What to avoid when choosing a solar stock photo
According to SEIA, we will need to quadruple the solar workforce over the 2020s to meet US clean energy goals. And Canary Media shows solar jobs have gone up 5.4% from 2020 to 2021. Add to that almost every conversation I had at RE+ in Anaheim in September 2022 involved at least one mention of jobs or hiring, and it spells out a wave of new-to-solar hires coming into the industry.
Transitioning to clean, renewable energy is work, and we need all the help we can get. New ideas, knowledge from other industries, new connections are outstanding. Marketing and design are no exception.
New to the industry? Welcome! Let’s talk stock photos. As a person in the industry with 20 years of experience, I can almost always spot a new-to-solar marketing person by the stock photos chosen, be it content, paid media, social media, or any one of a dozen other marketing outlets.
Not all solar stock photos are created equal. And who doesn’t love a listicle? Following, in no particular order, are common solar stock photo mistakes to avoid when choosing photos for your next campaign. All examples are real stock photos available for download.
Before digging in, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge that solar panels are only one piece of a PV system. Rarely do stock photos also incorporate necessary equipment like inverters, etc. Don’t think this equipment is any less important to a PV system because of it.
One: Showing people walking or standing on solar panels
Ok, I lied. This really is the number one “don’t use stock photos showing this.” With so many images available showing people walking or standing on solar panels, it’s no surprise that new-to-the-industry folks assume it’s ok to show. Don’t. Walking and standing on PV modules causes microfractures. Microfractures reduce the efficiency of modules and just plain isn’t a good practice.
Two: Use photos of this guy
Three: Show old panels, tech, or concentrated solar
Concentrated solar is insanely cool-looking. It looks futuristic. The opening scenes of Blade Runner 2049 showed concentrated solar. But, for the most part, the industry has moved on. Cost, site restrictions, and unrealized capacity factors have all weighed in to virtually eliminate concentrated solar development in the US.
PV module technology is evolving constantly. It’s almost impossible for stock photos to keep up. But you can watch out for some key “old tech” signs. Monocrystalline PV modules use connectors between each cell, giving panels that iconic blue square with cut off corners and a white diamond shape between each cell. The larger the diamond, the older the panel. And yes, engineers, I know this is an oversimplification of module technology!
Four: Use residential, commercial, and utility-scale installation photos interchangeably
I honestly can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an ad touting products or services for the residential space using a photo of a far-reaching solar plant. Like most industries when you get into the nuts-and-bolts, solar has its sub-industries. A residential PV system image and a utility-scale solar plant image will target one of these sub-industries. Know your audience.
Five: Solar installers using recognizable solar site images they didn’t install
This is tricky to navigate. The very nature of stock photos says anyone can use them that has paid the license fee. And yet, using a stock photo showing a recognizable site that the installer wasn’t involved with is pretty grey.
Say the image is used on a website. Unless the image is clearly marked as stock, the user will easily infer that the site photo is one that the installer was involved in constructing. And be honest, how often do people call out stock photos beyond photo credits on news sites? Err on the side of caution on this one. After all, someone installed that solar in the photo. Don’t take credit for their work.
Six: Badly photoshopped solar added to roofs or scenes
Sometimes this is easier to spot than others. In general, roofs are never fully covered by PV modules. And panels are pretty large. A residential roof isn’t going to hold 120 modules. If you question whether or not it’s a real installation and not photoshopped, skip the image.
Seven: “Testing” solar panels
Eight: Installers not properly equipped with safety gear
It’s f*ing hot on a roof. Wearing extra gear is burdensome. And yet any company worth working for is still going to require workers to be safe. That includes hard hats and roof harnesses. Skip the stock photos that don’t show people working in a safe manner.
Nine: Solar in the shade
Every so often an installer makes the news because customers aren’t happy with the results of their solar output. The culprit often lies with poorly sited solar that is shaded a good portion of the day. Skip the shady solar pics.
Ten: Palm trees in Minnesota, or the Alps in Arizona
If your message is local, the landscape in your solar stock photo should be too. That applies to the landscape AND the building type. Granted, the number of stock photos showing solar on homes in California and Germany is proportionally large, making them difficult to avoid. Take your time, know your local building type and work to match it.
Eleven: It should go without saying, and yet: wind is not solar
There you have it. Eleven rules to remember when searching for solar stock photos. If you’ve been in the solar biz for a while, consider sharing this with someone new to the industry. And if you’re new to the industry, I hope this helps as you grow into an expert in all things solar.
Don’t hesitate to reach out if you would like to discuss your business visual strategy.