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How to Market Solar Energy to Women , and Why It's Important

This post was originally published on PV Solar Report.

Women control 80% of household spending. And women spend a lot of time on the Internet. But many women feel misunderstood by marketers. To gain insights on how to market solar to the keepers of household budgets, Raina Russo and Glenna Wiseman have been conducting the industry’s first woman-directed survey. At Solar Power International last week, they unveiled their findings. 

There’s a lot of discussion in the solar industry these days about how to reach consumers. With less than 1% of power in the U.S. coming from solar, we’re talking about a huge untapped market. And most people still have misconceptions about solar power.

So how do we get the good solar word to the American consumer? The first step is to identify the American consumer. Raina Russo of #SolarChat and Glenna Wiseman of Identity3 are convinced that when it comes to solar, that consumer is often a woman.

Women as consumers

Russo and Wiseman had a strong suspicion that women were a key part of the market. They knew that:

  • Women control 80% of household spending and initiate 80% of home improvements.

  • Women are “digital divas,” with 89% using the Internet at least twice a day and 84% visiting social media sites.

  • 70% of women feel misunderstood by marketers.

And they realized that the solar industry could improve its effectiveness in talking to women. But they found that there wasn’t much data on women as solar consumers. Never content to let gaping holes remain unfilled, they decided to do something about it. The result: the industry’s first ever woman-directed survey, Shining a Solar Marketing Light on Women.

Survey findings

At Solar Power International last week, Russo and Wiseman unveiled their preliminary findings. After reaching out to 150 women in solar, they looked outside the industry. In just a couple weeks they heard back from 200 women consumers.

Their survey posed 20 questions based on Marti Barletta’s five stages of buying. Answers in so far confirm that women are crucial to the solar market:

  • Stage 1: Deciding when to enter the market. About 63% of women surveyed said that if they’d had the discussion about going solar, they were the ones who initiated it. About 27% of discussions were initiated by both partners, with only about 11% by men alone. The numbers were similar for doing the legwork and research.

  • Stage 2: The short list. Over half — 56% — of respondents who had pursued solar for their homes talked to 2 – 3 companies once they were serious about it. While this result is not specific to women, it shows that we need to start by selling consumers the idea of solar, not a specific company.

  • Stage 3: In-person meeting. Choosing a contractor was more of a joint effort, with 67% of respondents doing that with their partner. When just one partner made the decision, though, it was far more likely to be the woman: women picked the contractor by themselves in 30% of cases, compared to 3% for men.

  • Stage 4: Paying bills. As noted previously, in most households, women are the ones who pay the bills and track the budget. That was borne out in this survey: 83% of respondents said they’re the ones who pay the bills.

  • Stage 5: Word of mouth. Women like to share information with their friends, family, and co-workers. But we don’t like to do it for money. When asked to rank the gifts they’d prefer as a thank-you for going solar, 76% of women said they’d like a check back, while only 26% preferred a check for each friend they referred — numbers were even lower for non-monetary gifts (the numbers reflect that each woman could rank multiple options). Given that women are such an important part of the market, solar companies may want to rethink giving referral checks.

Solar industry perspectives

Russo and Wiseman didn’t stop at presenting their survey findings. To round out their session, they invited a few women from the solar industry to give their thoughts on marketing to women:

  • Jill Hansen of Talesun Solar urged us to put imagery of women on our websites. And she emphasized the importance of hiring women in solar – especially on the sales team, to sell to women. She also suggested we segment the market further to better target different audiences.

  • Joy Hughes of the Solar Gardens Institute described the model she advocates, which lets people who can’t put solar on their own roof – a big part of the population – subscribe to solar installed elsewhere. As far as commitment goes, this is more like being an aunt than being a mom. She imagined a woman subscribing to a solar garden telling her partner, “Oh honey, by the way, we have solar power now.”

  • Jennifer Runyon of suggested we look to their almost 200,000 registered users for marketing. Women love to talk to each other and get together in groups, so good places to market solar are book groups and neighborhood associations. The Tupperware party model, she noted, is also effective for selling solar.

  • Kathryn Schwartz of Solar Energy International emphasized the importance of actively involving women in the industry – salespeople, installers, designers, executives. When we use photos of women, they should not be of booth babes. And she added that electricity is not easily understood, so women need to help take the mystery out of it.

Next steps

This is just the beginning. The survey will be open till the #SolarChat on November 13, so we can expect to hear more after that. Russo and Wiseman plan to continue gathering information, to build a solid data set on women solar consumers. Women are not all the same, so we need to work on segmenting the female market to identify the major demographics.

But it’s already clear that when marketing solar, we ignore women at our peril. So we’d  do well to heed these words of wisdom from Russo, Wiseman, and the panelists:

  • Be present where women live, work, and play.

  • Partner with brands that matter personally to women.

  • Engage in straight talk, convey trust, and have women talk to women about solar.

  • Engage women on issues important to them: a legacy, the environment, and future generations.

Rosana Francescato's picture

Thank Rosana for the Post!

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 11, 2013 5:56 pm GMT

Rosana, I agree straight talk and conveying trust are essential in presenting the value of solar to women (and men, for that matter).

