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Telling the solar story, building industry collaboration

A few of us from the Solar Electric Power Association — myself, CEO Julia Hamm and our research director Mike Taylor — participated in a Solar Chat, or #SolarChat, as it is known on Twitter, which is where the hour-long social media panel discussion took place.

Think of it as kind of a speed-dating approach to exploring some of the key issues facing our industry. Moderator and SolarChat founder Raina Russo throws out a series of questions and panel participants and others tweet out their thoughts and comments. Given Twitter’s 140-character format, complex, nuanced answers are not part of the program, but the range of voices and succinctly expressed views are actually quite thoughtful and lively.


In advance of Solar Power International, coming up Oct. 20-23 in Las Vegas, the chat focused on collaboration: how various industry stakeholders can work together to keep the solar market growing with smart public policies, innovative technologies and balanced business models.

When Russo posted a question on how to raise public awareness and support for solar, many of the responding tweets talked about the importance of community-level conversations — getting neighbors to talk to neighbors.

Certainly, from a sales point of view, nothing is better than good word of mouth. Talk with almost any solar installer, and you’ll hear stories about how one installation in a neighborhood often leads to a cluster of jobs.

That’s at least some of the impetus behind the National Solar Home Tour coming up this weekend, Oct. 4-5. Now in its 19th year, the tour is the brainchild of the American Solar Energy Society (ASES), aimed at showcasing energy-efficient, solar homes in different communities.

In addition to building word-of-mouth, the home tours are also aimed at inspiring others to take on their own home energy-efficiency projects.

Looking at the ASES map, showing various tours happening and homes participating, you get a sense of the scope of solar adoption across the country and the excitement it generates. We are way past the niche market phase or the misconception that solar is only for tree-huggers in California.

In Minnesota, 60 homes across the state will be open for touring on Oct. 4. An Arkansas Solar Home Tour includes more than 40 participants — private residences, nonprofits and the First Presbyterian Church in Mena, Ark., which according to the congregation’s website, has the largest solar installation in Polk County.

In Delaware, tourers can check out a very cool home in Newark, described as a double-shell, passive solar home,  which means it is heated with warm air circulated through a double-wall system. It also includes both an 8-kW rooftop installation and a solar hot water heater.

I’m currently trying to figure out how to fit two different solar tours into my weekend schedule — one in Washington, D.C. and another in Maryland.  I am betting all those solar owners have stories to tell about their decisions to go solar and how it’s changed their homes and how they live in them.


Which is why, sometimes, we need more than 140-characters and the thousands of impressions such online forums as SolarChat generate. Certainly, they can be effective, but compelling stories can connect people at a deeper level than facts and figures, or the industry jargon that makes up too much of our conversations.

Those direct, personal connections are at least part of what we need to build support for solar and better collaboration across the industry.