How to Build Consumer Demand for Renewables

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communicating-to-consumers-clean_energy-2Nathan Schock summarizes a preentation on clean energy communications made that the recent American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) Phase II of Renewable Energy in America National Policy Forum, in which the presenter, Professor Edward Maibach, explains that renewable energy communicators are not doing a very good job because they are not engaging the public, and not creating messages that resonate broadly.

by Nathan Schock, Director of Public Relations for POET, the largest producer of biofuels in the world. Read his blog, Greenway Communique, follow him on Twitter @nathanschock, or connect on LinkedIn.

I recently attended the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) Phase II of Renewable Energy in America National Policy Forum. Read the recap from ACORE here and the  recap of my CEO’s panel here.

My good friend Kimberly Kupiecki recapped the event nicely and concluded that It’s time for a new dialogue around clean energy.

That’s precisely what Kimberly and I discussed with several others the previous day during a meeting of the ACORE Communications Committee (ReComm). Communicators from across the renewable energy spectrum gathered to discuss coordinated messaging to the broader public on renewable energy.

The highlight of the meeting was a presentation from Professor Edward Maibach, MPH, PhD and Director, Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University on “What the audience research tells us about how to build consumer demand for renewables.” Professor Maibach was joined by Doctoral Student Justin Rolfe-Redding. Here’s the complete presentation:

What the Audience Research Tells us About how to Build Consumer Demand for Renewables

Professor Maibach opened by saying that although he wants renewable energy communicators to succeed, he didn’t think they were doing a very good job. That’s something I have discussed on this blog and on Twitter frequently. That was especially the case, he said, because the public support for renewable energy led to an extraordinary opportunity to create messages that resonate broadly. “If you’re not engaging the public,” Maibach said, “your’re ignoring your biggest ally.”

Next, Rolfe-Redding summarized the (admittedly thin) existing public opinion research on renewable energy. He drew heavily from a 2010 study by Klick and Smith entitled Public Understanding of and Support for Wind Power.

According to the Rolfe-Redding, there is broad, bipartisan support for renewable energy but it’s not based on deep knowledge. People like renewable energy in general, but have a vague sense of what it actually is. Because of that, the public support for renewable energy is fairly weak.

They had an even greater lack of knowledge of the downsides of renewable energy, which made it fairly easy to erode their support. With wind power for instance, Klick and Smith found that most people were unaware of the intermittent nature of wind power or the higher cost. When people were read arguments for and against wind power, support declined. Rolfe-Redding suggested that the renewable energy industry should be more upfront about the downsides of their energy source and present counter arguments of support. “You need to provide the public with the basics of renewable energy because they’re clearly not getting it,” he said. “You also need to engage the opposition. Explain their arguments and why they are wrong.”

Then he got into the public’s willingness to pay more for renewable energy. While a very small majority will pay more for green energy, the vast majority admit that they won’t. Why is this, when they say they support renewable energy? A likely reason is the free-rider problem and that the public want a system where everyone pays more. He recommended continuing to push for a renewable energy standard.

Finally, Maibach got into his work understanding public opinion on global warming with Global Warming’s Six Americas. While he said that renewable energy and climate change are different issues (with the former clearly enjoying more public support), understanding one will help understand the other. At the most basic level, he told the committee that they needed to know the different information needs of different audiences. People can dismiss global warming and still support renewable energy for energy independence, national security and health issues, he said.

The Center for Climate Change Communication is planning more research in the near future on health because it’s the one reason for support that cuts across all opinion groups on climate change. He also said that he didn’t think “renewable” was a very good word for renewable energy. “Clean” is much better because it has more emotional than cognizant resonance (which is why coal is trying to associate with it).

The presentation from GMU definitely sent the ReCommwheels spinning. I’ll keep you posted as we discuss this topic further in the future.

© 2011, Nathan Schock. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Nathan Schock (3 Articles)

Nathan Schock is the director of public relations for POET, the largest producer of biofuels in the world. He is also a digital advocate of sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He wants to help communicators improve their delivery of this information to the public in order to drive social change. Although he monitors communications from all sectors, his primary focus is business, because it the only institution with the resources necessary to implement the lasting changes needed to preserve and protect the environment. You can read his latest thoughts on his blog, Greenway Communique, follow him on Twitter @nathanschock, or connect on LinkedIn.

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  • http://www.freedomsolarroofing.com Doug

    Nathan,
    Renewable energy messages will not resonate with the public until they address the underlying basic premise of all successful marketing campaigns. “WIIFM” What’s In It For Me? Let’s face it, in order to gain mass appeal products must benefit the users. Our product is energy and in energy’s case the benefit that the mojority of customers look for is low cost.
    Check out our product at http://www.freedomsolarroofing.com, you’ll see a renewable product that delivers low cost energy, satifies customers, has features that are better than the competition and delivers profit to our company.
    Thanks, Doug

  • Lewis

    The claim that POET is “the largest producer of biofuels in the world” sounds like a joke, as any backdoor ethanol producer in Brazil generates more ethanol that POET.

    They are either really really pushing it or they just did not realize their claims are totally out of wack.

  • http://about.me/frankjciampa Frank Ciampa

    I think that the slides were awesome and need to be shared A LOT! I could see this presentation happening in front of city councils, and other community groups. Not just to get the word out, but to do as the discussed and target your audience and present specific info/data to them to have the biggest impact. THUMBS UP!!