Solar in Washington: “Alternative Energy” is Outdated Language

I got started in my solar career back in 2005.

There wasn’t much of a solar industry at all, it was just getting started. Solar provided some homes in Washington “alternative energy” because there was no grid for them to connect to.  For these few people hauling fuel to their cabin or island home was too difficult or expensive.

Even back then I made a conscious effort to talk about solar as a “renewable energy” not “alternative energy.” Why? Because I knew even then that solar energy would be a key component of any sustainable power mix in the future even here in Washington. Alternative Energy sounds fringe.

If you think about disruptive technologies, they do begin as an alternative for some people. But we don’t call cell phones “alternative phones” or cars “alternative transportation.” We call them what they are.

I am not alone in my efforts. Those of us that came to solar early on knew that part of our growth strategy had to include growing the industry to grow our companies. When you want to bring something like solar mainstream the last thing you want to do is call it “alternative.”

It may be obvious most of you, but the language you use holds power. The way we describe what we do primes our audience’s perception for good or bad. Words like alternative can taint someone in to thinking that solar is not ready for the mainstream. We don’t want people thinking solar is an untried technology. Nor do we want people to think there could be fundamental issues with the concepts behind the technology when there are not.

To borrow a quote “Alternative Medicine that works is called Medicine.” Solar is a proven solution to provide clean energy by using a free and renewable fuel source: the sun.

From time to time we get customers looking for a deal because their project will be a visible “demonstration project.” These deals stopped existing years ago because we know solar power works. The days of demonstration projects are over. We have hundreds of customers here in Washington who have been producing their own solar energy for years.

Solar energy is still a small mix of all energy produced, but that’s changing. In 2013, solar energy was the 2nd largest source of new power capacity in the U.S. (or maybe 1st?) When the growth of solar outpaces coal, everything but natural gas should we still consider it an alternative?