The Digital Democracy — Defining Certainties for Wind and Solar Energy Projects
What allows wind and solar energy projects to get off the ground — metaphorically speaking, of course?
To put it simply: People. Wind and solar projects rarely succeed without a grassroots coalition of residents, landowners, governments, and providers. This dynamic thrusts clean energy companies into the curious role of influencer — a task that changes with the lightning pace of media technology itself.
But clean energy providers start with a powerful advantage over landowners misled by fossil-fuel lobbyists: Wind and solar energy are in the public interest. Renewable energy preserves the Earth for future generations. What interest could be more public than that?
The challenge, then, is one of communication. How does a solar developer walk into a community and convince interested parties to support renewable energy?
Digital communication plays a tremendous role in building the alliances necessary to move forward with a new clean-energy installation. Here are a few things we can confidently predict for the near-future of debate over wind and solar energy installations on public and private land:
- Wind and solar energy will continue to surge. We are well past the tipping point on renewable energy (not that this makes every proposed project a shoe-in for success). Between 2007 and 2017, the average annual growth rate for solar power was nearly 70 percent, reports the Solar Energy Industries Association.
In roughly the same period, wind energy production more-than doubled, accounting for 5.6 of all U.S. electricity generation by 2016. That trend will continue. The only question is which providers will win the bids, and where they will install solar panels or turbines.
- The fossil fuel industry won’t go down without a fight. Despite the vast benefits to public good that come with renewable energy, oil and gas providers will continue to flex their considerable PR muscle for as long as they can.
The U.S. oil and gas industry was worth $103 billion in 2016, and the following year, U.S. taxpayers subsidized fossil fuels to the tune of $20 billion, reports Oil Change International. These companies will gladly pour their profits into media outreach to slow the growth of renewables.
- Digital media will offer new and more complex ways to interact with your audience. Long gone are the days when a combination of mailers and public meetings could create a successful outreach campaign (though these remain valuable tools when combined with digital campaigns, as we describe here). Social media tools will provide clearer and clearer audience targeting, allowing you to participate in a conversation with select groups of decision-makers — and maybe even guide it. Meanwhile, advances in tracking effectiveness of digital campaigns will help you tweak your messaging to focus on what works.
Digital media expand the conversation, which can help you change minds to produce real-world action. In the end, the Digital Democracy and collective policy decisions are one and the same. For the foreseeable future, the forces aligned against renewable energy will continue to leverage every avenue of digital communication available to them. The only way to push wind and solar energy projects forward is to use the same developing tools — but to use them more strategically, and with a more clearly defined message.