At some point, someone in the US will find a way to get some traction on renewable energy. It’s only a matter of time. But that “time” may not be Any Time Soon. The industry took a relatively big PR hit recently when SunEdison Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
The company has been on a roll, acquiring this and that, hoping to make bigger and bigger splashes into the market. But those debt-based acquisitions caught up with them.
There is some light at the end of the tunnel for the company and the industry. According to various media reports, two of SunEdison’s publicly traded subsidiaries – TerraForm Power and TerraForm Global – are not part of the filing. While those companies may have some financing issues, the growing global demand for solar energy alternatives can keep them churning along while their parent company figures a way out of its current mess.
But the numbers and balance sheets won’t do much to sway public opinion. Like it or not, SunEdison just became the latest whipping boy for opinion makers looking for any way to lampoon or downplay alternative energy sources.
Fossil fuels are the industry’s 800-pound gorilla, and it needs no help to stay on top. With this sort of overly aggressive growth overextending their resources, SunEdison has given naysayers, critics, and professional tsk-tskers ample opportunity to pile on.
The answer, then, is to take back the narrative. To offer a positive, committed and strong commentary on the demand and potential for solar energy. If the company can shift the story away from its decisions and back on emerging global markets, it has a chance to create some hope where, right now, there is little but doubt and threadbare faith. The company needs to help people understand solar is a solid alternative rather than a moonshot type of pie in the sky dream.
Focus hard on lessons learned and plans – not dreams or hopes but “plans” – for the future. Include metrics and definable timelines. Offer the media specific details wrapped in pithy and hopeful soundbites and keep putting that out until that’s what most people are talking about.
There will always be critics. Don’t give them ammunition.