Be sure to convey to your audience that solar receives 80 times the proportion of subsidies as the proportion of energy it actually creates (on the graph below, the electricity generated by solar – 1/1000 of America’s energy supply – is too thin to be shown). Women who truly care about the future will see that while highly-subsidized solar may help them save on their current energy bills, this opportunism comes at a financial and environmental price their children will be paying for decades to come.

Rosana Francescato's picture
Rosana Francescato on Nov 11, 2013 6:03 pm GMT

Oops, meant to reply to comment below, please disregard this.

Rosana Francescato's picture
Rosana Francescato on Nov 11, 2013 6:02 pm GMT

Solar is a newer industry; fossil fuels got big boosts when they were at that stage, too. See A couple excerpts: “during the first 15 years of subsidies for the respective industries, oil and gas subsidies represented half a percent of the federal budget, about $1.8 billion a year, and all renewables only about a tenth of a percent, or $0.5 billion.” and “When it comes to new power plants, many places around the world are finding that solar and other renewables are cheaper than coal and gas even without subsidies.”

In addition, fossil fuels come with externalities that all our children will be dealing with for many years.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 11, 2013 6:15 pm GMT

Rosana, wind is clearly much more useful and cost-effective than solar so it’s a bit disingenuous to piggyback on wind by including all renewables in your response.

Let’s stick to solar for a moment. Is it really possible to conclude that all any new industry needs is massive subsidies to get off the ground? With the disappointing early results of Germany’s Energiewende – including wind power – what evidence do you have that solar alone presents any real solution for moving away from fossil fuels (which, I agree, involve unacceptable externalities)?


Donald Osborn's picture
Donald Osborn on Nov 12, 2013 3:01 am GMT

Bob is using a very distorted way of looking at subsidies. Subsidies are used to stimulate the growth and to lead to lower future costs of productions for less established technologies, in particular ones with societal benefits (such as environmental benefits). AND CLEARLY they have been quite effective with both wind and solar. You can’t compare the cumulative kWh of a long established generation technology to that of a developing one. On a capacity basis, fossil fuels (with many negative externalities) and nuclear still receive much larger subsidies than renewables. This is what makes no sense. True, a flat playing field would be best but only if all costs and benefits were accounted for. That is CLEARLY not the case today. Another tragedy of the commons. The renewable subsidies are being VERY effective and doing just what they are supposed to do. As their penetration increases, the $ per kWh subsidy that you seem so fixated on will decrease as the technologies matures. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 12, 2013 2:57 pm GMT

Donald, there’s nothing in the definition of the term subsidy that requires funds be directed at less-established technologies, only that it constitute “assistance granted by a government to a person or group in support of an enterprise regarded as being in the public interest”.

Whether they’ve been effective with both wind and solar depends on your definition of “effective”. Solar subsidies go back just as far as nuclear power subsidies, to the invention of the silicon photovoltaic cell at Bell Labs in 1954. They’ve resulted in tremendous advances in the efficiency and performance/price of PV, and for niche applications like satellites, or providing assisted power to remote locations in suitable climates, solar is ideal.

If the goal is to deliver a self-sustaining utility power industry, however, it has proven an abject failure. With just a hint of subsidy cancellations the solar market tanks – proof that investors view subsidies as the life support on which it depends. The reason is simple: despite dramatic drops in the cost of panels solar is woefully inadequate at providing baseload electricity. This is not the fault of anything technology can remedy, but nighttime and clouds. These two factors relegate solar to a supporting role from which there’s no escape.

You erroneously assume that the graphs I provided represent cumulative electricity. They represent annual production percentages compared to their corresponding annual subsidy percentages. We pay 8 percent of our subsidies to solar but get a scant 1/1000 of our annual energy supply from it; for nuclear we pay about 20% and get about 20%. Solar is therefore a far more wasteful use of our subsidy dollars, and contrary to popular assumptions it’s had just as much time on the playing field as nuclear.

Donald Osborn's picture
Donald Osborn on Nov 12, 2013 5:14 pm GMT


It has been shown time after time that renewables have received far less in subsidies, for a far shorter time than fossil or nuclear. Just one example is from:

 ·         Energy industries have enjoyed a century of federal support. From 1918 to 2009, the oil and gas industry received $446.96 billion (adjusted for inflation) in cumulative energy subsidies. Renewable energy sources received $5.93 billion (adjusted for inflation) for a much shorter period from 1994-2009.

·         Average annual support for the oil and gas industry has been $4.86 billion (1918-2009), compared to $3.50 billion for nuclear (1947-1999) and $0.37 billion (1994-2009) for renewable energy.

 According to a report from DBL Investors, as a percentage of inflation-adjusted federal spending, nuclear subsidies accounted for more than one percent of the federal budget over the first 15 years of each subsidies’ life; oil and gas subsidies made up half a percent of the total budget, but renewables have amounted to only about a tenth of a percent.

 As Jigar Shah, the former CEO of the Carbon War Room, said in a recent blog entry, “The federal government should get rid of permanent energy subsidies for all energy sources, including fossil fuels, nuclear, solar, wind, biofuels. This would force everyone to innovate, compete and win — or lose — on their own merits”.

