Solar as a Commodity: How Can Manufacturers Differentiate Their Brands?

Image credit: Tor Valenza/RenewableEnergyWorld

From SunPower's super-efficient solar cells to Lennar Homes going 100% solar in California, it's clear that more and more rooftops will be sporting solar PV and solar thermal panels as households seek to generate some of their own energy. Renewable Energy World raises an interesting question in this regard—as solar gets increasingly common, even commodified, how will solar manufacturers differentiate their brands? Or, to put it another way, will homeowners care who makes the panels they install?When Renewable Energy World put the question to representatives of major solar manufacturers at the Solar Power International expo, the responses were unsurprising: efficiency, cost, customer service, work for big-brand customers. But I was disappointed at the focus on such utilitarian talking points—a focus that is reflected in the full-page, copy-heavy, techy-focused ads you see for solar in glossy magazines these days. After all, however much prices are coming down, it's still hard to make the argument for solar PV to your average homeowner on price point alone—so solar needs to become desirable too.

Lexus, Porsche, and Cadillac may all talk about efficiency or performance as part of their brand, but they also go to great pains to develop mystique, charisma and status too. With solar needing a considerable upfront investment, and payback times in the tens of years, even with government subsidies, solar manufacturers would do well to cultivate the kind of prestige status that luxury car manufacturers covet. After all, folks will blow $50,000 on an oversized car they don't need. Imagine if they spent that money on solar instead.

So what would it take for solar to become sexy? And how can manufacturers differentiate one panel from another. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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