By Matt Calderone and Amanda Molaro January 2, 2024
Renewable energy adoption around the world is picking up speed, fueled by maturing technology, massive federal incentives and increasing cost-competitiveness with fossil energy. Still, renewables make up only ~27% of the energy generated across the United States.1
A key factor slowing down progress is a lack of clear, coherent communication. Renewable technology and the policy surrounding it are complex subjects to begin with. And the discourse on these topics is riddled with jargon and acronyms.
Take the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), for example: The policy signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2022 created generous incentives around renewables. But when you Google ‘what does IRA stand for,’ you come up with information about investment accounts, not Biden’s climate policy. Indeed, 71% of U.S. citizens still know little or nothing at all about the climate incentives offered by the IRA over a year later.2
There’s no shortage of attempts to close communications gaps like these. The U.S. Department of Energy and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy both have published robust energy-vocabulary glossaries, for example. And there are a plethora of online resources breaking down challenging energy concepts. But modular definitions like these don’t lead to true understanding of how consumers can and should adopt climate-friendly solutions.
Instead, the onus is on the companies providing the solutions to not only define but also contextualize the complex energy terms, technologies and policies at play and explain plainly the lifestyle benefits they offer. With thoughtful approaches to everything from product launches to storytelling around recent advancements in technology, renewable energy adoption can accelerate into 2024 and beyond.
Recasting the Conversation About Residential Renewables
Solar energy provides a huge opportunity to help mitigate the 20% of greenhouse gas emissions created by private residences in the United States.3 But consumers seem reluctant to make the switch: just 5% of U.S. homes run on solar4 and only a fraction of those have home batteries to store excess power for future use.
When Lunar Energy launched its first solar-powered solution for the residential market this summer, the company addressed this public-perception challenge head-on.5
Consumer education was a huge part of Lunar Energy’s communications strategy. That started with differentiating its product — a key component of which is a battery — amid players in the broader home solar and battery market, such as FranklinWH and Tesla.
These companies had championed the popular narrative about solar batteries’ ability to prevent outages and maintain energy freedom during times of power unpredictability.
In contrast, Lunar Energy carefully crafted and amplified a narrative where consumers not only maintain energy freedom, but also have the ability to actively participate in the clean energy movement with the company’s all-in-one hardware and software solution.
Messaging about Lunar Energy’s software and its ability to seamlessly integrate distributed energy products, like home batteries, onto the electricity grid was folded into its media strategy and reflected in several articles, including ones by Canary Media and CNET.6,7
In addition to the product launch, Lunar Energy announced a partnership with Sunrun to operate tens of thousands of batteries across a dozen virtual power plants (VPPs) across the country.8 To continue to bring consumers along and demystify VPPs, Lunar Energy built a simple, clear website explaining how its software works and breaking down the role of VPPs.9
Knowledge-Sharing to Bring a Niche Industry Forward
While many cleantech companies like Lunar Energy are challenged to set themselves apart amidst fierce competition, others are introducing a brand new category.
Nevada-based Redwood Materials, founded in 2017, is part of the still-nascent but critically important battery-recycling industry.10 The company recycles materials like lithium, nickel and cobalt from used batteries from electric vehicles (EVs), creating a circular supply chain that reduces the need to source new raw materials and the cost of producing batteries.
Given the general lack of awareness of the intricacies of the battery-recycling industry, Redwood Materials takes a transparent approach to its communications to bridge the education gap.
For example, in a blog post published earlier this year about the team’s annual progress, Redwood Materials broke down some of the key opportunities, challenges and progress it has found or made in the realm of battery recycling.11 The piece carefully reviews everything from the chemistry of the types of batteries the company collected to policy factors that influence its success in recycling batteries.
By explaining these different factors, the Redwood Materials team helps educate future investors, policymakers and consumers alike about the value of battery recycling and EV adoption for the future. The work that Redwood Materials is doing and directly communicating to various audiences is an example of how transparency and education can move the clean energy industry forward in the journey toward net zero.
As the public continues to familiarize itself with battery recycling, Redwood Materials has future opportunities to hone its communications strategies, including chances to clarify complex language and terms associated with battery materials and chemistry.
Setting the Record Straight on Carbon Removal
Renewable energy companies, like many in the broader climate tech industry, often find themselves combating misinformation. And when it comes to pushing valuable climate solutions forward, a strong communications strategy in the face of misinformation is critical.
Take Climeworks for example. While Climeworks operates adjacent to the renewables industry, the company’s recent actions to clearly define terminology readily used in the industry demonstrates the impact that thoughtful communication can have.12
Climeworks creates machines powered by renewable energy that suck carbon dioxide from the air, helping to remove historical CO2 emissions alongside emissions reductions.
But carbon removal is a complicated, nuanced field that is often conflated with point-source carbon capture. Part of the challenge are arguments that carbon dioxide removal (CDR) is too energy-intensive or that it distracts from emission reductions targets. This has the potential to undercut the value of carbon removal as a climate solution in the broader public consciousness.
Climeworks took action this spring, publishing an industry letter supported by dozens of organizations and influential individuals across the carbon-removal landscape.13 The piece called for a distinction between emissions reductions and carbon removal, which has a different and complementary role to play in the fight against global warming.
The statement offered a clear and direct point of view that not only outlined the company’s clear position on an important issue but also inspired the rest of the industry to take action in line with its principles.
The letter caught the attention of influential climate media, which put it in context alongside previous academic research that argued “unpacking net zero goals this way would help ensure that investments in carbon removal are truly additional to essential investments in emissions reductions.”14
These efforts to clearly articulate the principles that leading CDR companies like Climeworks adhere to are critical to instilling trust among buyers and partners as this industry looks to reach massive scale in the coming decades.
Communicating to Drive True Climate Impact
While the last year saw improvements in renewable energy adoption, the United States continues to fall short of emissions targets.15 Still, the momentum we’ve seen shows progress. According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of U.S. citizens believe that developing alternative energy sources should be a priority.16
Uncertainty about the transition to renewables is holding back progress, in part due to a lack of education about these solutions and their impact on the public. Less than a third of U.S. citizens say they are ready to phase out oil, coal and natural gas completely.17
Altogether, this spells a massive opportunity for companies to move the needle and accelerate adoption. If we are to further accelerate the adoption of clean energy solutions to mitigate the effects of climate change, language, positioning and transparency matter now more than ever.
Lunar Energy and Climeworks are customers of the authors’ company, LaunchSquad.
About the Authors
Matt Calderone is a senior vice president at LaunchSquad, where he helps lead the firm’s work in climate, energy and cleantech. He is passionate about telling stories about how technology is changing business and impacting society. He helps edit The Cooler, a Substack focused on climate tech communications.
Amanda Molaro is a director at LaunchSquad working with companies across climate, energy and cleantech that are changing how we live our daily lives — from the way we power our homes to how we reduce food waste.