Solar Can’t Go Mainstream Without Sarah Palin??

By Matthew Wheeland - November 15, 2010

solar champions

Somewhere along the way, solar energy was pigeonholed as a lifestyle choice for rich, liberal do-gooders, which is miles away from how it should be seen: a way to save big money and get free of big, powerful utility companies.

Unfortunately, solar energy is still thought of as something that, well… other people do. Most think, “Oh that’s for rich environmentalists, but not for me.” And honestly, that’s understandable because that’s been the case for over 30 years. Solar is slowly moving into a newer image: savvy home improvement and/or wise home investment, but that shift has been very gradual so far and overall rates of adoption remain totally unimpressive. The fact is, solar isn’t likely to go mainstream until it sheds its limousine liberal image. A national transition to solar can either be a painstakingly slow crawl or a five minute, Oprah-fueled booster rocket.

That’s why fewer than 1% of homes have solar.

What I’m saying here is that with the kind of modern, zero down financing options that are available these days, there are over 18 million homeowners right now who would save money on the very first day of going solar, not to mention a huge amount of money annually. This is why solar needs the right kind of champions: to make the average homeowner aware of the incredible economic payoff for doing so. There are places in the United States, in fact, where the incentives and financing options are so strong, in fact, you’d basically have to be insane not to go solar (provided you have a good roof for it), yet the rates of solar adoption even in these “insane” areas don’t look much different from the merely good solar markets.

So why hasn’t it taken off yet?

Mindset. Sure, there are a other roadblocks to widespread solar adoption that will have to get resolved along the way (such as how installers would meet large scale demand) but what solar needs first and foremost is the kind of champion who can cause a change in the national mindset about it.

If the mindset changes, the rate of solar adoption will really take off and American families will immediately start saving an absolute mother lode of money. That’s money they’re currently spending on grid energy, the cost of which is rising by an average of six percent every year.

Why would the right kind of champion help so much? There’s a lot of new research lately that proves people are most likely to make significant changes when they see other people doing it first–particularly if they can relate to those people. There’s also some anecdotal proof…

Exhibit A: Obama goes solar.

white-house-solar-small-1While this is a magnificently powerful and symbolic message to the industry, the average homeowner is simply going to have trouble relating to a purchasing decision made by the White House. This alone won’t get Americans to start getting solar quotes, even if solar is the best investment in the world. (And it just might be. In many areas, going solar beats investing in the S&P 500 five times over.)

obama solar

Exhibit B: Oprah says “I love Kindles.”

Yes, I know a Kindle isn’t a giant home improvement, but if Oprah featured homeowners on her show who talked about how much money they’re saving by having solar and how amazing it feels to be energy independent, you’d see a similar rocket-ship type trend. When real homeowners talk about going solar, they tend to talk first and foremost about how fantastic it is not to have an electricity bill anymore. Oprah’s brand is one closely aligned with the concerns of average families, so the combination of her reach and an economic message could be really potent. If Oprah talked about solar as an exclusively environmental choice, we’d just see the same problem all over again: many people would simply assume that Oprah is rich and they aren’t, so they couldn’t possibly go solar themselves. (By the way, yes Oprah, this is a hint, please have some solar homeowners on your show!)

oprah kindle

Exhibit C: We found that if the Joneses do it, you’re more likely to do it.

This is a fact I don’t need to prove. Ever notice how some neighborhoods go nuts on Halloween or winter holidays on decorations, and others don’t? We did some math on our members:

“OK, but I still don’t believe solar is all the sudden some magical investment.”

To that (and I apologize for being snarky) I’d answer, “Do you know? Have you gotten a quote? Do you have a friend that has? Do any of your relatives have solar? Do you know what the incentives are today in your area?”

Because you’re reading this, you’re the most likely demographic to answer yes to these questions, but the vast majority of you will still answer “no.” Ask a thousand people and maybe one will be able to explain how solar economics work. The fact of the matter is that in many cases it’s just true, and not only true but one of the best places you can put your money…. yet very few people know it.

And sure, it doesn’t make financial sense everywhere, but we’re talking double digit percentages of U.S. homeowners for whom solar is a smarter place to put their money than where they’re currently putting it today (the utility companies).

