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Wed, 07 Feb 2024 21:32:23 +0000



Amping up Solar Adoption: Insights into Human Behavior

Tue, 02 Jan 2024 16:51:50 +0000

Continue reading “Amping up Solar Adoption: Insights into Human Behavior”

Why is it so hard to convince others to change? Moving people from thought to action can prove extremely difficult even when the benefits of behavioral adoption are made clear and are an obvious improvement to personal, social and environmental systems.

We tend to believe that with enough information about the benefits, behavioral change will naturally follow. This approach is known as “information deficit.”1 Sadly, it isn’t overly effective. Neither is the loss-communication approach of the environmental movement with messages like “take shorter showers,” “drive less” or “waste less.” Evolutionarily, humans are loss-averse, as loss equals hardship and scarcity, and we shy away from this type of communication.2, 3

If information alone is insufficient to change behavior and messaging around giving up our current lifestyles doesn’t work, what can be done? It turns out that while humans are complex beings in many ways, there are some consistent tried-and-true techniques that work in motivating engagement in environmental behaviors. Let’s explore some of these techniques, centralized around Community-Based Social Marketing,4 a framework with roots in Social Influence5 and Diffusion of Innovation theories.6

In prompting behavior change, we first need to select our behavior. The process for this concerns identifying the environmental need and the associated behaviors that can address that need. A behavior is then selected with the highest level of impact, penetration (level of adoption among your target audience), and adoption probability.7, 8 For the sake of simplicity, we will choose solar PV adoption as our behavioral goal.

Once we have our behavior and our target audience in mind, we then need to figure out the barriers and benefits of adopting the behavior (using solar PV) and the perceived barriers and benefits of their current behavior from the perspective of our target audience. This information can be gained through observation, literature review, focus groups, individual interviewing, surveying, or any combination of these, depending on your time and resources.

Let’s imagine what some perceived barriers and benefits for solar PV adoption might be for the average homeowner. Barriers might include finding credible providers, experiencing cost uncertainty (quote variations), encountering upfront expenses, facing the uncertainty of available subsidies, dealing with the uncertainty of how solar agreements with power companies work, and choosing between a string inverter and a microinverter. Perceived benefits could include grid independence (self-sufficiency), electrical- and utility-bill offset, and decreased fossil fuel reliance.

For the current behavior, perceived benefits of depending on a fossil fuel-dominated grid might include the comfort and time gained in not having to change anything, the familiarity of how billing works, and the lack of high upfront costs. Perceived barriers could include dependence on the grid, increasing costs of electricity and associated bill increases, and dependence on earth-heating fossil fuels.

Note that completing your barrier-benefit analysis by researching your target audience is extremely important as it could turn out, for example, that they are not at all concerned about fossil fuels but highly concerned about energy independence. In this example, a marketing campaign that focuses on moving beyond fossil fuels might be highly ineffective and a waste of money. The more specific you are about who your target audience is and their unique barriers and benefits, the better.

Once you know your barriers and benefits, the next step is designing a marketing campaign that maximizes both the perceived benefits of the target behavior and the perceived barriers of the current behavior, while minimizing the perceived barriers of the target behavior and benefits of the current behavior. The Community-Based Social Marketing framework outlines strategies or tools that may be employed to do this, including social norms, incentives, prompts, commitment, convenience and communication.

Table 1. Barrier-benefit chart for residential solar PV adoption.
Table 1. Barrier-benefit chart for residential solar PV adoption.


Social norms are extremely powerful and influence the accepted behaviors, values and beliefs of your target audience. Find respected leaders within your target audience who support or have already adopted solar PV and make their support and/or adoption visible.

Incentives include those that are tangible (such as rebates and calculations of potential bill reductions) and those that are intangible (social approval and praise). There is a point of diminishing returns on incentives, so choose incentives that maximize adoption before surpassing a point of diminishing return.

Prompts are helpful to remind your target audience about behavioral engagement. These should be as close in time and space to the target behavior as possible and are often used for behaviors that are repeated (such as bringing bags to the grocery store) as opposed to one-time (installing solar PV).

Commitment creates a sense of accountability. Humans like to be consistent, and if we make a commitment, especially one with witnesses, we are more likely to follow through with our stated intentions. Written commitments tend to be more powerful than verbal ones and both should be voluntary in nature.

Convenience entails making the desired behavior as easy and accessible as you can. This includes reducing barriers and simplifying processes involved in adopting the target behavior. Effective communication (crafting persuasive messages, choosing the right channels such as social media, holding community presentations, etc.) is also an essential part of a successful marketing campaign.

Humans are complex beings and require additional considerations to increase the likelihood of behavioral adoption, despite the temptation for us to assume that providing facts about the benefits of solar PV adoption will effectively prompt change. As you work to convince others to adopt solar PV, hopefully Community-Based Social Marketing9, 10 will help you increase your level of success!


  4. McKenzie-Mohr, D. (2011). Fostering sustainable behavior: An introduction to community-based social marketing. New Society Publishers.
  6. Rogers, E.M. (1962). Diffusion of Innovations. Free Press of Glencoe.
  8. McKenzie-Mohr, D. (2011). Fostering sustainable behavior: An introduction to community-based social marketing. New Society Publishers.
  9. Ibid.

About the Author

Roslynn McCann is a sustainable communities professor in environment and society at Utah State University. She applies communication techniques and social marketing tools to foster environmental behaviors around land (conservation and waste reduction), air (quality and climate change), food (local), water (quality and quantity), and energy (efficiency and renewable energy).


AI in Solar Marketing: A Balance Between Tech and Touch

Tue, 02 Jan 2024 16:47:50 +0000

Continue reading “AI in Solar Marketing: A Balance Between Tech and Touch”

Overreliance on artificial intelligence tools and chatbots like ChatGPT, Bard, Dall-E and others is a losing game. But that doesn’t mean solar companies should turn their backs on this new technology. Solar companies are all about embracing emerging tech, right?

Energy Circle, the digital marketing company where I work, focuses exclusively on contractors, businesses and organizations in the clean energy and energy efficiency sectors. We’ve been experimenting heavily with AI tools since 2022.

We’ve always operated under the guiding principle that great marketing requires real-world expertise and a human touch. Adding AI into our toolbox doesn’t change that. Any solar company curious about artificial intelligence should know that there are plenty of ways to benefit, but only if you strike the right balance between human and robot.

The Benefits of Using AI in Solar Marketing

AI Tools Save Time

It’s a common scenario for solar contractors: they’re already strapped for time, knowing that they should be out on a job site or helping solve business problems, but they’re also trying to carve out time for the marketing that they know they’ll wish was done six months from now.

AI can do a lot of different tasks — and it can do them quickly. Think about what it would be like to do all this marketing 15% faster. It might only save 10 or 15 minutes with each task, but those things add up quickly, and a 15% improvement is a conservative estimate.

For example, there are AI tools out there that could help a company design a new website, write all of the content for the site, and plan out a marketing strategy for the next 12 months. The team could do all of this in an afternoon.

Here are some examples of actual marketing work that AI could help a solar contractor do:

  1. Making the Sales Cycle More Efficient
    AI can help an existing sales team do more, creating efficiencies within the sales process, supporting design, helping to draft proposals, and responding to customer reviews. AI apps can even record sales meetings, creating transcripts and summarizing key points for future reference. These transcripts aren’t always 100% accurate, but the technology is constantly improving and now they are usable for many use cases.
  2. Creating Content
    AI can write copy for blogs or webpages, draft emails, create custom images and videos, design infographics, write up social media posts, and generally help solar companies brainstorm and draft all different kinds of solar content.
  3. Analyzing Sales and Marketing Data
    AI is really good at analyzing lots of data. It can help forecast sales, take audience lists and segment them into different groups for marketing or outreach campaigns, and much, much more.

This all sounds pretty abstract, so let’s give a few actual examples of how this could work in action.

Example #1: Segmenting historical customer data to build new marketing campaigns

Let’s say a sales team has the idea to create a new marketing campaign targeting past customers who installed solar panels but not solar batteries. The staff want to reach out to only those customers via email and a physical mailer, but they don’t have a sophisticated CRM platform like Salesforce — all they have is a spreadsheet with columns of customer data.

