Solar panels and a compass image

Misguided Solar Stock Photos

October 19, 2022

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 people standing on solar panels image
Sitting on stock photos image

Two: Use photos of this guy

The roof could be anywhere USA, the gentleman has the proper safety gear, and it’s generally a well-proportioned image. Meet Cameron. This series of photos was taken in 2010 and since that time, Cameron has made an appearance on just about every residential solar installer’s website in the nation. And if he is making an appearance in your marketing materials, he just might be appearing in your competitor’s materials as well.
Installer on roof installing PV modules image

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!

Concentrated solar image
Up close solar panel image
Old solar panel up close

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.

House with solar on the roof image
Large solar plant going into the distance image

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.

Commercial rooftop solar image
Fields with barn with PV panels on the roof image

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.

Roof with photoshopped panels on it image
Roof with solar panels photoshopped on it
Farm with ground-mount solar photoshopped in field image

Seven: “Testing” solar panels

When choosing a photo showing someone “testing” a PV module, make sure you understand what exactly is going on in the photo. Is the equipment plugged in? What are they testing? Does the scenario make sense? Yes, testing occurs regularly. Equipment must be plugged in to work.
Testing solar panels image

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.

Two people installing solar on a roof image
Person on rooftop installing solar

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.

Shaded solar on rooftop image
Neighborhood from above looking at solar on roofs image

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.

Happy German family in front of a house with solar image
Solar, backyard, and a pool image
Solar on a roof and a cactus image

Eleven: It should go without saying, and yet: wind is not solar

Why yes, I HAVE seen this before. Clearly someone searched for “renewable energy”, or the more dreadful “alternative energy” and the results came back with images of wind turbines. Wind is awesome. And when paired with solar and energy storage, there isn’t much this trifecta can’t cover. But if your product or service is solar-focused, showing wind turbines won’t cut it.
Woman and her daughter looking at wind turbines image

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.