My friends, family, and colleagues, not to mention my wife, never miss an opportunity to chide me gently about my title as a “Solar Ambassador.” After all, the title seems to reference someone that might make an appearance in a science fiction movie trying to negotiate an intergalactic deal. In some ways, that’s not the worst comparison. For many consumers, switching to solar power is akin to something from another galaxy. To that end, a solar ambassador has to represent the technology and help consumers find the motivation and trust to go solar.
As a solar customer, I am incredibly passionate about the technology and need almost no invitation to share why I went solar, but I know that my audience is not sure yet. My first step to help ease concerns is to stop talking and listen. My goal is not to convey why I went solar, but rather to understand why you are reluctant to go solar. There are certainly perennial concerns, such as cost, but each consumer and potential customer has a unique set of concerns that must be understood if they are to be addressed. I try to listen respectfully, reflect the concern back to my audience to show comprehension, and respond in plain language in order to further a conversation rather than spark a debate.
Motivation is key. If you are concerned about cost, trying to convince you of the environmental merits is pure folly. I would effectively be negotiating in a different language at that point. Worse, that may cement in your mind that your concerns are in fact valid and can’t be addressed. As an ambassador, I find my job to be turning fears into motivation. If cost is the main concern, I break down the investment over time, including tax rebates, SRECs, and lifetime earnings. If the cost-conscious consumer starts to see solar as a viable option, I will have tapped into all the motivation I needed to help them go solar.
Trust is key. Most solar professionals and solar ambassadors are technology aficionados and possess a deep well of background knowledge about solar panels and electrical markets. Many of those who have the potential to become new solar enthusiasts have none of this background knowledge and have set their electrical bill to auto-pay. My goal is not to turn my audience into subject matter experts, but rather to help them understand solar on their own terms. For example, one of my most effective metaphors for solar adoption is homeownership. We seek to buy rather than rent homes because we need shelter, want tax benefits, want to pay ourselves rather than the landlord. Similarly, as a solar adopter you can provide yourself electricity, deduct 30% of the cost, and enjoy the benefits of net metering. I often don’t have time to fully educate consumers on the science of solar and attempts to do so make most people feel insecure about the topic. By instead building on the background knowledge of my audience, I build trust by tapping into information about which they feel secure.
Whether I am talking to passersby or presenting in a library to audience of more than 50 people, as a Solar Ambassador, I am always listening for motivation and building trust. I have already gone solar, so my journey is less significant than finding the obstacles in the way of my audience’s journey to solar energy. By addressing these obstacles with respect, I can change going solar from a science fiction story to a real-world reality.