Having to manually parse through that spreadsheet could take a long time. But AI tools like ChatGPT can make data analysis surprisingly fast. Through the use of the Code Interpreter plug-in (or third-party plug-ins like Noteable, which are designed to do similar types of data analysis), the team can upload that spreadsheet and quickly get segmented lists of email and mailing addresses to start campaigns.

Example #2: Forecasting month-by-month sales for 2024

Maybe a manager is sitting down to review their company’s performance for 2023. Again, they have lots of data detailing sales that go back years, but how can they use this data to better prepare for next year?

Using the same data-analysis tools that we mentioned in Example #1, they can input their historical sales data and ask ChatGPT to quickly help them find sales trends or make predictions about sales in 2024.

ChatGPT can analyze this information. And it can also take that raw data from spreadsheets and create customizable charts and graphs to use in future sales presentations to the company. And it can do all of this in a fraction of the time that it would take a human.

AI Gives Solar Companies a Competitive Edge

Smaller solar companies have often struggled to stay competitive with the solar giants that have more resources and larger marketing budgets that they use to stay ahead of their competitors. AI can level that playing field for smaller, local installers and up-and-coming contractors.

But the benefits aren’t just for underdogs. If a bigger company already has a healthy marketing budget, AI tools can help the staff do even more with it.

The Risks of Using AI in Solar Marketing

We’ve been painting a pretty rosy picture so far. But before companies drop everything and convert 100% to AI, they should be aware there’s a less-enticing side to this technology as well.

AI Is Good — But Not Great — At What It Does

Remember when I told you just how much AI tools could do in a single afternoon? Well, I didn’t say anything about the quality of that work. ChatGPT might give a company a starting point, but it’s not going to provide the kind of unique and emotionally intelligent content the team needs to connect with homeowners and differentiate itself from its competitors.

Solar is a big-budget purchase — and homeowners don’t choose contractors lightly when making that kind of investment. The content needs to demonstrate that the contractor knows what they’re talking about and understands customers’ pain points.

Fake News

AI can confidently give completely false information — in the information technology industry, this phenomenon is called hallucinations.1 And it does so in a way that makes one think it knows what it’s talking about, so unless you already know the information is wrong or you fact-check, it’s easy to be fooled. AI tools have a surprisingly hard time telling you, “Sorry, I don’t know.”

Just one example: This morning, I asked ChatGPT about the solar tax credit and whether I was eligible for this incentive. But ChatGPT is only trained on data up to January 2022, so it didn’t know (and couldn’t tell me) that the Inflation Reduction Act overhauled and extended the tax credit in 2022.2

The AI Revolution Is Going to Usher in a New Era of Content Marketing (and Raise the Bar)

As more and more AI writing is published, the bar for “standout” content will be raised.

Google uses E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness) guidelines to refine its ranking algorithms.3 Essentially, the more content meets these guidelines, the more visible it is likely to be in search results.

Google has gone on the record to say that the (“appropriate”) use of AI-generated content is not against its guidelines.4 But that doesn’t mean AI-generated content is automatically going to rank. AI tools don’t always follow Search Engine Optimization (SEO) best practices and, given the rate at which SEO best practices change, may not be able to keep up with them.

Plus, AI content itself often falls somewhere between “okay” and “good,” not “great,” and that type of content is unlikely to rank well regardless of who has written it.

Striking a Balance: Making AI Work Better with Human Elements

Start with AI, Don’t End There

It’s a good analogy to think of AI like a competent personal assistant. There are many tasks for which a manager might use an assistant, but odds are they aren’t entrusting them with important work without signing off on it or giving notes first. AI is the same way.

  • If you use AI to generate copy, edit and revise it to make sure it meets the same standards you would hold for your own writing.
  • If you use AI to analyze data, make sure you don’t stop all analysis yourself. AI might come up with something that wouldn’t have occurred to you (or arrive at the analysis more quickly), but that doesn’t mean you don’t have takeaways that AI couldn’t develop.
  • If you use AI to brainstorm ideas or marketing strategies, see what you can add to or change in the results that take them from passable to exceptional.

Fact-Check, Fact-Check, Fact-Check

If you don’t know enough to verify the accuracy of a piece of writing from AI, you need to fact-check it, no matter how big or small a claim.

This is especially true in the solar industry, where regionality and policy play a huge role.

For example, ChatGPT often touts the benefits of net metering when asked to write about the benefits of solar. But, as any solar contractor knows, net metering isn’t available everywhere and it works differently in different places. If companies don’t edit their content to include specific information about their regions, they’re not providing information that’s relevant to their customers (or true).

Companies Should Make Sure They’re Telling Their Story About Their Businesses, Speaking to Their Customers

AI tools know a lot, but here are just a handful of things we’ve seen through experience that AI is not very good at talking about:

  • Any kind of writing that depends largely on current information, including:
    • Energy incentives (like tax credits, solar renewable energy credits, modified accelerated cost recovery system tax depreciation, and other local rebates and incentive programs that may be subject to changes)
    • The latest products and tech specifications from specific manufacturers
    • Solar policies (like updates to net metering in your state; for example, ChatGPT doesn’t know about Net Metering 3.0 in California)
  • Brand voice (Is a company a solar tech expert? Is it the go-to company for solar + storage? Is it a veteran-owned business? Is it a B-corp with clear mission and value statements? It’s difficult for AI to authentically capture the way a company “speaks” online without extensive training and prompting.)
  • A company’s history (Has it completed more installations than any other local solar company? Does it have lots of specific experience with off-grid solar or solar carports? Is a solar installer a local celebrity? Again, without lots of training, AI tools have no way of knowing what sets a company apart from any other solar installer.)
  • The unique characteristics of a company’s customers and its service area (How does the seasonal weather and geography in the service area affect the types of solar arrays the team installs or how they install them? The marketing messaging will likely be very different if homeowners in the area tend to be more environmentally motivated than savings-focused or vice versa.)

We use the output of ChatGPT and other AI tools as a framework to build on. Then we make revisions — lots of them — as we think of additional ideas. The final product is always dramatically different (and better). We save some time in the early stages of the process, but never sacrifice our voice or cut corners on quality.

In our experience, this is the best way companies can integrate artificial intelligence into their marketing work and create results that are customized to their businesses and, most importantly, effective.

Unlike the sharp rises (and equally sharp falls) of digital assets like NFTs5 or the trendy, invite-only social audio app Clubhouse,6 AI technology is here to stay, and it’s only going to become more and more essential to any future solar marketing work.

That doesn’t mean that every solar company that embraces AI will see success. But the contractors and organizations that find the right mix of human and machine, leaning into the strengths of each component, will be the ones to truly capitalize on this rapidly advancing new technology.



About the Author

Abby Yolda is the director of solar and digital marketing strategy at Energy Circle. With a background in public policy and digital marketing, she has over 15 years of experience working with contractors, businesses, nonprofits and trade associations across the solar and energy efficiency sectors.


Why You Should Care About Energy Efficiency — Even After Going Solar

Tue, 02 Jan 2024 16:41:20 +0000

Continue reading “Why You Should Care About Energy Efficiency — Even After Going Solar”

As a residential and commercial solar salesperson for many years, I would often tell prospective customers that it was silly for them to pay for solar panels to generate electricity that they shouldn’t have been using in the first place. It was an acknowledgment that, in a perfect world, they would make their homes more efficient and reduce their base electricity usage before ‘going solar.’

At the time, the discussion about energy efficiency was a way to help customers decide what size systems they really needed. If budgets were tight, smaller, less-expensive systems might suffice and still offset 100% of electricity usage after some simple and relatively inexpensive upgrades. Most still went with the larger systems, possibly thinking that it would be too hard, expensive or unimportant to make the effort.

