The Internet: driving solar panel sales today

Solar lead generation drives solar panel salesThe solar photovoltaic panel market has had a hard time recently. Having reached great heights over the last 3 years, making the UK the fastest growing market in the world for PV installations in 2010, the government’s sudden announcement of an immediate reduction in the feed-in tariff last November caused chaos amongst customers and installers alike. Following an explosion in orders at the beginning of November, demand came to a virtual halt over the Christmas period, causing much concern and even some company closures.

Fortunately this dip was short-lived for several reasons: legal challenges meant that the reduction was delayed and that the ongoing timetable for reductions was reorganised; installers realised that the new FIT, running from 1st April (with eligibility from 3rd March) was still a pretty good deal for customers as the cost of panels has come down considerably; demand for solar PV panels picked up again on what has become a key marketing channel - the internet.

It’s pretty obvious really. If you’re thinking about installing solar pv panels on your house, how do you do your research? You can ask friends. You could buy a book or scour the papers for information. But the font of all knowledge these days is the world wide web, and this is where most people go to find out what they need to know so that they feel well-informed and less likely to be scammed when the time comes to contact a sales person. This approach has also created an advantage for said sales person as he/she can be more sure of the genuine level of interest of any potential customer who gets in contact via the web.

This type of contact is known as a ’sales lead’ or ‘lead’, and it’s online leads more than anything else that have helped the UK solar panel industry grow in the way that it has. Existing installers have realised that by providing contact forms on their web sites they can have a steady flow of interested potential clients to call back. Newcomers to the market have been encouraged to launch with little or no contacts, knowing that strong online marketing can help them generate leads quickly. And, most importantly, lead generation companies - marketing companies already expert in generating leads for industries such as finance and health, have opened for business in the renewable energy world.

Solar lead generation companies, as with their partners in other industries, generally work on a cost per lead basis, charging only for the correct details of interested potential customers delivered. This helps installers minimise the risk of investing in leads, knowing that a certain amount of leads purchased will result in a customer signed up. In addition, a good lead company will focus on quality and not on quantity, knowing that to ensure a long term relationship it is important to deliver leads that are likely to become customers and thus constitute a good investment for their clients.

In many ways the internet has changed the way we sell. That’s not to say there’s not still a role for door to door, face to face selling, or for the all important ‘tell a friend and get a reward’ approach. But it’s pretty safe to say that most installers of solar PV panels today would be lost without the internet and the leads it produces.

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Economic crisis - the perfect opportunity for green measures - if only they could see it

No cutsIt’s 2012 and the world is undergoing major economic upheaval. In pretty much every major country the buzzword is ‘cuts’. Cuts to staff, cuts to expenditure and cuts to investment. Although governments are talking about long-term plans, most actions seem very short-termist, and it’s therefore not a very good time for green initiatives, most of which will take time and need investment. This is all meant to save money, but it’s definitely putting a stop to saving the planet!

And, from a CO2 reduction point of view, I think they’ve got it wrong in so many ways. I realise you probably need financial training to work it out, but it seems to me that governments are putting their own welfare over that of the people. Throughout the 4 years that I’ve been writing this blog (ok, not so often recently…), I have focused on one message above all others: the measures you take to reduce emissions can also save you money.

Instead of reducing investment in green initiatives, governments - and especially the UK government should be pushing them forwards and helping individuals, companies, even their own institutions reduce their costs. Here are some examples:

  1. A greater push and tighter regulations on company emissions. Greater awareness on electricity consumption alone could reduce electricity bills hugely across the country.
  2. Backing off from cutting the feed-in tariff. I know the government has just suffered a defeat on this, but they really need to rethink and maintain the higher rate for now. A huge opportunity exists here to help whole communities save money by installing solar panels.
  3. Tightening vehicle emissions rules still further and even considering subsidising the development of EVs. It’s a no-brainer. Let’s make our cars more efficient and stop this bank-breaking dependency on petrol.
  4. Encouraging other forms of green transport. How’s about giving tax breaks to people who cycle? Or allowing them to claim expenses to maintain their bikes? How’s about making the ‘Cycle to work’ scheme obligatory in every company over a certain size? Millions have already flocked to two wheels (me included) but more would follow if given a little push in the right direction.
  5. I know that there are some initiatives coming up that use this kind of thinking, including an loan scheme to help home owners invest in green energy, but more could and should be done.

    There, rant over for today. But I think I’m going to keep on at this one.

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Solar Powered Football

Solar panels on a football stadiumIn August Canadian Solar, one of the world’s largest solar companies, signed up for two years with Fulham FC to become their official solar energy partner. In fact they’re making a name for themselves by sponsoring a number of football clubs around the globe including Germany’s Hannover 96 and 1.FC Nuremberg.

