Hawthorn Power Monitor June 2014

Hawthorn Power Monitor | 0 comments | by The Hawthorn Group

 

Turns out the EPA’s proposed carbon rule wasn’t about coal

Even with all the “hype” around the EPA’s proposed carbon regulations, solar and renewable energy continued to dominate the conversation.

EPA’s proposed carbon rule was revealed with an abundance of sunshine, but not the type you may think. When EPA announced their proposed carbon rule on June 2, conventional wisdom held that the social and traditional media discussions about the energy industry the following day would focus on coal. And why not? So much of the discussion in the months leading up to the announcement centered on the “war on coal.”

However, there simply was no stopping the discussion being refocused away from coal and onto renewables, particularly solar. In fact, in all the online and traditional media discussions during the period of April 27 through June 21, there were 160,000 mentions of “solar,” while “coal” was mentioned 100,000 times. And, when only Twitter conversations are reviewed on the day of the EPA announcement “renewable energy” totally dominated the social media platform’s discussion about energy.

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It is no surprise then that the following week, the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) issued their “Utility Solar Market Snapshot” that stated solar … “continues to see significant growth, averaging 32% annually over the last two years. In 2013, 679 MW of residential solar were installed, compared to 511 and 273 MW in 2012 and 2011 respectively.”

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Attacking solar can create a negative backlash on the energy industry

Want bad press? It’s easy – just attack solar.

In monitoring all forms of online and traditional media discussions during the period of April 27 and June 21, conversations about energy experienced their lowest sentiment – which measures positive to negative tone – on April 28. What drove the negativity? The previous day, The New York Times Sunday editorial was titled: “The Koch Attack on Solar Energy.” This followed an April 19 LA Times article with a similar tone. The downturn in sentiment was immediate and dramatic.

Even considering all the negative news surrounding the EPA’s June 2 announcement of its proposed rule to regulate carbon dioxide, the negative sentiment in conversations about energy were even lower following the New York Times editorial about solar.

Whether you agree with the issues that are behind the so called “attack on solar” or not, the fact remains that any perception of an attempt to harm solar creates a dramatically negative reaction.

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Reaching people online means engaging in the conversation they are having

“Storm response and “community relations” are important topics for utilities, but on Twitter people are extolling the benefits of solar and renewable energy.

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Utilities are missing the opportunity to grab the microphone and engage customers and policymakers in a useful discussion about solar at a time when renewables are the biggest – and most positive – energy conversation on Twitter. In general, the broad conversation on Twitter about the energy industry during the period of April 27 through June 21 was positive, primarily driven by discussions concerning renewables and solar energy. However, when conversations on Twitter about electric utilities were viewed by themselves, the trend was primarily negative. And, when an issue such as the EPA’s announcement of proposed carbon rules hits the news, those negative discussions turn dramatically more negative with themes like, “big energy companies want to crush renewables … just let them try to get away with it, etc.”

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Utilities can get involved in the renewables debate (actually it isn’t even a debate – it’s just lots of people talking about how solar is the way to go) and begin to engage in the discussion that people want to have. Utilities can talk about their commitment to solar and point out its benefits and drawbacks. They can effectively turn the social media microphone into a megaphone to reach customers, legislators and regulators with the facts that are needed to have an informed and useful discussion about the long-term role of solar in our energy future.

If utilities do not build their brand on social media, the public will build one for them – most likely not one the utility desires – and the discussion will trump any story about traditional issues such as storm preparedness and general services. Bottom line, on social media if you are not part of the discussion about solar and renewables as a resource, you are simply not part of the discussion – at least the “positive” discussion.

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