Now, I see that as an opportunity — both for individual solar-property owners and for our larger efforts to reduce emissions and accelerate the clean energy transition. The ~4 million solar homeowners around the United States are the perfect constituency to change minds and increase demand for energy efficiency and electrification products and services in their communities.1, 2

Millions of solar buildings today are inefficient and many additionally still use fossil fuels for space and water heating and cooking. Making those buildings more efficient will free up already installed solar electricity to be used on loads previously run by fossil fuels. Additional electrification efficiencies will free up more solar energy to power EVs and reduce transportation emissions.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), “Nearly one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to America’s 130 million homes and commercial buildings, which use 40% of the nation’s energy and 75% of its electricity for power, heating and cooling. But today, buildings waste up to 30% of that energy.”3

And yet many U.S. property owners don’t consider energy efficiency investments (many of which can be much cheaper than going solar) worthwhile, either before or in conjunction with installing solar. After all, once the solar panels are installed, they generate electricity from sunlight — free electricity once the system has paid for itself in savings. So why worry about energy efficiency? How much energy or money can really be saved anyway?

The savings potential is huge. “Making energy efficiency upgrades… can save 5-30% on your monthly energy bill,” the DOE said.4 That can definitely add up.

Solar owners have a clean energy source already paid for and producing clean energy. Making those properties more efficient immediately increases the percentage of loads being offset by the solar energy. Plus, making a building more energy-efficient after solar panels are installed allows property owners to recoup their money faster and save more money over the lives of their solar-energy systems.

Additionally, if gas is still used for cooking or space or water heating, solar panels will not reduce that portion of the energy bill. But weatherizing the building will reduce leaks, increase comfort, reduce gas usage and carbon footprint, and further reduce energy expenses. For businesses, lowering these heating bills means lower operating costs and more money left for other business expenses.5

Electrification also leads to higher efficiency. The International Renewable Energy Agency said that “heat pumps achieve efficiency four to five times higher than condensing gas boilers” and “electric vehicles (EVs) are two to three times as efficient as conventional gasoline and diesel cars.”6> This is a key driver behind the Electrify Everything movement, which promotes the electrification of space heating, cooking and other appliances as well as transportation.

Replacing existing fossil fuel-based water heating or space heating appliances at the ends of their lives with new high-efficiency heat pumps further reduces energy usage. The success and recent expansion of Maine’s heat pump-rebate program highlights not only that heat pumps work in all climates, but that transitioning from gas or oil heat to electric is easy and cost-effective when consumers and the workforce are knowledgeable about the benefits.7

In the case of solar homes, the new systems can then be operated using excess solar energy. Excess solar generation can also charge EVs, avoiding gasoline usage and costs and reducing vehicle maintenance costs and emissions as well.

If there is still excess solar-generated electricity after all of that, in many states it is also lucrative to export excess power back to the grid.

On a broader, global scale, energy efficiency is a key strategic component of any roadmap to keeping global temperature rise below 1.5°C and avoiding climate catastrophe around the globe. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), “Energy efficiency is called the ‘first fuel’ in clean energy transitions, as it provides some of the quickest and most cost-effective CO2-mitigation options while lowering energy bills and strengthening energy security.”8

Wide-scale energy efficiency efforts across all economic sectors reduce fossil fuel demand across the globe. These efforts can allow us to reach peak fossil fuel usage earlier, stop building new fossil fuel infrastructure and meet all new energy needs from new clean energy development. This is key to staying on track with net zero goals.9

Widespread adoption of energy efficiency also reduces congestion on the grid, improving grid reliability and security, and reduces demand, decreasing energy prices.10

In September, the IEA released an update of its 2021 report “Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector.” Two years later, this update optimistically reports that solar PV installation and electric vehicle adoption are keeping pace with their initial estimates of required implementation to stay below or near the 1.5°C goal.11

It is also heartening that the IEA estimates 80% of emissions reductions required by 2030 can be met solely with clean energy, energy efficiency, electrification and methane reductions. These are all things we know how to do today with technologies that are being deployed on a wide scale already.

However, the IEA also reports that a doubling of the rate of energy efficiency improvement implementation (and a tripling of clean energy adoption overall) by 2030 are required to keep that goal reachable.12 Energy efficiency paired with solar (and other clean energy sources) truly is key to reducing carbon emissions.

To help meet those goals, the historic federal Inflation Reduction Act has created rebates and grants to make energy efficiency upgrades more affordable. The Biden Administration’s newly announced Affordable Home Energy Shot is designed to reduce the costs of upgrading buildings further.13 Some states also have additional energy efficiency-rebate programs in place.

These incentives increase the lifetime savings of those upgrades for property owners but also make financial sense on a wider economic scale too. It’s been proven that they more than pay for themselves and are good for the economy at large.

In a 2020 study by the public utility commission in my home state of Pennsylvania, it was calculated that “on average at full scale, for every dollar invested in efficiency, Pennsylvania would accrue $1.22 in economic benefits.” It was also found that “across all scenarios and all EDCs [Electric Distribution Companies]… EE [energy efficiency] is a substantial and cost-effective resource.”14

At the national level, in 2021 the DOE found that the United States has the potential to cost-effectively reduce its electricity use by the equivalent of 16% of estimated baseline usage in 2035. The cost of saving that electricity was found to be much lower than the cost of generating it in all 50 states, with 12%–21% savings per state.15, 16

The average cost of saving electricity was found to be 2.6 ¢/kWh, making it a valuable low-cost energy source in its own right — 30% cheaper than electricity generated from gas and 75% cheaper than electricity generated from coal. For the economy, widespread energy efficiency adoption means enormous savings across all sectors.17

It would also lead to huge reductions in peak demand, which is key to facilitating a transition to clean energy by reducing usage of expensive, fossil fuel-intensive peaker plants and reducing energy-storage requirements.

Almost 20 years ago, the visionary founder of RMI, Amory Lovins, realized that energy efficiency could change the accepted calculus that the transition away from fossil fuels would be hugely expensive for society. Instead, he argued, energy efficiency upgrades across all sectors of the economy would lead to reduced costs and increased profits for all, with the added bonus of reducing carbon emissions and facilitating the transition to clean energy.

Lovins said, “Using energy more efficiently offers an economic bonanza — not because of the benefits of stopping global warming but because saving fossil fuel is a lot cheaper than buying it.” This has only become more true in the ensuing decades due to higher fossil fuel prices and huge leaps in technological efficiencies with precipitously dropping costs.18

While large-scale governmental policy adoption and corporate action are key to increased energy efficiency adoption, individuals and local home and business owners must play a part in changing consumer behaviors and shifting market demand. Solar-property owners are natural recruits for this effort. With solar-energy systems already installed, we can play a part in the larger efforts to drive energy efficiency forward.

We must demand better insulated, more efficiently designed homes and buildings. We must demand more efficient appliances. We must electrify everything, converting our homes’ systems. We must demand HVAC contractors, plumbers and other building contractors offer these products and conversion services. We must purchase electric vehicles. And we must talk about why these actions are important and how they’re saving us money and making an outsized and much-needed contribution to fighting climate change.

Note: Since this article was written, at COP28 130 countries agreed to triple their renewable energy capacity and double their energy efficiency improvement implementation by 2030. This commitment is in line with the IEA projected requirements mentioned in the article that are necessary to continue on a path toward reduced emissions and minimize future global temperature increases.


  12. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.

About the Author

Dara Bortman is a member of the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) Board of Directors and a life member of ASES. Until recently, she was also co-owner and operator of a solar-installation company (which she recently sold). She understands that our greatest challenge is ensuring a just, equitable energy transition.


Closing the Communications Gap in Renewable Energy Adoption

Tue, 02 Jan 2024 16:36:40 +0000

Continue reading “Closing the Communications Gap in Renewable Energy Adoption”

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.


Public Relations Guide to Newsworthiness

Thu, 28 Dec 2023 21:17:26 +0000

Continue reading “Public Relations Guide to Newsworthiness”

Often, companies seek public relations services with the goal of securing top-tier national news coverage — the desire to see their names in lights. But many cleantech B2B companies’ news revolves around commercial announcements with no clear tie-in to broader market trends that merit national coverage.

Your ability to earn media coverage depends on several factors. In the public relations profession, the pre-internet term was “newsworthiness.” At our firm, we call it “attention-worthiness.” The important lesson I want to share is: The bar for newsworthiness has gotten much higher. If you want to get attention, you have to find something interesting to say to your audience; that may not be all about you.