In return for their sponsorship, Canadian Solar can expect to receive some high profile marketing and advertising opportunities. Their logo will be seen at all home games, on the digital perimeter advertising system and all over the stadium as well as featuring on the Fulham FC website homepage and all other advertising platforms associated with the club.

Bolton Wanderers have followed suit by securing sponsorship from Yingli Panels part of the Hanwha Group. Yingli Green Energy is the second biggest producer of panels in China and has been sponsoring football in Europe for some time, including Bayern Munich football club (FCB) and the forthcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. Solar companies’ sponsorship of football clubs and events in the UK and Europe is an ideal way to broaden the awareness of solar brands at this critical point in time and looks to be a growing trend.

However, one football club has found another way to improve its financial future using solar. Barnsley FC hired Solar Europa, a local solar energy company, to install a system on its south and east stands at Oakwell Ground. The panels, which cost the club in the region of £1m to install, will be used to power the buildings and the club is hoping to save tens of thousands of pounds with their on-grid system.

Don Rowing, General Manager of Oakwell said, “With energy costs spiralling and likely to continue that way, it makes good business sense to use the large amount of roof space available to us to save the club money and also to reduce our carbon footprint.”

Mr Rowing has a good point and it will be interesting to see if other clubs will follow. Barnsley FC has become the first football club in the country to be powered by solar energy and Solar Europa is now the installer of the first solar PV project to a UK FC, but this seems a no-brainer for football clubs in general. One of the challenges for solar today is finding suitable space to situate enough to make a genuine difference. It’s not difficult to imagine the potential real estate offered by the 100+ stadiums in England alone.

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The Queen installs hydro power: A right royal reason to get things going again

Ok, so it’s been nearly 2 years since my last blog. Life has got in the way for a while, but it’s time to get things going again. I never meant Reduce Your CO2 to be a militant, ‘you must do absolutely everything green’ blog, but rather one that looks at the different things people are doing to reduce their emissions and / or save money - a particularly important challenge during these hard economic times. Typically however I’m getting back on track with less of a money-saver and more of a ‘good thing’.

Windsor Castle - soon to be powered by hydroelectricity

I’ve just read in the papers that the Queen is in the process of installing 2 Archimedes screws at Romney weir near Windsor castle. The aim is that they will power some, or even all of the electricity needed by the castle (allegedly her favourite residence), and this by November of this year. Estimates quoted suggested that this solution will reduce her carbon emissions by 790,000 kilos per year (not sure why kilos are quoted instead of tonnes - bit odd really, but it makes the figures look bigger!). So that’s pretty impressive, eh?

Admittedly she is spending something like £2 million to get this up and running so it’s not like she’s ever going to make the money back, and this has already got some people ranting about how pointless a gesture it is. The usual noises about people with money, about the inefficiency of these solutions, and about not helping anyone else out.

But this got me thinking. Surely this is a good example of a form of redistribution of wealth? If everyone who could afford to install green energy solutions, efficient or not, did so, then this to my mind would achieve several things:

  • It would relieve power stations of a large weight, especially as it goes to reason that wealthier people use more electricity
  • It would channel badly needed funds into the green energy industry, facilitating ongoing development
  • It would create a large splash in the news - something needed in an area that is crucial to our future whether or not you believe that the world is going to end. We need new energy solutions as our current ones will not last for ever
  • It would contribute to bringing the cost of installing green energy down, making it more efficient, and opening solutions up to the next financial tranche. For instance, if solar panels cost half of what they did today it would make financial sense for far more people to install them

If you think of many technologies, they start by only being affordable for the ultra rich, and it is the interest and investment of those very people that helps bring costs down and makes them accessible to the masses. By setting up her own hydroelectric powerplant even if it costs far more than she will save, HMQ is setting an excellent example to others ’sheltered from need’. Let’s hope they take note and follow.

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Powwownow vs the airlines - an update

Following their excellent piece of guerrilla advertising, conference calling company Powwownow have kept up their competitive campaign, this time targeting British Airways.

They have launched a ’spoof’ airline called Fly Powwownow, and as their first ’special offer’, are offering 5,000 free conference calls to small businesses. This is in reponse to a B.A. promotion earlier this year, where they offered 5,000 business class flights to businesses.

Again, the message is good: special offers on flights encourage people to fly more and maybe unnnecessarily, thus generating additional emissions. More importantly, however, Powwownow’s use of the word ‘free’ is important here, as B.A.’s offer isn’t really free at all, once you take into account travel to the airport plus unavoidable airport taxes.