Donald Osborn's picture
Donald Osborn on Nov 12, 2013 5:34 pm GMT

Bob also seems to live in an alternative universe when he states that the solar market has been an “abject failure”. The facts are that the solar market in the US and world wide is one of the few bright spots in our economy. In the US more than 10 GW of PV have been deployed, up from only a few dozen of MW in 2002. This year alone should see about another 17 GW of PV added. Compare that to the decade long timeframe to add 1 GW of nuclear. As one part of an energy mix, solar is being very successful and the per kW as well as the per kWh subsidies are getting smaller and smaller. All of this shows a major success not “failure”. Get real.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 12, 2013 5:40 pm GMT

Don, like many solar enthusiasts you cite “1GW of solar” as if that’s the amount of power that’s actually available.

That’s the amount of power that it would create if it were all located at the equator, at noon, on a sunny day.  Once clouds, nighttime, and latitude are taken into account the actual return is one tenth of that, or 100MW. This kind of misleading statistic is not useful to any energy discussion nor to the environment.

There’s simply no escaping the fact that despite peak power statistics and rosy projections solar energy provides 1/1000 of the energy we use. It’s virtually useless, it’s a pig in a poke, and yes – an abject failure.

Donald Osborn's picture
Donald Osborn on Nov 12, 2013 5:51 pm GMT

The fact is that more kWh of PV was added in the past year than ANY other power source. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 12, 2013 6:01 pm GMT

Don, please continue to throw misleading statistics my way; I’m happy to debunk them.

The first is the obvious straw man of examining fossil subsidies going back nearly a century and ignoring all renewable subsidies before 1994.

Another represents one of the favorite techniques of solar ideologues – the comparison of subsidies as a percentage of the federal budget, which makes no sense at all. Energy, like any other purchase, is a value to expense proposition. Though renewable energy sources have received about 1/100 the subsidies the oil and gas industries have received, they’ve generated thousands of times less energy, perhaps millions (the exact calculation is pointless, because to deny this is to move beyond speculation into a quasi-religion where logical argument ceases to be of value).

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 12, 2013 5:58 pm GMT

Donald, first of all you betray your lack of understanding by mislabeling energy (kWh) as power.

That leads me to consider that perhaps you’re mistakenly considering added nameplate capacity as actual delivered power.

Did you remember to divide by ten?

Donald Osborn's picture
Donald Osborn on Nov 12, 2013 10:48 pm GMT

Actually most PV systems have capacity factors of 16 to 20+%. (and I am a former utility engineer.) You can twist things any way you want, it is, however, clear that PV, wind, and other renewables are starting to play a serious role in our energy mix and that role is rapidly expanding. Already this summer RE picked up sone 12 to 14% of CA load through out the system peak periods with wind and PV picking up over half of that.Already we are seeing new PV utility PPA contracts come in UNDER the effective price of a new combined cycle gas turbine in CA. Distributed (“rooftop”) PV is saving businesses and homeowners (at all income levels) today while providing net savings to the entire rate base. It looks like you would not see success if it bit you.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 12, 2013 11:55 pm GMT

Don, your contention that solar is providing net savings to the entire rate base is simply false. Distributed solar is not saving customers a dime who don’t have it – in fact, for those customers it’s more expensive.

For the periods which distributed solar kicks in during sunny days, natural gas peaker plants are shut down. This results in a loss for utility companies, who simply bill it, as they are entitled to under  CA law, to all ratepayers. The result is that inner city apartment dwellers are in effect subsidizing those who can afford solar panels on luxury homes. A bit unfair, no?

I notice you’ve chosen Rosana’s tactic of lumping PV together with wind in an attempt to mask its inadequacies. The inescapable fact is that solar makes up 1/1000 of America’s energy supply, despite consuming 8% of our subsidy budget. By any estimation, that does not constitute a “serious role”, nor will it ever – the U.S. Energy Information Administration assesses PV solar at a levelized cost which is 33% higher than nuclear for at least 5 more years. I think it’s time we exposed the truth about this feelgood toy for the rich which costs taxpayers more, costs ratepayers more (who don’t own panels), and locks in dependence on dirty natural gas.

Donald Osborn's picture
Donald Osborn on Nov 13, 2013 5:26 am GMT

Bob, You clearly do not understand utility operations nor economics. Wrong on all three counts.

1) Most of the studies done, including quite a number of utility studies, show a net Benefit (not net cost) to the rate base from distributed PV. Yes, some have shown othwise, but they showed benefits on only a 1 year snapshot for a 30 year resource. 

2) From an utility engineer viewpoint, of course I would look at the mix of renewables. It turns out that wind and solar have generation profiles that mash very nicely. One ALWAYS looks at a resourse as part of the mix and not stand alone.

3) Looking at the states incentive claims data, solar is clearly mostly going to middle income homes, NOT to the rich. Indeed, more lower middle class homes have added solar than upper income. Nearly as many low-income, affordable housing complexes have added solar than upper income homes. 

However, it has been nice having this back and forth chat. I am glad to see that you are not a troll but one that is willing to have a strong and spirited exchange. Good luck to you.

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