Solar power & renewables get unwarranted bad rap from UK media

by James Martin II on December 5, 2012

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The UK media do not share the same enthusiasm for solar power and renewables as the general UK populace, according to a report by PR consultancy firm CCgroup. Despite being popular amongst most Britons according to a recent YouGov survey, over 80% of recent newspaper articles about the topic showed solar panels and other renewables such as wind in a negative light, and only 10% quoted industry spokespeople.

Renewable energy is also frequently the subject of uncalled-for negative press abroad in countries such as the US and Australia. In the USA, for example, the collapse of solar panel manufacturer Solyndra resulted in major backlash against the solar industry and renewables sector as a whole, despite the fact that renewable energy has been a major driver of economic growth and employment in otherwise tepid economic conditions. In Australia, solar power and renewable energy incentive schemes have been accused of being the major reason for recent electricity price rises, even though the bulk of the increases have been due to network infrastructure upgrades.

CCgroup’s study, titled How the UK national media treats renewables, says that the media are at least partially at fault for the lopsided coverage, focusing the negative and deemphasising renewable energy success stories. According to CCgroup, those in the renewables industry are ‘struggling to get their voices heard’ in reaction to the bad publicity. As news outlets have an impact on public opinion, continuing negative press could end up influencing not only customer sentiment, but also votes and ultimately government policy. If sentiment is shifted enough, it could even end up hurting one of the UK’s fastest-growing economic sectors.

But the CCgroup’s report also points a finger at the renewables industry itself for failing to make its presence and purpose more widely heard and understood. Part of the problem may be weak or non-existent relationships with media outlets. Charlotte Webster, head of Cleantech at CCgroup, said that the media is not solely to blame, and that those in the industry should avoid allowing themselves to be the ‘victim’, and instead proactively make their case to the public via all communications channels possible. Her feelings are corroborated by recent news that nearly 2/3 of UK residents underestimate the potential financial benefits of going solar.

“There is an empty platform here that renewable energy businesses need to fill, with urgency, and those that do will be the ones to see the rewards not just for industry as a whole but themselves too.

“I’d advise that organisations in the renewables space regain control and make themselves available to media by investing in communications, particularly with the trade press. Tuning into talking and telling stories of innovation and growth will help strengthen the industry and increase the visibility of positive stories and facts in the media as a whole. What’s clear is that investment really is needed to turn this picture around.”

In addition to the environmental and national economic benefits that solar panels and renewable energy sources offer, they are also becoming increasingly popular investment options for individuals–particularly solar photovoltaics (PV). Thanks to the scalability of solar PV technology, it can be easily dispatched on a building-by-building basis, potentially saving individual homes and businesses money on their electricity bills. The UK’s feed-in tariff for renewables has drastically increased the attractiveness of solar panels as investments. In combination with this, the recent, steep drop in the price of solar PV systems have made them accessible for a wider range of incomes than ever before. Testament to this is the fact that power generation from solar PV in the UK has increased 840-fold in the last year–a choice piece of good news.

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