There are three main drivers of attention: Who you are, what you say and how you say it. I will break down those factors and offer tips to increase your chances of earning attention through content that expands beyond company announcements and adds insight to the larger marketplace.

The three main drivers of attention:

  1. Who you are (your platform and credibility)
  2. How you speak (your style)
  3. What you say (your content)

Attention Driver #1: Who You Are — From What Platform Do You Speak?

There are prominent individuals, such as Elon Musk, who can generate news while they sleep. Literally.

We found an article in the well-respected The Wall Street Journal on Elon Musk’s sleeping habits and back pain.1

Typically this happens when an individual speaks from a platform so well-established that it influences the world at large. Examples of this include Jerome Powell, chair of the Federal Reserve, whose market-moving comments are cataloged excessively.2 Another example of an attention-driving platform: The Vatican. We found over a dozen articles on the topic of Pope Francis’s footwear.3

Unfortunately, most cleantech companies cannot rely on their platforms alone to capture attention.

Attention Driver #2: How You Say It — This Is Essentially Your Flair

The best example of flair is the Kardashian family. Whether you love them, hate them or don’t have an opinion, it is easy to see the Kardashians’ flair. By that, I mean their bold style: attitude, drama, entertainment. Their ability to captivate attention has kept them relevant in pop culture for 20 years. News stories are written about ordinary things they do that would never be news if you or I did them.

We found a story about the socialite Khloe Kardashian wearing a fanny pack and another about her daughter making a homemade pizza.4, 5

The reality is that most cleantech news companies don’t want to engage in drama or Kardashian-like behavior — and that is understandable, since they want to be taken seriously. But keep in mind that drama is what some journalists are looking for, so if you have a good business reason to make a bold statement, that may get you some attention.

Attention Driver #3: What You Say — Your Content

This is the attention-getting tactic that most cleantech companies can use to excel and the one we recommend our clients focus on.

Every week, cleantech companies secure big sales, make new hires and attract investments. This is great news for your company that you can share and be proud of.

But standard commercial announcements don’t typically merit prestige media coverage outside of some industry trade publications – unless you’ve got a “wow factor” or a major superlative. The “first ever,” the “biggest,” or anything unique could help you make the cut.

How do you stand out? That depends on how risky and interesting you are willing to be.

National journalists get hundreds of emails every day. Attention goes to the most interesting stories, which might involve some level of risky, controversial or bold behavior. Another level of scrutiny is — is this new? Are you repeating the same old thing, or do you have something new and different to offer?

The closer to safe and boring you are, the less likely you are to garner national media attention.

Your company must decide how risky and interesting you want and are able to be. There is no right or wrong answer. There is a balancing act in finding what is appropriate to say to your audience and what might spark attention. Risks have consequences.

When you gain national media attention, you may impress your customers, but you might also attract critics or inform competitors.

You will also face the de facto journalist instinct of ”telling both sides of the story.” The chances of a national news story being 100% positive news about your company — while possible — are slim. More likely, the story will aim for objectivity by including your point of view as well as other viewpoints.

Good stories thrive on tension. Most national media want to appeal to a broader audience, which means using classic storytelling techniques. If you aren’t familiar with narrative frameworks, it’s worth exploring the seven story types.6

Some story types, such as the quest or overcoming the monster — also known as “David and Goliath” — are probably familiar to you. The quest involves a plot where the hero begins a journey to success. Think about how you could use that narrative framework. Are you the hero, or is your customer the hero?

Overcoming the monster highlights a main character who aims to destroy a greater evil — the classic underdog we love to root for. Interesting storylines include drama, pain points, and flawed or dynamic characters who undergo a transformation.

Achieving national-level interest sometimes requires a willingness to be vulnerable or speak to uncomfortable truths. Many reporters want to analyze difficult challenges or expose a weakness. If there is a controversy brewing, they want to dig in and explore.

You rarely hear a story that reads: “Once upon a time, a company did something amazing and became successful without ever encountering any challenges, and everything was always awesome with no problems. The end.” Why? Because it’s boring!

So how can you get attention with your content?

Tip #1: Use data, trends or polling to say something interesting about the marketplace

Leverage data from your business to say something insightful about the market. Can you look within your internal analytics to identify and illustrate a broader market trend? Another effective method to gain attention is by conducting a poll7 or other research that goes beyond your company’s internal operations and focuses on your customer base or industry peers.

Tip #2: Personify your announcement with someone who experiences the impact of your news

TV and local news reporters love to personify news. To do this, find a real person who is directly affected. This could be a new hire who has a much-needed job thanks to the expansion of your factory or a veteran who benefits from the product or service you are selling. You need someone who is willing to share their personal story to illustrate the impact of your news.

While this approach typically requires more effort and shifts the focus away from your company, it’s usually worth it. People identify with people over companies. Providing a real example makes your news relatable and interesting.

Tip #3: Create a top-notch media kit

Newsrooms are short on staff, so help them out with a compelling media kit. Include well-chosen, high-resolution images, with descriptive image titles and clear captions. Hire a videographer to capture video footage of your product or solution in action — we call this raw video footage b-roll. Showcase your people doing what they do best — accessible, visually compelling media will elevate your chance of securing coverage.

These tips won’t guarantee attention, but they’ll greatly raise your odds. Find useful things to say to the marketplace. Determine how risky and interesting you want to be and help a reporter out with compelling, easy-to-access-and-understand visual media.

The final takeaway: Tell your audience something interesting they don’t already know. Resist the urge to talk only about yourself. Instead, think about how you can speak to the bigger picture and provide helpful insight on topics your customers care about. A skilled public relations person can work with you to bridge from internal subject-matter expertise to external value and help you generate the attention you seek.



About the Author

Melissa Baldwin is the senior vice president of Tigercomm, a clean-economy marketing communications firm. Her clients include solar manufacturers, developers and energy service companies. She creates breakthrough communication plans that branch out from incumbent strategies and harness renewables’ power to disrupt the dominant energy sector.


Refugees Adapt to Fuel Scarcity: So Can the World

Thu, 28 Dec 2023 18:29:52 +0000

Continue reading “Refugees Adapt to Fuel Scarcity: So Can the World”

In Kakuma Refugee Camp, Grace* is preparing dinner for her family. The smell of spices hangs in the air; the tomato stew and rice are nearly done. What makes tonight’s meal special is not the menu but how it’s made. This is the first meal Grace is cooking without burning charcoal or wood, instead using nothing but the sun and her brand-new solar thermal cooker.

A solar cooker absorbs sunlight and transforms it into thermal energy, generating the temperatures necessary to cook meals, pasteurize water and dehydrate food. There are myriad models, most of which use shiny or reflective surfaces to direct light through pieces of glass or plastic, creating a greenhouse effect in a space where it is absorbed by a dark cooking pot.

The heating process is not unlike the feeling of returning to a hot car parked in the sun.

What makes solar thermal cookers so elegant is that, without the aid of batteries or photovoltaic cells, many can reach temperatures of between 150°C (302°F) and 200°C (392°F) or higher, depending on the model.

Grace’s cooker is a ULOG solar box oven whose acquisition was made possible thanks to a collaboration between Solar Cookers International (SCI) and Ecomandate Foundation. The cookers are fully subsidized, though participants contribute their own cookware and commit valuable time for training.

SCI is a nonprofit organization that supports solar-cooker adoption through advocacy, capacity-building, and research. Ecomandate is a community-based organization based in Kenya that delivers solar-cooking solutions to communities in East Africa. SCI and Ecomandate have been working together to empower residents of Kakuma Refugee Camp since 2018.

Kakuma was selected primarily because of fuel scarcity. Most residents depend on charcoal or firewood that they purchase at unaffordable prices. In an interview with program staff, Grace recalled exchanging food rations for charcoal, “Four kilos of rice for a sack of charcoal, which doesn’t last the week.” It is a heart-wrenching choice between food and the fuel needed to cook it.

