SEIA and Greentech Media this morning published a Q2 market report on solar installations in the US with a bullish forecast through the end of the year. The biggest finding? Solar is still a growth market with a forecast installation growth rate of more than 30 percent over 2012.
With 3.3 gigawatts installed in 2012 and 4.4 gigawatts forecasted to be completed this year, where does solar go from here? It's an interesting question whose answer is heavily influenced by several other key questions.
What happens with solar costs? Will we see a similar price decline in other components of the system as has taken place in solar modules? Unlikely, but even if cost reduction slows its pace, the current cost levels make solar appealing in many states.
What happens with public incentives? While much of the focus is on policy in already-dominant solar states like California, Massachusetts, Arizona, Hawaii, etc., it's the US Southeast, Texas and other regions will ultimately determine if solar continues on its hockey stick of adoption.
What will the utility stance be? Do we soon hit a tipping point where utilities become resigned to the fact that if they don't embrace renewables and change their business models then they may find themselves a fraction of their current size in 10-15 years? Is there a way to maintain the current utility structure and maintain grid infrastructure?
The biggest wildcard? Storage. Everyone knows that a limiting factor for solar is the intermittency of production. If the CPUC's storage mandate takes hold and it illustrates that storage-backed solar systems of all sizes are not only feasible, but non-cost prohibitive, then we could be looking at a growth cycle that makes 2008-2013 look like a beta period.
With tremendous growth, market consolidation and the above questions as a backdrop, the upcoming Solar Power International show in Chicago should be the most interesting in years.
Tags: cpuc, energy, greentech+media, seia, solar, solar+power+international, storage, utilities
This is the common refrain whenever a critic of the Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee program explains why federal government loans to private industry is a bad thing. Some have even used it to explain why they believe there should be no tax credits, treasury grants or portfolio standards for renewable energy.
But these same critics, which include media outlets and politicians, have zero problem picking winning facts (cited in their arguments) and losing facts (uncited) to support their case. Take the Solyndra myopia, which has existed ever since the company folded.
Solyndra was a technology company with a unique proprietary technology in an emerging and soon-to-be maturing market. There was a significant amount of risk involved in making the loan to Solyndra, just as there was in providing Tesla with a loan (which recently paid off its loan with interest). But critics have serially ignored the fact that failed investments like Solyndra make up less than two percent of the total loans allocated for the program. Reporters and critics also frequently cite the total amounts announced by the DOE, but ignore that less than 50 percent of the program loans have actually been paid out in total to companies.
Like Dan Primack who wrote the aforelinked Fortune piece, I am not saying that I believe the program was the best approach. The point is that individual loan recipients have been sensationalized and used as poster children for positions which are not well supported by facts. What are the facts?
Solyndra was a bad investment by VCs, the government and the customers who bought product from the company. But it is a tiny, tiny fraction of the program. It's like picking the worst performing stock in a portfolio and saying equities stink. Anyone who makes Solyndra the poster child for solar industry health (which has been done) is again not doing their homework or has an agenda.
Another fact: Greentech Media reported this week that solar installations in the US hit record levels in Q1 thanks to rapidly falling prices which has made solar cost competitive with grid electricity prices in some states, even without subsidies.
Companies fail all of the time. And the failures of Solyndra, Fisker and Beacon Power do not mean that the renewable energy, EVs and advances in energy storage are doomed. The cleantech revolution is in its infancy and is about where the auto industry was at around 1910. How many auto companies have gone under since then? I stopped counting at 100...that start with the letter A.
The jury is still out on the loan guarantee program, the solar industry, and the broader cleantech market in general. But history always delivers an unkind verdict to those that ignore facts and sensationalize to support myopic positions.Tags: beacon+power, fisker, loan+guarantee, solar, solyndra, tesla
For the journalists and industry analysts covering this emerging space, reporting on the highs and lows has made them even savvier, more critical and more demanding on the businesses they research and the executives they interview.
At Schwartz MSL we work with these professionals every day, suggesting the story ideas, offering the data and providing the access to thought leaders that feed their reports. To even better understand how their perspectives are changing and how they want PR folks to work with them, we conducted a survey.
We uncovered some pretty interesting facts that any organization wanting to publicize a sustainability or green story will want to know. Here are a few:
- Survey Says Don’t Believe the Hype: 48% of survey respondents felt the biggest perception challenges facing the industry are high-profile flameouts (e.g. Solyndra) and too much hype around early stage, unproven companies.
