trustworthy and informative source that doesn’t talk down to him or her.

What would be the best way to get your own blog going? First, after deciding, with significant input from top management, the purpose of the blog, who its audience should be and what kind of messages it should convey, delegate a small team of people, either in-house or freelance, to take charge of it. (A single blogger will probably not be enough, as that person might eventually be overwhelmed by other work deadlines and emergencies, and the posting schedule would necessarily suffer.) Using freelancers may be okay; however, they must know the business well, understand what the organization wants to communicate and work harmoniously together, as they will need to strategize as well as write. However, an in-house team of three or four part-time bloggers would be ideal, because they presumably would already have expertise and a strong commitment to the industry. But at least one experienced writer/editor among them should be put in charge to edit the others and sustain the quality of the writing.

Two schedules should ideally be maintained, one for the publication of the individual posts and another (obviously dependent upon the first) for the members of the team to work on creating them, with individual members available to substitute if a contributor unexpectedly becomes unavailable. The organization should promote the blog by, for example, including its URL on business cards (in addition to the URL of the main website). The organization should also promote it internally, by including prominent links to the blog within the site. The team members should also frequently leave comments to blog posts that deal with related topics on other websites. And of course they should always reply promptly and courteously to comments left on their own blog.

The “why” of solar blogging is obvious. The “how” of solar blogging, though this might differ slightly for different organizations, is clear. So the only question remaining is, “If you’re not blogging already, when will you start?”

For additional information about solar blogging, please contact me by accessing the About page of this blog. 

November 26, 2014

The Joy of Solar… Infographics

In 2002 the Norwegian electronic music duo Röyksopp released their fourth single, “Remind Me.” To promote it, a French motion graphics studio named H5 was hired to produce a computer-animated music video, depicting a typical morning and workday of a young woman with a job in London’s Square Mile district (England’s equivalent to Wall Street). What’s unusual about the video, though, is not the use of animation, nor the “day in the life of an unremarkable person” concept, but the fact that the woman’s story is told exclusively through the use of infographics. These include (according to Wikipedia) “labeled close-ups of everyday objects, product lifecycles, schematic diagrams [and] charts,” as well as extraneous written commentary, such as “Like a car engine, the heart depends on electrical energy to start it and keep it beating regularly.” In other words, the video informs the viewer about every detail regarding the cartoon heroine and her day… except what’s going on in her mind and soul. This video – despite, or perhaps because of, its apparently satirical intent – has so far garnered nearly three million views on YouTube. What its success proves is that people really like infographics, to the point that they’re increasingly willing to receive much of their knowledge of the world from them, and even to view them as entertainment.

What do infographics have to do with solar? I will go out on a limb now and make the claim that the biggest challenge for the solar power industry today is not a technological one. (Yes, there’s the energy storage problem, but does anyone who’s not a diehard pessimist believe that, with all the innovative work now being done, a viable solution, or several, will not emerge soon?) The problem is not even marketing in the traditional meaning of the term. The challenge is rather to communicate to the public the dream of solar in a larger sense. People want to believe in solar and commit to it, but they think within a conceptual framework, obviously abetted by the fossil fuel industry, in which solar is simply “not doable.” So for a social transformation to take place, a new public awareness has to emerge. And any widely accepted information medium that can help create this awareness – certainly including infographics – should be welcomed.

Different solar organizations could make use of infographics for a number of purposes. A solar power corporation would naturally want to utilize them to make its website attractive and to obtain buy-in from consumers for the company’s products and services. A solar association might employ them as a way to enhance the public’s awareness of solar power and its viability. And advocacy groups might even find them handy as a way to influence lawmakers and other thought leaders to support or approve legislation and regulations favorable to the industry.

Some topics relating to solar power that would be ideal for the medium would be:

  • the technological basis of solar power (i.e., how it works),
  • a capsule history of solar from ancient times to the present day,
  • the challenges that the industry faces in the immediate future,
  • the affordability of solar,
  • how solar energy can power (practically) anything,
  • the reasons why solar is a legitimate substitute for fossil fuels.

If you belong to a solar organization seeking to incorporate infographics into your communications, there are a few simple rules for doing it right. Keep in mind that an infographic combines a utilitarian and an esthetic purpose, so it must be, more or less equally, both useful and attractive. Striking the proper balance can be a challenge, however. Making your infographic accurate and comprehensive while forfeiting visual appeal will result in dullness. But creating an overelaborate design at the expense of clarity and readability will render it useless. (The evocative term, “chartjunk,” was coined by statistician Edward Tufte to describe exactly this latter type of flawed illustration.)

Therefore, your infographic:

  • must be readable as well as viewable,
  • must contain no extraneous information (and must not omit necessary information),
  • must contain no excessively complex or distracting images,
  • must flow logically with, to the extent possible, a synergistic union of word and image.

A good example of an effective solar infographic is the one created by GE shown below, called “The Future of Solar.” (Note: the author of the present post has no relation to GE.)




It is a particularly well-worn cliché to include, as here, an image of the sun in a solar infographic, but the illustration redeems this somewhat by imaging its information as concentric circles, or “rays,” emanating from this sun – a simple and effective idea. The three circles are divided into “The Past,” “Recent Years” and “The Future,” each “ray” further clarified by tan boxes with white text. The circle closest to the sun shows the huge increase (nearly triple) in energy consumption during the latter half of the 20th Century, as well as the proportions in the mix, at the beginning of each decade, of fossil fuels, nuclear energy and renewables. The second circle shows the proportion to the whole of each type of energy source as of 2009, as well as the astonishing growth of solar in the early 21st Century. The third circle illustrates the United States’ energy goals for the year 2035, as well as demonstrating the means by which those goals might be achieved (in large part through solar). The text fonts throughout are on the small side and thus a bit hard to read, but the graphics make the data relationships perfectly clear. All in all, the infographic includes quite a bit of statistical information in a digestible, uncluttered manner, so is both pleasing to look at and informative.

No single information medium could ever be sufficient to make the public – which is often (deliberately) misinformed – understand the full truth about solar. But I believe a solar organization would be very short-sighted indeed not to include some well-made infographics in its media mix.


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