So hats off to Powwownow for keeping up the fight, for giving us new ways to save money and CO2 emissions oh, and thanks for the free conference calls - I’m certainly taking them up on the offer.

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Guerilla Advertising hits back at the airlines

I was reading Metro this morning and came upon an excellent piece of ‘guerilla’ advertising from conference call company Powwownow, in response to a recent advertising campaign from airline flybe (the image below shows the original ad and the response):

Powwownow guerilla ad

There has been a recent ‘push’ by airlines, targeting businesses with the message that face to face meetings are better, and that it’s always worth flying to meetings. Boris Johnson even flew to New York FOR ONE DAY to back up this message… hmmm a great use of CO2 then by London’s generally green mayor. This one, however, hit a nerve with Powwownow, specifically with the blatant (in red), and I reckon difficult to defend message: ‘Conference Calls DON’T win business’.

I love their response: a defaced version of the flybe ad that clearly highlights the benefits of conference calls: much much cheaper, and no CO2. Ok, if we want to be pernickety, there are some CO2 emissions involved in a conference call, but in comparison with travelling to the airport, taking the plane, travelling to the meeting, travelling back from the meeting, taking the plane back, and travelling home… well, there’s no comparison is there?

In fact, the contrast is so absurd, they’ve also launched a new ‘airline’ - www.flypowwownow.co.uk highlighting the cost differences!

I’m the first one to admit that there are still reasons to take the plane, but as a business person it really winds me up when the airlines in their desperation try to use flawed business messages to justify their existence and encourage more people to fly. Conference calls do win business, and there are many more occasions where it would be just as efficient, cheaper, and better for the planet to have a conference call rather than getting on a plane. Instead, they need to focus on the real task ahead: how to reduce emissions from air travel, and dramatically, rather than trying to hoodwink a more and more well-informed audience.

So good on you Powwownow for fighting back in your own little way - let’s set up a call to discuss next steps!

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Carnival of the Green # 199

Hello all, and welcome to the 199th edition of the Carnival of the Green, a weekly round-up of eco-news on the web, co-ordinated by Treehugger.com.

The Carnival of the Green

Things have been a little interrupted lately with the Carnival, so my thanks go to not last week’s poster, but last month’s poster, Victoria Klein, all the way back on 29th September (and what’s more she stepped in last minute!). Let’s hope to get things back on the rails again, and do check out next week’s Carnival to be hosted on October 26th by Greenstockscentral.

Anyway, on with this week’s show:

Allyn presents How to Grow Huge Pumpkins posted on E-how. Very seasonal methinks, though something for next year’s plans!

‘How would it feel if you found out that you were wasting 80% of your time doing things that weren’t getting you any closer to your goals?’ This is the question that Tyler asks in her excellent article Quit Worrying About 80% of Your Life posted on Frugally Green. As someone who is easily distracted, I think these tips are excellent, and totally in tune with the whole ’simplify your life’ green message too.

Have you heard of Solar Cookers? I have to admit I hadn’t until I read this excellent article from Solarshack: Why Solar Cookers Are Important for the Environment, Human Health and Safety posted on Applied Solar Technology. This looks like a solution to follow - simple, cheap, and above all green!

Elena the Ecodiva takes on a different subject - how to keep your mouth clean having eaten food of course cooked on a solar cooker, with her article on How to make your own green mouthwash, posted on Bargaineering.com. It actually sounds quite tasty to me, though no good if you happen to be teetotal…

Case Ernsting presents a fascinating take on the thrifiness for which the Shakers have always been famous in Going Green: How To Recycle and Reuse Like the Shakers | Home and Decor posted on The Amish furniture design and decor blog. Some great recycling ideas here!

Guffly is a one product per day online store and community featuring eco friendly products and fair trade lifestyle goods like home, pet, clothing, office and personal accessories. Here they present Fashion + Eco-Friendly = Fierce | Guffly posted at Guffly - a review of Green stuff at the Spring 2010 fashion week.

Powwownow do conference calling (I wonder is that greener than smoke signals?) - any way to avoid having to travel to a meeting. In The Little Guy versus the Big Problem they ask the question: is it better to wait for the big solutions, or to continue working on every little solution? Posted on their Life Behind Blog. This is one of our favourite subjects here on Reduce your CO2, and we believe that every action counts.

The Digerati Life used Blog Action day 2009 to talk about Climate Change, and to ask whether or not we are really listening to Mother Nature: Reflecting On Climate Change on Blog Action Day posted on The Digerati Life. Their message applies to all of us, however concerned we are about the future of our planet: in the end it doesn’t matter how disasters are caused. The important thing is to be prepared for them, and right now this is often not the case.

