Keeping it Simple (and Smart) for Solar Hot Water
How do you introduce a mature RE industry, like Solar Hot Water, to a market that usually relates it with complicated DIY set ups? You keep it simple and smart.
I'd like to share our new "Simplify" campaign for Alpha Thermal Systems in Webster, MA (and our rationale behind it.). REW readers and engineers appreciate the difficulty of introducing "plug & play" solar thermal systems to the North American market where lengthy boom/bust cycles and unreliable hardware have been the norm [see SolarFred's 2010 post: Why is solar hot water such a solar stepchild in the U.S?]
"Plug and Play" solar hot water systems (pre-assembled systems that often include a pre-wired controller with options for online monitoring) are well-established in German and other European markets. I would argue that Renewable Energy in North America is in danger of stagnation, if the slow adoption rate here for these technologies continues. Here's why:
Solar Thermal is one of Renewable Energy's best-proven and most economical installation options for homeowners and commercial buildings. Unfortunately, due to market conditions, manufacturing politics, irregular incentives and certification, and well, the 80's, SHW has never really caught on with North American consumers.
The cost savings are proven and the technology is ready.
So what's holding Solar Hot Water back?
I would argue it comes down to the industry's failure to produce accessible stories and products.
For RE to grow, the RE Movement needs to be accessible, relevant and popularly trusted [see MicroFIT: Who's in Charge? for a negative example]. While the advancements in PV have been dramatic and inspiring, I propose that RE needs a portfolio product that is less "glamour" and more "plumber." A steady, popular campaign highlighting a proven technology like SHW will go a long way towards making RE less intimidating to homeowners and building managers alike.
The glamour of the thousands of well-produced solar adverts and web sites (set against sweeping landscapes, vistas and clouds - and the world's largest-ever utilization of sunflower stock-photos) is quite wonderful. It makes the technology look quite attractive and a bit futuristic. But that's not necessarily an image that authenticates with how most consumers see themselves, and what they can afford.
For Solar Hot Water to grow in North America we need tell a simple story. Solar Hot Water is proven. It's reliable. And it is economical. I'm convinced this is the kind of marketing that will introduce the right kind of solar thermal industry to the US and Canada. Certainly, we can improve upon the DIY, a-thousand-parts-per-installation, only-one-guy-knows-how-to-manage-this-system, SHW industry that we have at the moment.
To do this, we need to introduce solar hot water systems that authenticate a core message of accessibility and trust to consumers via easy deployment, predictable costs, and proven technologies. We need to Simplify.
To simplify is:
a. To reduce in complexity or extent.
b. To reduce to fundamental parts.
c. To make easier to understand.
That is the message we've chosen for ATS. I believe It is what the Solar Hot Water industry needs to grow (and maybe RE as well.)