Grace* helped demonstrate solar cooking and trained new project participants.
Grace* helped demonstrate solar cooking and trained new project participants. (Credit: Ecomandate Foundation)


According to the International Energy Agency, 2018 was also the year that global energy demand grew at nearly twice the average rate, with 70% of that demand being met by fossil fuels and energy-related emissions hitting a high of 33.1 GT CO2.1

The planet also saw a series of climate disasters including drought in Argentina, heatwaves across Europe, floods in India, and the most destructive wildfire on record in California.2

Meanwhile, SCI and Ecomandate were assembling a program that took advantage of clean, renewable solar energy, one thing Kakuma residents have in ample supply. The program would position refugees at the forefront of the transition to renewables while simultaneously supporting health, safety and financial security by enabling the use of free solar energy for cooking.

From the start, SCI and Ecomandate understood that the projects’ success depended on using best practices, starting with production. Cookers are commissioned locally to meet specific needs, taking into consideration family size, ease of use, durability, local climate and traditional cooking customs. Product feedback from users is vital and informs future rounds of programming.

In addition to being manufactured to meet local needs, the University of Nairobi stove testing center assessed the solar oven using SCI’s Performance Evaluation Process, which automates testing methods published by the International Organization for Standardization.

Local production of high-quality products not only supports the economy but also deepens technical expertise within the region, mainstreaming solar cooking and positioning the project for long-term success.

The program is also informed by careful community research and ensures that participants receive the training and support they need to be successful. So when Grace first joined the program in early 2022, she began by participating in a needs assessment, after which she was selected for the training course.

While Grace was learning how to prepare traditional dishes like the corn porridge known as ugali using solar thermal energy, the world was dealing with an energy crisis worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The sudden supply disruption simultaneously underscored the urgency of transitioning to renewables while also pressuring nations to put climate goals on hold as they scrambled for energy sources, some releasing unprecedented oil reserves or even turning to coal.3

People in countries around the world struggled with higher energy prices, changed their habits,4 and were sometimes forced to make difficult decisions between heat and health.5 However, some of that burden might have been eased by following Grace’s lead.

By incorporating solar cooking into their cooking routines, average families across the globe could reduce their energy bills. For the ~2.3 billion people worldwide who still depend on biomass fuels like wood and charcoal, which can be costly and deadly, the transition is urgent.6 But even the most efficient electric ovens require between 2,000 and 5,000 watts of electrical power.7

The ULOG Box Oven Solar Cooker started saving Grace money almost immediately. And program participants were by no means passive recipients; they attended training, completed surveys, and actively explored new cooking techniques. By early 2023, Grace was feeling the benefits in her own life so acutely that she signed up to become a trainer.

Grace shared her experience and worked hard to train the next group of solar cooks introduced to solar cooking through SCI and Ecomandate’s annual cycle of work. She believes every home in Kakuma should have a solar cooker and is proud to be part of the effort to make that happen.

But why stop at Kakuma? We all, across the world, can learn from Grace and her co-participants that, even in adverse circumstances, we can save money, reduce our dependence on polluting fuels, and feed our families by incorporating solar technologies into our cooking routines.

*Name has been changed to protect the subject’s safety.



About the Author

Sara Rosen is the program and operations manager at Solar Cookers International (SCI), which is an American Solar Energy Society member. She has been working with marginalized communities since 2009. In her role at SCI, she works to make solar cooking technologies more accessible by strengthening operational infrastructure and programmatic support. Originally from the United States, she now lives in southern Denmark.


Why Should Students Attend SOLAR 2024?

Tue, 19 Dec 2023 05:58:22 +0000

Continue reading “Why Should Students Attend SOLAR 2024?”

Apply for the JEDI Scholarship (due Feb. 15)

ASES is committed to furthering the professional development of students and other people starting out in the renewable energy and sustainability industries through providing educational and networking opportunities. Our goal is for our students and emerging professionals to be involved in SOLAR 2024 through scholarships and internships, as well as presenting, attending, or volunteering. We want students to be empowered to be a part of the renewable energy and sustainability industries. During the conference, students will be able to:

  • Discover what’s next in solar policy, microgrid resilience planning, and workforce development.
  • Share and discuss successful skills to assist you in your personal and professional lives.
  • Grow your network and connect with fellow ASES members who are industry peers, technical experts, educators, and overall supporters of a 100% renewable energy world!


SOLAR 2024 is designed to serve and advance the solar energy industry by bringing together national labs, installers, government officials, and enthusiasts in the solar and renewable energy industries to explore solutions, new technologies, policy initiatives, and other key factors.


We are dedicating the following sessions specifically for students and others new to the renewable energy industry. Be sure to attend; you won’t want to miss them!


  1. Apply to our JEDI Awards program! Each year, ASES offers a handful of complementary conference passes to expand our outreach to emerging professionals and strengthen our commitment to JEDI (justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion) principles by increasing accessibility to the event and supporting a diversity of conference attendees and ASES members. This is a needs-based scholarship. Applications are due February 15.
  2. We invite you to register here. Please note that ASES Student Members receive 70% off the conference registration price! (Please message for the discount code.)
  3. As an ASES Student Member, you have the opportunity to volunteer and assist at the conference, which allows you to receive a complimentary conference registration pass. (Please message to sign up.)
  4. Intern with us! All interns receive a complimentary conference pass.
  5. If you cannot travel to Boulder, Colorado in August, we also offer a virtual attendance and volunteer options!
  6. Check with your college or university to see if there is funding to support you in attending the conference.


Over the last 52 years, thousands of professionals from public, private, and industrial sector organizations have attended the ASES National Solar Conferences. Attendees typically include:

  • Educators
  • Contractors
  • Developers
  • Architects
  • Engineers
  • Installers
  • Homeowners
  • Policy Makers
  • Researchers
  • Manufacturers
  • Solar Enthusiasts
  • Students

Invest in a Clean Power Future Without Upfront Costs

Wed, 18 Oct 2023 18:18:19 +0000

Continue reading “Invest in a Clean Power Future Without Upfront Costs”

How to Obtain a Credit Union Solar Loan

Using a solar loan to purchase a solar energy system for your home can allow you to virtually replace your monthly utility bill with a fixed monthly loan payment with no additional upfront costs and a trajectory to significant savings. You could pay the same or even less than you currently do each month immediately.

First things first – purchasing a solar energy system for your home allows you to eliminate or reduce your monthly utility bill. How the numbers work exactly depends on where you live (state incentives, utility rates, interconnection policies, etc.), your home (how much sun does it get, whether the roof is suitable for solar panels, etc.), and your family (how much electricity you use, when you use it, etc.)

The cost of purchasing a solar energy system has halved in the past ten years. While that trajectory has slowed, prices will continue to fall as solar equipment continues to get cheaper and the technology gets ever more efficient. Because of this, it’s now more common and much more cost-efficient to purchase a solar energy system than to lease it.

Solar Loan Options

Many solar loan options exist, but credit unions often offer consumers the lowest interest rates and fees. ASES Members can access low-interest clean energy loans from multiple credit unions committed to providing low-cost financing for clean energy and energy efficiency projects. ASES is a membership partner with Clean Energy Credit Union, Technology Credit Union, Verity Credit Union, and Credit Human. This means any ASES member is eligible to join these credit unions to use their financing.

If you’ve already found a solar installer for your project, they may offer their own financing options. Compare their rates and services with our credit union partners’ loans. Ask your solar installer if you can get a discounted price on your system if you use your own financing. If you still need to find an installer for your project, try using the EnergySage portal, where local installers submit quotes to compete for your business, or look for reviews of local installers on the SolarReviews website and contact a quality installer directly.

Clean Energy Credit Union (CECU) offers affordable clean energy loans, including Electric Vehicle Loans, Green Home Improvement Loans, Solar PV System Loans, Geothermal System/Ground-Source Heat Pump Loans, E-Bike Loans, Unsecured and Share-Secured Loans, and Overdraft Lines of Credit.