Finally, Annette Berlin of Craft Stew presents 20 Crafty Ways To Reuse Plastic Bottles. I’m off to try them out tonight, especially as someone has hidden our offical bag for recycled plastics, which means the bin men probably won’t pick up our plastic tomorrow morning!

That’s it for this week. Thanks for all your submissions, it’s been a pleasure to have you round!

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When you fly, do a poo, and reduce your CO2

Over the time I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve often picked up on and suggested original ways to reduce your CO2 emissions - some strange but true, some merely fanciful. Today, however, I think I’ve heard one of the most original and bizarre, and what’s more it makes sense, even if it makes a teeny difference.

According to an article I read in the Daily Mail, Japanese Airline ANA is asking all passengers to relieve themselves before boarding their flights, in order to reduce their body weight and thus reduce CO2 emissions. A quick calculation suggests that on a plane of 150 people, this could constitute an average weight saving of…… 63.7 kg. Hmm, that’s one small person, or just over two maximum weight suitcases. Not exactly a huge saving then.

Here’s the point where we move on to the classic debate: do we wait until the big solutions arrive, or do we take every chance we’ve got to make things better, however small the difference? Well for me, if it costs nothing, then it’s worth it, and I for one will happily try to empty my tank before boarding any flight in the future.

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Today is World Environment Day, but don’t expect the Media to tell us about it

One of my favourite and most despairing rants over the last couple of years has been about how little attention we pay in the UK to the official days set up to raise awareness about environmental issues. Maybe it’s a reaction to the fact that many such past ‘events’ have just gone ‘phutttt’ and not had the desired or expected effect (in this country at any rate), but whatever the reason, the media pretty much never seems to support these events, which in itself means that they never have the effect they could have.

Today is World Environment day. I put this in my diary a year ago so that I wouldn’t forget to see if anything had changed over the last 12 months. Last year I commented that in the UK little or no noise had been made or was being made on the day - in fact it was hardly possible to find a mention in the newspapers. I even contacted the guys at UNEP to ask them whether they felt there was a good reaction to it here in the UK. They replied that there had been unprecedented interest at a ground roots level, but I was still surprised by the lack of mention in the media.

This morning, every hopeful, I therefore did a tour of the websites of our beloved newspapers. This is what I found:

  • The Times: no mention on the home page, no mention on the Environment home page
  • The Guardian: ditto
  • The Telegraph: Nothing that I could find
  • The Independent: same again
  • The Daily Mail: ha ha….
  • The Sun: wait a minute, I’ve found something! Of all the papers to actually take notice, the good old ‘currant bun’ has picked up on it with a link from the home page, and even an image, leading to this article. Ok, so it’s typically tongue in cheek, but at least they’ve atually sat up and taken notice!

But that’s it… A sorry state of affairs as far as I’m concerned, because I truly believe that we need to shout about the environment whenever possible, and that every time we do shout, we pick up a few more people willing to do their bit and work on reducing our CO2 emissions. Without the support of the media, the task of shouting becomes that much more difficult.

So I will once more put World Environment Day in my diary for next year, but this time I’m going to put in a warning one week before, and I’m going to shout about it. In fact I’m going to shout about it to all of the newspapers, and maybe, just maybe, even my little voice will have an effect. Here’s hoping.

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Shouldn’t we do more with our poo?

Cows by Sunfox
I read today in the Guardian that Lunen, a town north of Dortmund in Germany is to become the first town to be powered by animal waste when it launches a 6.8 mw power plant later this year - enough to power and heat 26,000 houses.

This is great news, but the first thought that came to my mind was ‘about time!’. We’ve known for a very long time that animal and human manure has potential for power generation, but it seems to have remained a cottage industry rather than going mainstream. I’m not the first person to bring them up, but the reasons are obvious:

  • A never-ending supply of manure. As long as we and our animals continue to eat, we will produce…
  • Reducing the need for waste disposal or treatment
  • By products in the form of highly effective, organic, fertiliser
  • Power generated by natural resources

I’m guessing that the reasons that more hasn’t been done here and sooner are the same as for many such potential CO2 reduction solutions: ‘the investment required doesn’t make it financially viable in the short or even medium term. We just can’t justify it.’ But surely the same people saying this are the governments and official bodies who have finally (apparently) recognised that we need to do as much as we can as soon as possible, and the same people who have just spent billions on bailing out our banks?

There are many different potential solutions for reducing our CO2 emissions, some easier than others, some cheaper than others. The most important are undoubtedly related to power generation: solar, wind, hydro, waves -all based on natural, never-ending energy sources. I think we need to add manure - or more simply, poo to this list. As long as we’re around, there will be poo, so let’s use it, rather than letting it go to waste.

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