So, why does it make financial sense now? Why did DOW FREAKING JONES put it on their building? They would know if it’s a solid investment or not, right? It’s like…. what they do.

Solar panels aren’t a heck of a lot different than they were in the 70′s. But they are a heck of a lot cheaper now. Panel prices have plummeted, there’s large and recent Federal tax credit, and there are lots of juicy local subsidies. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: if pricing plummeted why shouldn’t I wait even longer while it gets cheaper?

sarah_palin_pogWhat does Sarah Palin have to do with it?

She’s the perfect example of the “game changer” crew of champions. I mean, how did solar become 100% stuck in the liberal and greenie bucket?

Let’s look at her political stance and how solar speaks to them:

  • We should not reward poor financial decisions. (Sep 2008). House flipping and predatory lending put us in a bad spot. What about instead investing in your home for years by improving it with something that saves you money on your power bills? It’s forced savings, it’s frugal and it’s the most stable, low-risk investment out there (solar panels are essentially made of sand. They’re silicon. They don’t break. There are panels that were installed in the 1960′s that are still pumping out money).
  • Energy is a foundation of national security. (Sep 2008). Each panel is that much new energy generated inside our country and not imported. Sure, we get most of our coal from inside the country, but electric vehicles have already started, and that means less oil, and we can generate the power for those from the sun. This isn’t some crazy pipe dream, it already works and so do the economics behind it.
  • Leverage job-training dollars through voc-tech curriculum. (Nov 2006). Yes, there’s lot of heat about our subsidies going to other nations. You can’t do much about that, you gotta close your eyes and have some faith. We’re a capitalist nation. If their products are cheaper, they’re going to put those in in their large products because it benefits the bottom line. But you know what you can never export? Jobs putting in renewable energy projects. If you want something to replace the auto industry to keep us a global powerhouse, it’s this.
  • Favorite movie: “Hoosiers.” We’re coming from way behind Germany, Japan, Spain, and now China in solar. We are the underdog.

Who are the celebs that move the word association bar from one side to the other?

solar champion Jim CramerJim Cramer. Cramer has made droves of people comfortable enough to take investing in individual stocks into their own hands.  Imagine if he said that he’d put solar on his home because it beats most other fixed investments.
solar champions Donald TrumpDonald Trump. If Trump solar’ed up his businesses or homes, people will correctly assume he did so because it positively impacts the bottom line, then consider going solar themselves for the same reason.
solar champions Sarah PalinSarah Palin. 80%+ of the users signed up at are men. We’ve found that some moms put solar panels in the same “unnecessary, expensive toy” category as the Ducatis their husbands want. We need to paint a different picture. Solar is about home savings for real families.

solar champions Oprah WinfreyOprah Winfrey. I think we all know an endorsement from Oprah on the show can move giant mountains of action taking. She too could galvanize women around solar in a unique and powerful way.

solar champions Glenn BeckGlenn Beck. He could be pushing solar instead of gold. Glenn is famous for having gold advertisements on his show and endorses buying coins as an investment.  Solar is an order of magnitude better.  With an an extremely loyal following of people who are not typically marketed solar. If Glenn Beck said, “I put solar on my home because if I don’t, they’re going to hand out my hard earned dollars in subsidies,” I bet others would follow.

(If you are a celebrity on this list and would like to help turn the US into the most powerful solar energy market in the world, call us.)

Celebs preaching to the choir

solar champions Al GoreAl Gore – No one is going to assume Al Gore did it for anything other than Climate Change, no matter what he says.

solar champions Brad PittBrad Pitt – Most know of his Make it Right Foundation, and would paint his actions into the corner along with the others.
solar champions Leonardo DicaprioLeonardo Dicaprio – Most would assume he did it for the environment, in line with Global Green, same deal as Brad Pitt.

solar champions John StewartJohn Stewart – His actions will always get spun because he’s a comedian.
solar champions Nancy PelosiNancy Pelosi – See “Al Gore,” above.
(PS, if you are a celebrity on this list we still love you, we’re just making a point.)
solar champions

As electricity gets more expensive and solar gets less expensive, solar WILL take on the same market penetration as central air conditioning. The question is, will it be too late?


By Dave Llorens

Leave a comment Comment Arrow