CECU is an online-only, federally chartered credit union with a vision to create a world where everyone can participate in the clean energy movement. CECU exclusively provides loans for clean energy and energy-saving projects such as Solar PV, Geothermal, Green Home Improvement, Electric Vehicles, and E-bikes. It also makes it easier for everyone to invest in clean energy by offering a full suite of banking services that directly fund clean energy loans. ASES members and their families are eligible to join the credit union. Learn more about Clean Energy Credit Union and calculate how much carbon you can offset by opening an account. According to CECU:

  • To date, CECU has financed over 10,000 clean energy loans and helped offset nearly 700,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. In just 2021 alone, CECU offset 205,000+ tons of carbon,
  • Loan Dollar Distribution:
    • Solar: 65%
    • EV: 13%
    • Green Home Improvements and E-bikes: 9%
    • Geothermal: 12%

Technology Credit Union (TechCU): TechCU offers Solar Loans, Auto Loans, Mortgage Loans, Home Equity Loans, Personal Loans, VISA Credit Cards, and Student Loans. According to its Annual Report:

  • In 2021, TechCU originated $550 million in home loans and financed over $1.1 billion in solar loans, helping 31,504 members with their home financing needs.
  • In 2022, TechCU originated over $553 million in new home loans and financed over $896 million in new solar loans, helping 22,998 members either buy new solar loans, refinance their mortgages, or enjoy the power of green energy.

Verity Credit Union: Verity Credit Union offers financing for solar loans, personal loans, auto loans, mortgages, co-op loans, recreational loans, home equity loans, and credit cards. According to its impact report:

  • In 2021, it financed 2,521 solar-panel loans
  • In 2022, it financed 4,245 solar-panel loans

Credit Human: Credit Human offers Credit Cards, Vehicle Loans, Home Loans, and Personal Loans. It offers SustainableHome™ financing through participating dealers for Solar, Home Improvement, Geothermal, and Rainwater Harvesting projects. The team offers their customers easy access to financing options with great rates and flexible terms to help the planet. According to its website, in 2022 alone, Credit Human helped over 1,300 members with nearly $20 million in loans. The 25-year environmental impact of just the solar systems funded will equal over 147 million metric tons of avoided C02 or the equivalent of 2,495,455 trees planted.

Become an ASES member to be eligible for a credit union loan.


Six Solutions to Battery Mineral Challenges

Fri, 22 Sep 2023 20:35:14 +0000

Continue reading “Six Solutions to Battery Mineral Challenges”

A flood of recent articles, whether spontaneous or coordinated, seeks to discredit renewable energy, electric vehicles (EVs), and other elements of the climate-saving energy transition. Critiques range from grid reliability to land use, from economy to equity.

Among the most widespread and conflictual claims is that it’s immensely destructive, if not impossible, to find enough minerals to make all the batteries that a global fleet of EVs will need.

These mineral concerns are indeed not trivial, but are often exaggerated. I’ll outline here how they can become manageable if we include solutions often overlooked.

Battery materials like lithium, nickel and cobalt are a special case of a broader dynamic. When a mined material is expected to become scarce, its price rises. That signal elicits more-efficient use, recycling, substitution, exploration, innovation and other market responses, as I’ve described for rare earths.1

(Illustrating that article’s substitution thesis, the iron nitride supermagnets it mentioned a few years ago as an experimental ambition2 have now come to market;3 they contain no rare earths and theoretically could become twice as strong as the best rare-earth magnets.)

Mineral scarcity may be real or hyped — for example, to reduce electric vehicles’ competition with oil or to raise commodity or mining-stock prices for speculators. Some minerals may raise legitimate concerns besides scarcity, such as child labor, corruption and other abuses in artisanal cobalt mining; undue de­pen­dence on Chinese ores and processing plants; or the water use and environmental damage of mining.

Real concerns also may need context — like a recent remark, whose validity depends on many assump­tions, that growing California almonds takes six times as much water per pound as mining lithium in the desert. Almonds, too, can be enjoyed just once, but once extracted, lithium can keep providing benefits more or less permanently.

And of course, renewably powered EVs displace oil-burning vehicles that importantly harm land, air, health and climate.

While there are proper concerns about mining battery minerals, there are also many powerful and multiplicative solutions that conventional projections often understate or ignore, exaggerating future mining needs. Let’s now explore six successive and multiplicative parts of the solution space.

1. Storing More Energy per Kilogram

Improving batteries’ composition, manufacturing, design, controls and recharging can store far more energy per unit of materials. Since 2010, lithium-ion battery cells have nearly tripled their energy storage per kilogram.4

Their 89% price drop over the same decade is due partly to their more-frugal use of materials. Further major gains are expected in this decade; as one of many examples, silicon anodes are said to raise lithium-ion batteries’ energy density by 20%.5

RMI assesses that technologies collectively doubling lithium-ion batteries’ energy density could enter production by 2025.6 Tesla’s 2020 Battery Day presentation announced major improvements scaling up for mass production in 2022.7 So projections based on old energy densities substantially overstate needed mining.

2. Lasting Longer, then Being “Reincarnated”

Batteries are also lasting longer as designs, materials, manufacturing and use improve. Just a new charging profile can reverse life-reducing lithium migration.8 Million-mile batteries are emerging, so their lifetime could soon become as irrelevant an issue as the speed of your modem. The longer batteries last, the more vehicle-miles their materials can support.

When an EV ultimately retires (or crashes), its battery pack can be “reincarnated” into valuable stationary storage that continues to provide great value, not by moving a vehicle but by supporting the global shift to renewable power (hence reducing fossil fuels’ mining and emissions).

Thus The Mobility House GmBH in Zürich already earns ~€1000 per EV battery pack per year by selling ~13 of 21 potential services from stationary or parked EV battery packs to the electricity grid in several European countries.9 (For example, in 2018, the firm licensed an EV as Germany’s first power plant on wheels, able to sell frequency stabilization services to the grid.)

Coordinating the immense storage and other capabilities in the world’s EVs, parked ~95% of the time and often rechargeable at flexible times, is emerging as a major and lucrative enabler of rapid growth in variable renewables — solar photovoltaics and wind power.

Utili­ty-scale and behind-the-meter storage will compete not just with each other but also with grid-integrated, EV-based electricity storage. That and eight other kinds of carbon-free grid flexibility resources mean that utility-scale batteries are useful but not essential10 for keeping the grid reliable11 as it becomes renewable (another conversation).12

Thus, batteries for EVs and for grids are not additive requirements but complementary, shared and often successive uses of the same materials, reducing total mining needs.

Battery storage was installed in a factory in Thailand.
Battery storage was installed in a factory in Thailand. (Credit: gerenme)

3. Recycling Batteries

Recycled lithium battery cells are about 17 times richer sources of nickel, four to five times richer sources of lithium, and 10 times richer sources of cobalt than their respective natural ores. “Mining” that recycling resource is already getting well underway.13

I recently visited Tesla co-founder J.B. Straubel’s Redwood Materials plant14 in Carson City, Nevada — the leading U.S. battery recycler and an emergent world leader. The plant recycles several semi truck-loads a day of immensely diverse batteries — all kinds, shapes, sizes and uses, often collecting them from major retailers who get them from customers.

The plant converts all those batteries, with typically over 90% efficiency, into pure materials that go right back into new batteries.

In effect, Redwood Materials is a benign, non-polluting, nearly-zero-emissions “mine” producing lithium, nickel, cobalt, copper and graphite, with more products to come. By brilliant design, it produces no wastes — only value. For now, it uses a little natural gas to start several days of continuous processing fueled by electrolytes and self-sustaining reactions. Future processes will wring out that gas too and capture solid carbon.

The processing already makes money on a cash-flow basis even as capacity rapidly scales up, with 20,000 input tons per year expected in 2021. Even by May 2021, the plant was expected to recover enough battery materials each year to build 45,000 EV packs. The firm’s $0.7 billion capital raise in July 2021 was oversubscribed.

On Sept. 14, 2021, Redwood Materials announced plans for a factory to make advanced battery electrodes,15 increasingly from recycled materials — enough for about a million EVs a year by 2025, then quintupling by 2030. A week later, Ford Motor Company announced an expansive alliance to develop a closed-loop North American battery supply chain.

A major source of recyclable batteries for Redwood Materials is the Tesla Gigafactory a half-hour’s drive away — another of Straubel’s designs. It sends two truckloads a day of defective output and scrap and takes back recycled materials to make more batteries.

