According to Bloomberg, investments in green energy sources have beaten fossil fuels for the first time in 2011 — attracting $187 billion versus $157 billion for natural gas, oil and coal. While this is great news to many, those with experience in these matters know that a lot of work has to be done before the celebrations can begin. Much of the effort involves marketing. Before marketing can be effective, it is first necessary to identify the obstacles that need to be overcome.
Entrenched Powerful Forces
The fossil fuel industry has a lot of political power. It is estimated that the oil and gas lobby has donated $238.7 million to political candidates and parties since 1990. Many believe that this explains why oil companies continue to receive $4 billion a year in tax subsidies from the U.S. government even though the profits of the top five multinational oil companies approached $1 trillion over the first 10 years of the new millennium.
During a talk he gave to engineers at the University of Southern California in April of 2010, Bill Gross, CEO of eSolar, said that the economic challenge is getting the price of solar energy, which currently costs between 11 to 16¢ per kilowatt hour, down to the price of coal, which is 5¢ per kilowatt hour. Similar economic barriers confront other renewable energy sources. Jumping these economic hurdles can be achieved through technological breakthroughs, economies of scale, or both. The good news is that with current technologies, these economic issues are not an insurmountable problem. Mr. Gross believes that an 83 square mile field of solar cells could power all the needs of the USA over the next 40 years. He also estimates that it would take a 240 square mile field of solar cells to power the energy needs of the entire world over the same period.
A bigger obstacle is that our infrastructure is so heavily invested in fossil fuels. Most power plants, factories, homes, transportation systems, and cars primarily consume fossil fuels. At a time when economies around the world are slowing, many believe it would take a huge investment in resources to switch to renewable sources of energy. On the bright side, renewable energy proponents can quote an ancient Chinese philosopher named Lao Tzu who is credited with saying, “Every thousand-mile journey begins with a single step.” They also remind us that if we do not begin switching to renewable sources as soon as possible, the costs of inaction could be much greater. This is why the news that green energy investments outstripped fossil fuel investments for the first time is so important.
Habits are hard to break
While the above obstacles are formidable, marketers know that people’s habits are perhaps the biggest barrier of all. Human brains do not like change because it is stressful and takes effort. Our grey matter likes to be on autopilot as much as possible so it can focus on unexpected issues that pop up unexpectedly to help or hurt us. This is why “status quo” becomes a formidable competitor for any new way of doing things.
Breaking habits and overcoming the obstacles
If sufficient human and financial resources can be concentrated on the barriers, most can be overcome. Perhaps the most difficult ones – the habits – require more powerful marketing. While many thought it couldn’t be done, Apple changed the way music is distributed and consumed, how people use smart phones, and pioneered tablet computers. Brains are wired to act in one’s own self-interest. Therefore, to get sufficient people to demand renewable energy and support political candidates that advocate green energy, a much more effective marketing effort needs to be employed.
- Re brand renewable energy. Advocates of renewable energy should enlist talented marketers to reposition renewable energy as a cause important to people of all political persuasions rather than one advocated by liberal and left-leaning groups. Conservatives have successfully repositioned “liberal” as a negative word
- Communicate the benefits to all of green energy. To sell green energy, supporters need to focus on the expected benefits – reduced pollution and health-related problems, less reliance on foreign energy sources that finance terrorism, source of new jobs and innovation, and a renewable resource that will not escalate in price as supplies diminish.
- Enlist influencers of all persuasions. Leaders need to advocate these benefits so that their followers will spread the word.
- Proof. Undeniable proof needs to be provided to make the business case for renewable energy – showing that it will end up lowering total expenditures.
- Energy companies. Instead of giving energy companies subsidies for fossil fuels, incentives should be shifted to renewable sources so that they will see it is in their best business interests to invest in renewable sources.
Once it can be proven to a critical mass of the population that advocating and demanding renewable energy is in their own self-interest, they will make the switch. Let the marketing begin now so we can rescue our backward-leaning economy and provide a leadership role that propels the people of our planet forward toward a brighter future.
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