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US Primed for Solar Future But Lacks the Education

Solar Energy is alive and growing, there’s no doubt about that. Because the Federal Stimulus Plan is addressing the funding and policies, the only thing that stands in the way of the US taking solar into the standalone future is public know-how. According to the Schott Solar Barometer, a national poll commissioned by the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), 9 out of 10 Americans favor the move toward solar and feel the government should take part in making it a sure thing. And that number is the same across all political parties.

Renewable Energy World outlines the crux of the current situation in the US: “...We see a shocking disconnect between demand and what it’s going to take to actually create that market.” But how bad is the gap between demand and market creation? 90% of Americans want solar energy in their lives, 88% don’t feel informed about it and 75% wouldn’t even know how to go about getting it onto their roof. There are groups out there working to rectify this lack of public information. One such group is called The Solar Foundation, which also works internationally and is based in Washington, D.C.

So how do we spread the good solar word?

  • Add Campaigns - i.e. Got Solar? The milk industry spends 100 million on the “Got Milk?” campaign per year, so why can’t solar get a piece of the media pie? If a small portion of sales went towards industry advertising, it could eventually become a substantial ad campaign that would bring the solar concept and related products or services into the homes of millions of Americans. It’s borrowing a page from Coca-Cola, but hey, at least solar is healthier than edible phosphoric acid that you can clean a diesel engine with.
  • Educate the Children - Teach the 4th, 5th and 6th-grade age groups through class demonstrations and field trips. I’d take it a step further, offer teaching packets to be incorporated into education planning and have solar industry job fairs that outline necessary education requirements to showcase the field as a career option (and there are more ideas out there waiting to be discovered). There are a few programs already up and running, such as the Environment Education Program developed by Sanyo and active in Japan. The company is also beginning to implement a form of the program in the US. It’s important to mention that solar has a high cool factor. Kids love cool even more than adults do. Remember the potato and light bulb experiment? Plenty of science but easy and super cool. That’s what solar experiments could become if they are taught with the kids’ imaginations in mind.
  • Educate the Adults - It’s a tough economy. A growing job market is promising and knowing how to break into it is crucial. Knowing where to get that information or training will be the step that motivates folks to actually quit a steady job and take the plunge into the solar unknown. That information is currently lacking or too hard to find on a nationwide level.
  • Outreach Within Existing Networks - This one is for companies. Enphase, a manufacturer of microinverters, offers webinars to its customers and distributors to keep them up to date and spreading the knowledge accurately. Doing these kind of things will keep home solar in the public eye. The sooner solid facts are all that remains, the sooner the bandwagon starts filling up.
  • Local Outreach - If you’re a local solar installer, turn the little league scoreboard into a solar-powered one, or sponsor a team. If that’s not your thing, why not set up a walk-through of solar concepts in your local park so everyone can come by and just watch you generating enough power to microwave a frozen burrito or powering an air conditioner. If you’ve got a solar oven, offer them some bread.

For me, it’s the little things about solar that make it so appealing. I like the help-yourself-and-others aspect (and the self-sustainability). I like that my installer is more than just a face attached to a bill, and despite the fact that he’s paid, he’s personable because he wants to earn and keep my business - not to mention he’s probably into the whole cool factor mentioned above. This image is disparate to my power company that offers an automated phone pay system, which requires entering my checking account three separate times before accepting payment - I’m not kidding either.

I like that solar feels good in my heart for more reasons than intangible amounts of CO2 reduction, green credits and lower utility bills. My daughter is going to live in this world and it will still be here if I make wiser choices now than I learned about in history class. It’s the old proverb that makes me want a renewable energy life: “We did not inherit the earth. We borrowed it from our children.” The origin is widespread, I’ve seen Native American and Kenyan proverbs that know it almost identically.

For more about the shocking discrepancy between solar demand and public knowledge, click here.

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