The two plants are symbiotic, like a lichen. Other big battery factories going up around the world will organically gain similar loop-closing partners. Much larger but later (for cars, often at least a decade later) materials recovery will come from batteries sold and used.

As more energy-dense batteries used in more-efficient EVs compete with rising EV market share, such recycling operations can already supply on the order of a tenth of the materials needed for the global EV fleet.

In time, recycling can ultimately scale to achieve steady state, eliminating further mining, at a very large industry capacity on the order of (very roughly) 10 TWh/yr — as lagged recovery catches up with saturating global EV growth over several decades. This loop-closing could about halve EVs’ total CO2 emissions.

On similar principles, Apple aims to make iPhones by 2030 that need no mining.

An analogous proof-of-concept, in a battery system that’s already around market saturation, is that about two-thirds of the world’s neurotoxic lead16 and 99% of battery lead is already recycled (about half properly, half informally and dangerously).17, 18

In almost every U.S. state, you can’t buy a lead-acid automotive battery without turning in your old one, so that loop is already very nearly closed, and lead is now rarely mined. Now Redwood Materials and its competitors aim to “mine” roughly a billion used batteries sitting unused in U.S. homes’ old laptops, cell phones, etc. — batteries whose metals are usually more valuable than lead and often rich in cobalt.

As batteries’ compositions shift, recycled streams don’t translate directly into identical battery capacity. Thus, smartphone batteries generally have high cobalt content while automotive battery makers are rapidly reducing cobalt content, so recycling smartphone batteries into EV batteries leverages ~30x more battery capacity per gram of cobalt.

To make an EV battery pack thus takes on the order of 10,000 smartphone batteries for lithium but only ~300 for cobalt. Tesla, among others, plans to eliminate its batteries’ cobalt use, but makers who still need cobalt will be able to get it from old smartphones, not child miners in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

4. Using Novel Battery Chemistries

Several firms have demonstrated novel electrolytes that permit chemistries like rechargeable alkalines.19

Such chemistries, like manganese-zinc or manganese-aluminum, need no materials that are scarce, costly, toxic or flammable. They could thus displace lithium and nickel and cobalt, disadvantaging producers of lithium-ion batteries (notably in China).

While that lithium-ion-battery value chain displays some aspects of “lock-in,” India’s national battery mission emphasizes new chemistries20, 21, 22 (India also happens to be rich in manganese and zinc), and like other efforts elsewhere, may offer distinctive advantages that could diversify battery chemistries.

Some battery metals, like iron and aluminum, are among the most abundant elements in the Earth’s crust. Novel electrolytes could also enable safe lithium-ion and lithium-sulfur batteries suitable even for aviation.23

A BMW 2020 i3 has been used by ShareNow in Amsterdam.
A BMW 2020 i3 has been used by ShareNow in Amsterdam. (Credit: harry_nl / Flickr)

5. Introducing Efficient Vehicles

A major variable overlooked by nearly all analysts is the efficiency of the vehicle that’s being electrified. Advantageous reductions in vehicle mass, aerodynamic drag and rolling resistance — improvements in the physics of the vehicle rather than the efficiency of its electric powertrain — can cut required battery capacity for the same driving range by 2–3-fold.

BMW’s 2013–22 i3, for example, paid for its ultralight carbon-fiber body by needing fewer batteries to move less mass and by having simpler manufacturing24 (with one-third the normal investment and water and half the normal energy, space and time).

Projected battery capacity per vehicle is therefore not a fixed number but should be parameterized to platform efficiency. What is that uncounted variable’s potential range? In September 2021, 2–3-fold — and imminently severalfold more!

That’s because a further ~2–4-fold efficiency gain is being demonstrated by a new generation of vehicles, finishing their capital raise for mass production. They are so efficient that they can power a normal commuting cycle just by having solar cells on their upper surfaces.

(Disclosure: I advise two such firms — Aptera Motors at 343 miles per gallon equivalent (mpge) with two seats25 and Lightyear at 251 mpge with five.)26

Both designs can improve further. Such vehicles need proportionately smaller batteries and less or no recharging infrastructure. In round numbers, they’re 2–3-fold more efficient than, say, a Tesla Model 3, one of the most efficient EVs on the market.

Together, these efficiency gains can use batteries up to an order of magnitude (roughly a factor of 10) more efficiently than many EVs now on the market and could reduce their battery needs correspondingly, all with uncompromised safety and attractive driver attributes.

The Aptera Motors NeverCharge is a niche vehicle, but Dutch firm Lightyear’s is mainstream. Both are important, and there will be more.

6. Creating Efficient Mobility

Beyond the system boundary of the vehicle itself, productive use of vehicles, new mobility business models, virtual mobility (send electrons, leave heavy nuclei at home), and better urban design and public policy to provide better access with less driving can all dramatically affect future needs for autos and driving.

For example, the journalist Sam Deutsch reports that “Atlanta and Barcelona have a similar number of people and length of rapid transit, but Barcelona’s carbon emissions are 83% lower and mass transit ridership is 565% higher.”27

As my 2017 analysis found for rare earths,28 and the same is now true for battery minerals:

“… the most effective substitute… in both motors and batteries, isn’t another exotic material for making motors or batteries; it’s smarter car design that makes motors smaller and batteries fewer. Or, even better, it could be new business models — shareable services like Zipcar and Getaround, mobility-as-a-service operations like Lyft and Uber, or autonomous vehicles — that carry more people more miles in far fewer cars at astonishingly lower cost,29 ultimately saving on the order of $10 trillion worldwide (in net present value).”

These options span a wide range of potentially avoided vehicles, but already in some urban cores, ride-hailing services are displacing several times as many vehicles as they use. With ~4–5% average utilization of private U.S. cars, the potential is clearly far larger.

Combine that with other opportunities (with widely varying timescales and likelihoods) — ~2-fold short-term gains in battery energy density, severalfold in battery life, ~2–8+-fold in vehicle efficiency, and potentially complete displacement of scarce materials in battery chemistry — and high forecasts of demand for mined battery materials look highly uncertain and potentially wrong by large factors.


We have even more ways to save battery materials of concern than to increase their supply, but these demand-side opportunities are widely ignored.

Competing or comparing all options — in a whole-system perspective that emphasizes demand levers as much as supply expansions and compares or competes them — will yield better choices, actions and impacts and help to avoid asset bubbles, overbuilt supply, needless interventions and unnecessary risks.

That’s why discussions of battery materials or any other supposedly scarce resource must consider not just simplistic demand projections or worrisome mines but the whole system — end-to-end, linear-to-circular, and fully engaged with innovation, economics and trade.

This article was originally published by RMI in 2021. It was reprinted and lightly edited with permission from the author.


  23. Ibid.

About the Author

Physicist Amory B. Lovins is co-founder and chairman emeritus of RMI and an adjunct professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University.


When Communities Oppose Large Solar and Wind Installations

Fri, 22 Sep 2023 19:35:37 +0000

Continue reading “When Communities Oppose Large Solar and Wind Installations”

We — and by we, I mean all of us in the United States — have the reliable price-competitive technologies needed to transition the nation to a low-carbon economy. Although new and improved technologies will come along, we have what we need in terms of alternatives to fossil fuel-generated electricity.

To achieve the president’s greenhouse gas-emission reductions with solar and wind requires a lot of land. Acreage estimates vary between models depending upon the assumptions used to run the programs.

With a 13% to 14% solar panel efficiency, National Renewable Energy Laboratory researchers estimate that 22,000 square miles of solar panels would be needed — roughly the size of Lake Michigan.1 At 20% efficiency, a conversion rate thought possible by solar experts, land use drops to 10,000 square miles — roughly the size of Lake Erie.2

It’s estimated that between 1,400 and 10,100 miles of new high-voltage lines will be needed annually to achieve net zero power-sector emissions in 2035,3 reaching “1.3 times to 2.9 times current capacity.” The wide range in estimates reflects how much is not yet known about where the new generating facilities will be sited and where the end users are.4

Not everyone is thrilled to have a utility-scale wind or solar installation next door. Even those who favor the use of solar, wind and other clean energy alternatives have a different view of things when a large-scale project is planned for just down the road in an otherwise rural or scenic setting.