No coincidence: 65% felt overhyping technology or milestones or a lack of transparency are the biggest communication mistakes a company can make.
- Schwartz MSL Says: PR programs must be built on a foundation of credibility and transparency. Most media and analysts have been burned by hyperbolic claims or unsubstantiated data, and would rather cover a bold, interesting company with substance that under promises and over delivers.
- Survey Says Follow the (Thought) Leader: 55% of respondents cite interviews with industry experts among the sources they most frequently rely on for article ideas and other content.
- Schwartz MSL Says: Thought leadership programs are the cornerstone to our media and industry analyst relations efforts. Arranging interviews on emerging trends, breaking news or policy needs (and not the new solution offering) deliver many of the most valuable results for our clients.
- Survey Says Social is the New Normal: 34% of respondents cited Twitter or LinkedIn as the best ways to get their attention, and 27% cited social media as a major source for story ideas.
- Schwartz MSL Says: Even we were surprised that Twitter tied with desk phones as the second most popular way to contact reporters. And with a quarter of media and analysts getting ideas from social means every company should be budgeting for social media PR in 2013.
The good news just keeps rolling in for solar financiers. Today, residential solar financing company OneRoof Energy announced an impressive $100 million in financing from Morgan Stanley and Main Street Power Company.
As Greentech Media reports:
“This fund brings the total announced funds for residential solar projects in the U.S. to $3.6 billion, and $350 million already in 2013, according to Shayle Kann, Vice President at GTM Research and author of a just-published report on the U.S. residential solar PV financing industry.”
OneRoof’s model is a little different, in terms of solar financing – they work with the roofing industry to target homeowners replacing their roof, as that’s usually a cheaper way to add solar. But they’re a part of a larger trend, which is the maturation of solar financing and the continuing intertwining of global financial entities and solar.
We’ve been discussing the solar financing industry as a bright spot in solar for a while, but more upstream players have had some great PR lately too. Citigroup recently began coverage of seven solar companies, which included four buy ratings, including on module companies like SunPower and First Solar, which have suffered pretty much across the board over the last two years. (Full disclosure, one company highlighted is Advanced Energy, a Schwartz MSL client).
No one would argue that the solar industry as a whole is out of the woods yet, but this validation from financial players is important—If it keeps up, it will help move solar past the combination of hyperbole and doubt it has suffered from, and establish solar as a valuable and reliable energy technology for the long-term.
By Dan O'Mahony on February 28, 2013 5:57 PM Permalink
A recent report caught our eye, called “Environmental Coverage in the Mainstream News,” which details environmental news coverage in the United States. There are some interesting conclusions on which outlets and publications are prioritizing the beat.
This is valuable for PR practitioners: In a time when coverage is often determined by the audience’s tastes, paying attention to where environmental coverage is strongest might also point to where the right audience is for your message.
- Among broadcast outlets Fox News had the highest percentage of headline environmental stories (1.57 percent), beating out PBS (1.43 percent) and CNN with the lowest (0.36 percent).
- Local newspapers prioritize environmental coverage nearly three times more on average
- The Huffington Post was the environmental coverage leader for nationally focused news organizations with three percent of headlines (nearly three times the national average).
- Independent news organizations prioritize environmental coverage five times more than the national, on average.
The report’s authors address the issue of quality over quantity, saying that “improved environmental coverage is dependent upon both, better quality of coverage, a greater quantity, and a higher visibility of that coverage.” Environmental issues are increasingly becoming intertwined with political, economic and health issues and news rooms are changing to reflect that — this fact underscored by the New York Times’ recent decision to disband its environmental desk and allocate it’s reporters to various other focus areas.
The report also details some findings (which reiterate the above thoughts) based on an advisory group of prominent journalists including Bryan Walsh from TIME Magazine and Jennifer Grayson from the Huffington Post:
- Integrate the environmental angle into other stories and make that connection explicit
- Make environmental stories appealing to a larger cross section of society
- Focus more on solutions
- Increase the visibility of environmental stories.
