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Play "Sixteen Going On Seventeen," from The Sound of Music

Yesterday’s sessions transitioned rather seamlessly into post-session drinking networking, which went on until 4:30 in the morning, so I never got a chance to write them up. Rather than attempt to cover the whole day through my current semi-nauseous haze, I want to focus in on a presentation from Brian Keene of Smart Power.

It was about marketing clean energy, and it began with a stark statistic: In surveys, 84 percent of U.S. consumers say they would be willing to purchase renewable energy. How many actually do? Three percent.

Why the vast gulf? That’s what Smart Power spends its time investigating and attempting to overcome. The core of the problem is that clean energy has been marketed to U.S. consumers in a soft-focus, children-running-through-green-fields sort of way, focused on its environmental benefit. Environmental benefit will get you good answers on a survey, but it’s not a purchasing motivator. People get that it’s environmental advantageous; their worries lie elsewhere.

A few things I found fascinating. First, despite a fairly common assumption among enviros, people do not hate fossil fuels. They view fossil fuels as a valued old friend, feel some sadness that their time is ending, and have considerable worry about whether any of the purported replacements will be as capable.

Second, the majority of people, when they hear clean power, think of distributed power — i.e., solar panels on your rooftop and wind turbines in your back yard. They’re just not particularly aware of grid-connected clean energy power plants.

Third, just about everyone, even those enthusiastic about it, think clean power is "out there" in the future, a someday sort of thing.

It’s important to keep these things in mind when approaching the public about clean energy.

There are four main barriers to wider embrace of clean power:

  • Reliability: People don’t think clean energy is as strong or reliable as fossil fuels — they’re not convinced it can do the job.
  • Availability: They don’t know where or how to go about purchasing it.
  • Cost: Not only do they think clean power costs more, but they think they have to buy into a whole lifestyle — hemp, tofu, sacrifice, etc. That’s a big jump to take.
  • Inertia: People do what they’ve always done.

The key is to convince people that clean energy is normal — or in Smart Power’s words: "It’s real. It’s here. It’s working." Keene recommended focusing on teenagers, who are big influencers in their households and who once persuaded can be advocates for life. This can be done through Facebook and Interwebs and blah blah you kids get off my lawn!

Anyway, this is stuff every enviro should know. Shut up about the environment. Start talking about strong, stable, reliable power that families can depend on. A grateful nation will thank you.