Solar energy consumers in need of positive filters

Pratima H

PERCEPTIONS about solar energy are like sunrise and sunset, rhythmically fluctuating whether it is about consumers liking the idea ideologically, or their intended width of an open mind or wallet when it comes to absorbing some upfront costs.

Navigant Research’s annual national consumer survey to gauge public perceptions of energy and environmental concepts had shown a bleak skyline between 2009 and 2012, with steady declines in favorability for concepts like solar energy, wind energy, hybrid vehicles, and electric cars.455070439

And bouncing to sunshine time again, the recent consumer survey from Navigant Research, reported positive overall impressions of solar energy that have now reached 79 percent of Americans.

“Solar energy is one of the most popular and least controversial green technologies in the eyes of consumers,” like Clint Wheelock, managing director with Navigant Research aptly quipped in a news update.

Controversial it is, for consumers keep going back to sitting on the fence and feeling that grass is cheaper their side, irrespective of their degree of knowledge on solar energy as an alternative. Their sentiments and attitudes just keep bobbing up and down.

No wonder this survey of over 1,000 U.S. adults that was conducted in the fall of 2013, echoes similar perception roller rides across other studies, time lines and regions again and again.

In 2010, a report titled ‘Understanding Consumer Preferences in Energy Efficiency: Accenture end-consumer observatory on electricity management 2010’, wherein the firm commissioned a survey of consumers’ attitudes and opinions toward electricity management programs, also touched upon the irony that this and other alternative energy sectors face on the cliff of consumer acceptance.

That study which was conducted in 17 countries with 9,108 individuals had thrown among its top key findings a not-so-sunny observation that there is a significant contradiction between consumer perceptions and their actual knowledge of energy efficiency. Here, when asked to select the factors that, in their opinion, have a negative impact on the environment in their country, 85 % respondents highlighted individual usage of gasoline and diesel and only 42 % picked out individual electricity consumption, which is not a good sign since traditional fossil fuel-based power generation is a major producer of carbon emissions.

The research gleaned that most people still do not fully equate electricity usage with its environmental impact.

Look at another, more recent research conducted by The Eco Experts and we can see that 92 % of people in the UK are worried about rising energy bills but 66 % don’t realize how little it could cost to switch to renewable energy.

Among the 1,994 UK consumers surveyed about energy use and about the sustainable alternatives to buying from the National Grid, a lot of misconceptions about renewable energy were addressed.

What pops up is that the main reason people don’t install solar panels is perceived cost.

This is another interesting terrain altogether that not many UK consumers are aware of how much that is. But while one in three understand that a solar installation can save and generate £1,000 per year, about twice that number didn’t know how much solar panels cost to have installed. Turns out that more than 80 percent of respondents were open to install solar provided the issue of upfront costs was ironed out.

Cost, or the perception of it, is no doubt a recurring gripe when people are found not keen to install solar panels. Meanwhile living in flats and not having own roofs are other factors to reckon too. So 48.7% of people who overestimate the cost assume they are too expensive and still 18.1% rejected them outright.

A Wired report shows start-ups confronting the issue headlong. RawLemon, by architect André Broessel, is shown as an effort to address the way people perceive solar power. From roofs covered with PV cells to going to water-filled glass spheres embedded in the curtain walls of skyscrapers and desktop power stations, is what his idea of doing that appears like.

May be we can do with some lateral PR and advertising power too to help lift solar energy perceptions out of gloomy mind maps.

An advice snippet in CleanTechnica focused the rays on the perfect spot: “Any company that begins marketing by talking about how great they are is making a mistake. It’s always about the customer, not about you. What’s in it for them? How will they benefit from your product?”

It won’t be a bad idea to laser project some advertising to educating the customer about the cost savings inherent in solar. Appeal to their global warming guilt but also talk to your customers about the long term costs of unstable fuel supplies like coal, oil, natural gas, and other fossil fuels etc.

And why does solar still roll in the rut of being a commodity product when differentiation in terms of quality, durability, and performance of solar panels can be worked out?

Scott Cooney, Professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai’i
couldn’t be timelier in reminding here that solar advertising need not always be about environmental guilt but rather about a little humor and entertaining the customers.

May be we can take a break from being serious and boringly scared about climate change areas. Make it easy and fun for customers and we could soon be enjoying the sunny-side-up.


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