Dear Solar: We Still Need to Work on That Image, July 2019

July 23, 2019

I read a great overview about how solar works in a recent Popular Mechanics article. It was well-written and provided an excellent overview. This paragraph stuck with me, however:

But for all their importance, solar panels still feel mysterious. Stiff and slightly menacing black rectangles, they have neither the look or the feel of a savior. Majestic waterfalls and dams look heroic, but solar panels do not. So…how do they work anyway?

“Stiff and slightly menacing black rectangles”? Oh dear. That isn’t a good image. It really struck me that this is how many see solar. It’s menacing, it’s mysterious, it’s different. If a publication like Popular Mechanics that revels in boxy wires and tech says this, what does Lisa who lived on First Street in small town Minnesota think?

Maybe Lisa isn’t your target audience. But the early tech adopter sure should be. Maybe we could change the narrative to alluring sea blue repositories for the sun’s energy. Yes, that’s over the top, but so is “menacing black rectangles.”

I see a way forward by showcasing solar in everyday life, until it becomes normal. Having the suburban home exterior have solar on the roof as product placement just like Ford might product place their car in a TV show or movie; wide sweeping vistas that show solar beautifully integrated into the landscape instead of ominous scenes like the concentrated solar shown in Bladerunner 2049; education in schools as part of science curriculum to take away the “mysterious” aspects. Yes, all of that takes money, but it’s a great industry goal, isn’t it?

In the meantime, if you’d like to read some excellent positive solar-based speculative fiction, pick up “Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers”. It’ll help with that envisioning solar as part of the weft and weave of our everyday energy future. And in January, 2020, a second anthology is coming out, “Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Winters”.

-Aimee Tuck


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