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Jan 29, 2013  | Tom Cheyney  | 7 Comments

The laugh-cry polarity

Witty solar repartee, maximized trade-show ROI, #SolarChat returns, Mattson ruminates on industry tipping point

One thing most denizens of the diverse solar community share is a sense of humor. That doesn’t mean all of you are funny–hilarious maybe, but not funny–yet most I’ve met do appreciate a good laugh, have a bit of an irreverent or sick streak, and are capable of at least a smile and roll o’ the eyes. (Then again, the humorless are anathema, so I don’t seek them out.) Even the most serious of contenders occasionally find solace in the lighter side. As the saying goes, if I wasn’t laughing, I’d be crying—an apt life-philosophy in this roller-coaster of a business.

A good example of the laugh-cry polarity comes from Carter Lavin, biz dev dude at Solar Marketing Group, who has penned what @Jevansryan calls a “witty, clever and true” commentary titled “How to Write a Hit Piece on the Solar Industry in 6 Steps” for Cleantechnica. He notes how so many articles “tend to point out and ignore the same facts—which is why they have all been wrong about the future of solar power These articles are rarely factually inaccurate, but they often lack context, mislead with incorrect data usage, or do not account for many of the more powerful factors at play. In fact, these articles are so formulaic, common, and wrong that I decided to save everyone a lot of time and teach you how to make one.”

Carter’s tongue-in-cheek do’s and don’t’s for aspiring yellow journalists touch on many of the head-scratching myths as facts that many of us see on a regular basis repeated repeated repeated in the mainstream media–and even the trade press periodically. Carter’s seriocomic formula for the solid hit piece starts with “pointing out some of the industry success,” transitions to “dark days ahead’ or a similar gloomy weather metaphor, then injects politics and bankruptcies (Solyndra, thy name is legend), then eases off the pedal with a weak attempt at neutrality, and concludes with a paean to natural gas and all its fracking wonderfulness.

Another gust from the marketing world comes from Brian Mahar of Tigercomm, whose post on “10 Tips for Maximizing Trade Show ROI” appeared first on his firm’s Scaling Green blog and then was picked up by Renewable Energy World. His timing’s good, as the solar show season is about to kick off with PV America East and Solar Power-Gen taking place in Philadelphia and San Diego in consecutive weeks. For those of us who have been to a trade show rodeo or three (hundred) over the years, many of his suggestions may not be news to us (sensible shoes! rehydrate! target your potential customers!), but his list and explanatory copy provide a handy summary for the less experienced or those dogs needing to learn a new trick or two, especially in the still-underutilized realm of social media.

Speaking of social media and PV America East, the #SolarChat recap from last week’s Twitterthon has posted at the EcoOutfitters site, and the next chat will take place live from the Field House Sports and Beer Hall inside the Philly convention center on February 6. The last Tweetfest featured outspoken panelists Barry Cinnamon, Paula Mints and James Tong as well as 60 or so other participants. The conversation focused on several issues facing the industry in 2013, including responses to questions such as “How should the solar industry leverage the focus on climate change within mainstream media? and “What are the largest solar obstacles to overcome here in the U.S.? How can such issues be tackled?” Plenty of food for thought in small bites.

As much as I’ve grown fond of Twitter and its 140-character blurtables, there’s something about thoughtful long(er)-form commentary that satisfies like no other industry prose. A good example of such resides at Greentech Media, courtesy of Brad Mattson, a Silicon Valley semiconductor equipment biz pioneer who threw his hat into the solar ring a few years back as CEO of one of the surviving thin-film PV early stagers, Solexant. His guest post discusses the “real” birth of the solar industry and the beginning of what he calls Solar 2.0. Brad covers a lot of ground in his 3000ish words, with several data charts and signal-to-noise filterings. Most of his narrative covers familiar ground like solar industry parallels with semiconductor-like cycles (we’re experiencing the first one in Solarland, that’s why it seems so drastic), the rise of China, the 85% drop in prices over the past four years, the soft costs issue in the U.S., and some other Gladwellian tipping-point stuff, all underscoring the inexorable ascent of solar as a serious low-cost player in the energy space. He shows a deft hand in how he brings all the various threads together in a cohesive argument.

Although I would recommend his essay without reservation, I do have a bone to pick with one of Brad’s taglines. His characterization that we are entering Solar 2.0 infers that everything leading up to this point, from the early days in the 1960s and ‘70s forward, has been the age of Solar 1.0. This does a disservice to the vanguard of technologists and early adopters who were the original innovators, proved solar power worked, and brought the industry to life–the real 1.0 crew. We are already in the second iteration of solar, which began in the 2000s when the industry went from kilowatt to gigawatt, boutique to multibillion-dollar sector in a few blinks of the eye. May I suggest that Brad reconsider his terminology and get on board the Solar 3.0 train as it leaves the station.

In some ways, the treatise reads like a foreword to a comprehensive book about the current status and future prospects of solar energy or perhaps a plenary keynote speech at an industry event. In fact, as part of his desire to “engage in a dialog with those who might share some of this optimism to discuss a roadmap for that success, and how the U.S. has real competitive advantages and can, must and will succeed in this brave new world of solar,” Brad will be speaking at a IEEE PV chapter event at the Palo Alto Research Center on February 13.


Sources: Cleantechnica, @jevansryan, Scaling Green, Renewable Energy World, EcoOutfitters, #SolarChat, Greentech Media, SolarCurator

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