I’ve written before that pushback on renewable energy projects can take different forms,5 including legal challenges and political campaigns.

A 2021 Ohio law (S.B. 52) allows county governments to create exclusion zones where no utility-scale solar or wind projects can be sited.

At least 11 counties in Ohio have availed themselves of the law.6 An effort by Apex Clean Energy to override the denial of its plan to construct a 300-megawatt project in Crawford County, Ohio ended up on the November 2022 ballot. The ban was upheld by voters, while the debate leading up to the election was fraught with “alternative facts.”

A recent study by the Columbia Law School documents state and local opposition to renewable energy projects.7 In its most recent iteration, it identified 59 new local renewables-siting restrictions across 35 states. The total number of restrictions is now 228 and appears to be rising.

The “restrictions include temporary moratoria on wind or solar energy development; outright bans on wind or solar energy development; regulations that are so restrictive that they can act as de facto bans on wind or solar energy development; and zoning amendments that are designed to block a specific proposed project.”

It doesn’t help any that U.S. climate policy is a hostage of the U.S. culture wars in which party affiliation tends to dominate all other issues. But it’s a mistake to think that antagonism is just a Republican thing.

Opposition to large-scale projects is an area where climate change believers and deniers have found common ground. There are various reasons why communities reject proposed projects. Politics certainly plays a part, but so too does how some project developers have presented their proposals as fait accompli rather than as the starts of project-planning processes with community involvement.

A study published online in the journal Rural Sociology8 surveyed residents in western and northern New York about their views on utility-scale solar farms.9 It found that only 44% of those surveyed supported an installation, 42% opposed a project, and 14% neither opposed nor supported it.

It’s the conclusion of the authors that the strongest reason for opposing the project was that the communities didn’t know what they’d be getting out of it.

“What’s in it for me?” is a valid question for which there are answers. Why not give the community a discount on utility rates? Or calculate how a utility-scale solar installation and farming are totally compatible? Why not explain how important the transition to a low-carbon economy is to the future of the nation’s health and security?

It now appears that residents in Staunton, Virginia will have an opportunity to enroll in a program of Dominion Energy10 that comes with an estimated 10% reduction on the company’s bills just for subscribing. The offer is part of a deal that the utility is trying to make for a large solar project. The offer of a sweetener comes after opposition to the project rose up to meet the developers.

It is not at all clear, however, that there will be a project in Staunton. The experience of the Virginia community is fairly representative of the problems — many of which are self-inflicted — facing developers elsewhere.

The project developer for the Staunton project was not particularly secretive about its application for a 97-acre site to be rezoned for the proposed 15.5-MW solar energy installation. Notices of various zoning and planning commissions were publicized in various places. It appeared the project was working its way through the application processes according to established procedures.

There’s a big difference between not being particularly secretive, i.e., following the rules, and making the community actually aware of what was being done. Experience dictates that developers of utility-scale solar and wind projects need to be deliberate about bringing communities in early in the planning process.

In 2017, Georgetown University inked an agreement with MD Solar 1, a subsidiary of Origis Energy, to construct a 100,000-panel, 32-MW solar project on a 537-acre tract in Charles County, Maryland about 30 miles outside the District of Columbia.11 The project was part of the university’s overall commitment to reduce its carbon footprint in part by shifting to electricity generated from solar and other clean energy resources. The proposed project would have supplied over half of the university’s electricity demand.

To make a long story short, the university abandoned the proposed project and decided to buy clean energy credits from existing solar installations. It didn’t have to be that way. Among the issues that could have been resolved were things like sightlines. A buffer zone of trees or earth berms could have been sited that would have essentially hidden the installation from casual view.

There are multiple ways to hide solar installations using berms and plantings. In the case of Georgetown University, making up for the lost panels could have been done by using the rooftops of university buildings or partnering with the many big-box stores in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. Also, cooperative arrangements could have been made with the D.C. government and the Biden administration to use the rooftops of government buildings.

A timely willingness by the developer to modify plans in response to concerns can go a long way — although it’s no guarantee of approval. In Staunton, the developer has now shown a willingness to work through issues.

Beyond offering Dominion Energy customers the sweetener, the developer is reported to be working to resolve a list of community concerns. The planning commission has recommended approval of the project, but only if a list of 20 conditions are met, including installation of fencing and landscaping measures and limitation of glint and glare from the solar panels.

The Staunton project may be an example of too little, too late. Based on media reports, the developer’s failure to be proactive in reaching out to the community from the very beginning is still being held against it.

Of all the elements needed for a successful siting of a large-scale solar or wind installation, a key one is trust. Essential to trust is transparency — from the earliest planning efforts to the final approvals.

A final note on the Staunton project concerns the unwillingness of opponents to accept the final decisions of the planning, zoning and other commissions; boards; and governing units. Opponents of the project have made it clear that they are still exploring all avenues to either slow down or stop the project from happening. One can’t help but to think that everything would have been a whole lot easier if the developer took the time to do it right from the start.12

Not every problem has an amicable solution. And often the opposition is deeper than NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard). The failed Cape Wind project planned for Nantucket Sound was challenged by the Wampanoag tribe because it would have infringed on important cultural traditions around an unobstructed view of the sunrise in the region.13

The Cape Wind project failed, but it’s not as though all proposed wind projects off the Massachusetts coast have been rejected. Offshore wind projects like the 800-MW Vineyard Wind have been approved. Vineyard Wind is 15 miles south of where Cape Wind would have been built, and thus further out to sea.

As Greg Alvarez wrote in Forbes, “opposition [to projects] may not be organic.”14 Communities slated for proposed solar and wind installations are becoming ground zero in the battle between the fossil fuel industry and clean energy interests.

Local battles over large solar and wind installations are being funded in some cases by fossil fuel interests, who flood the communities with specious studies and misinformation. In Ohio, the group Citizens for Clear Skies claimed that wind turbine noise was causing birth defects in Portuguese horses.15 Then, too, there are the claims by former President Donald Trump that wind turbines cause cancer.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, an ultra-right think tank, is a leader in the movement against the use of environmental, social and governance criteria in the investment decisions of states, companies and individuals.16

The foundation has released a YouTube video17 that, according to National Public Radio, “features multiple falsehoods,18 including the untrue statement that the proposed project didn’t do any environmental impact assessments19 and the incorrect idea that offshore wind projects ‘haven’t worked anywhere in the world.’”20

A good discussion on where opposition funds are flowing from is the Volts podcast “The right-wing groups behind renewable energy misinformation.”21

It’s difficult to follow the money from some of the citizen organizations back to fossil fuel interests. Groups like Alliance for Wise Energy Decisions and Citizens for Clear Skies crop up where projects are being proposed and maintain the aura of “a group of neighbors getting together.”22, 23

These citizen groups either cease existing once their work is done, i.e., a project is killed, or continue to maintain the same neighborly character. Project advocates that encounter these types of groups should do their due diligence work, e.g., search records and ask questions of the groups directly, to discover whether the groups are what they say or are part of a network of opposing fossil-fueled organizations.

It’s vital to remember that even avid environmentalists who otherwise support the transition to a low-carbon economy may oppose a particular project. Siting large facilities is an issue that crosses aisles. It’s personal.

At times, local environmental/conservation groups may end up at odds with their nationals. The Ivanpah Solar Power Facility project proved to be a major battleground between the Sierra Club’s national office and its local chapter. In the end, the national quashed local chapters’ opposition to some solar projects with a 42-page directive — with mixed results.24 The local San Bernardino chapter changed its name and went on opposing the project.

The massive amount of land and offshore acreage needed to make the transition a reality is a problem that the physical sciences can’t solve. Large scale solar- and wind-project developers need to understand that project siting and construction is much like politics in that it’s local. Developers and activists need to engage with the community even before the first permit application.


  5. “Depoliticize to Decarbonize,” an article to be published in the Fall 2023 issue of The Environmental Forum.

About the Author

Joel Stronberg, M.A., J.D., is the president of The JBS Group/Civil Notion. He’s been analyzing and advocating federal and state policies on behalf of clients for over 40 years. These days, he is featured at and Energy Central. He is a member of the American Solar Energy Society. His blog is


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