These strategies are invaluable for PR pros, with two main takeaways:
- The first two points both show that PR practitioners need to tie their products and technologies to global trends and issues outside of your niche. That’s a no-brainer, and certainly not exclusive to cleantech, but always worth reiterating
- The third and fourth points should be great news for anyone in cleantech marketing or PR— the goal is to focus on solutions and increase visibility of environmental stories. That means outlets want more people to see their environmental stories, and for those stories to cover solutions (i.e. your technology) more.
The report was funded by nonprofit SEE Innovation (standing for social, environmental and economic) relied on outlet-by-outlet tracking data from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.
By Sarah Horn on February 26, 2013 4:52 PM Permalink
As expected, President Barack Obama followed up his inaugural address with stronger climate and energy rhetoric during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address. He urged Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, but also pressed the issue further:
“But if Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take now and in the future to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”
Though Congress remains divided on the topic, a national poll conducted immediately after the speech by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Public Policy Polling found that the majority (65 percent) of Americans think that climate change is a serious problem, and that 60 percent of Americans also support the president in using his authority to reduce dangerous carbon pollution.
In PR and communication terms, "climate" has become a bit of a no-no over the last few years when addressing the purpose of the cleantech movement. To avoid skepticism, "climate" was replaced with other benefits like "green jobs," "energy independence," and even "national security."
With Obama in his second term and no longer operating under the possibility of re-election, he's made a notable shift in his communication around climate change—an issue he seemingly hasn’t mentioned since his original presidential campaign. Tuesday’s speech was the clearest call for action against climate change by any U.S. president, ever. This support is a positive for the cleantech industry—which is working to regain the unanimous support it enjoyed a few years ago.
By Tania Ku on February 14, 2013 4:12 PM Permalink
Yesterday, GigaOM's cleantech guru Katie Fehrenbacher succinctly highlighted what David Sandalow, the Department of Energy's Under Secretary of Energy (Acting) and Assistant Secretary for Policy & International Affairs (seriously, that’s his title, try and fit that on a business card) is seeing as the energy trends to watch in 2013.
If you’re in cleantech, it’s worth checking out everything Katie covered. The trends highlighted point to the changes happening—positive and negative—in the cleantech industry.
Here’s a few of the areas we thought most important, with some PR analysis peppered in:
Grid resiliency and modernization:
Both the Superbowl blackouts and hurricane Katrina have highlighted how important it is to make the grid much more resilient to blackouts as well as cyber events. The threat of cyber attacks “is real,” and it’ll be the private sector who mostly will lead the response against these situations, said Sandalow. Having a much more robust grid will also be needed as utilities add more clean power, like wind and solar, onto the grid.
PR pros are always looking for ways to tie their client’s technology to larger trends. The Super Bowl Blackout hype may be fizzling now, but keeping an eye out for similar high-profile incidents and being equipped to offer reporters your clients' take and/or expertise on the event can result in inclusion in large trend stories.
Low cost natural gas:
Cheap U.S. natural gas, which has emerged through horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, is the “hottest topic in the energy area,” said Sandalow. The DOE is accepting comments right now for whether or not the U.S. should export liquid natural gas. We have 16 applications for companies that want to export it, said Sandalow.
Natural gas is touted as a cleantech killer by many. We at Renewablog don’t believe that, but it’s important that more traditional cleantech companies are prepared to discuss why they’re suited to compete with natural gas.
The dropping cost of solar:
The DOE has its SunShot program, which looks to lower the cost of solar panels, but there’s a lot more work left to do. Germany has a 50 percent lower cost to install solar panels because it removed a lot of the red tape, said Sandalow. He explained, “I want to know when solar will become viral in the way that cell phones did, and what will it take, energy storage?”
Everyone is talking about the dropping cost of solar. If your client is in the solar industry, finding a way to point out how they are part of the cost-reduction solution should be a priority.
Clean energy financing:
There’s a lot more work to be done to finance clean power projects, though some milestones passed recently like the tax credits for wind projects. For startups clean power financing is actually a pretty hot area for investment.
This is another “everybody’s talking about it,” trend. Energy is so hot right now. Clean energy, hotter. The innovative technologies that help create clean energy are, basically, on fire. But, venture capital has dwindled, and explaining why your technology is a better fit than some previous high-profile flameouts will resonate with media and, hopefully, investors.
These trends are valuable—they’re high-level and easy for everyday people to grasp, but endorsed straight from the DOE. If your client is well-prepared to touch on them it could mean increased exposure and an elevated brand message.