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Two Solar Book Recommendations for Solar (Industry) Advocates


What gift can you give to the solar industry person who has everything except a succinct history of Germany’s path to solar FiT success? Or perhaps you’d like to give some inspiration to the solar or climate change activist spending their Christmas vacation chained to a Keystone XL pipeline dump truck. Well, I have two recommendations for you: Rooftop Revolution and Clean Break.

Rooftop Revolution: How Solar Power Can Save Our Economy — and Our Planet — from Dirty Energy by Danny Kennedy; $9.99 for Kindle Edition, a few bucks more for paperback.

Danny Kennedy, the co-founder of Sungevity, has written a book that is part autobiography, part solar advocacy campaign, and part solar industry education and introduction. It’s part Sungevity marketing too, of course, but that really isn’t its main intent.

The biography part tells of how and why Kennedy eventually became the co-founder of solar leasing company Sungevity. While I knew that Kennedy had worked for Greenpeace, what I didn’t realize was that he’d directed Project Underground, an organization committed to protecting the human rights of people in the mining and oil business. That occupation (avocation?) led Kennedy to routinely putting his life at risk and getting arrested for guerilla marketing type protests.

Reading about those pre-Sungevity adventures makes me realize why Sungevity is fearless at marketing. In addition to the company’s heavy social media usage, the company has launched many solar-related advocacy campaigns, most famously to put solar on the White House. My personal favorite is its used delivery truck that was converted into a colorful orange mobile solar powered education and marketing vehicle…and gives out free ice cream. Those types of guerilla marketing/advocacy risk taking examples are reflections of Kennedy’s past activist/risk-taking careers, and it’s an attitude that I wish more solar companies could learn about through reading this book.

Rooftop Revolution is also an introductory solar education tool for non-solar people. In clear simple language and fun acronyms, Kennedy educates readers about solar’s benefits and potential, while also unveiling the risks and dirty history of fossil fuel energies for our world. Lots of energy and industry facts and figures are mentioned, but you don’t have to be a solar wonk to understand them — or find the endnotes for future dinner conversations.

Because Kennedy is solution and communication oriented, the book (especially the Kindle edition) is also interactive. Readers can go to the book’s tumblr-based website and send solar-support letters to Washington representatives. Moreover, each chapter ends with a list of action items and resources. Of course, the book also contains links to Sungevity’s website, but the narrative honestly doesn’t read like a sales pitch. It’s clear that Kennedy’s intent is to inspire people to go solar and to become solar policy activists and join him in the “Rooftop Revolution.”

Clean Break: The Story of Germany's Energy Transformation and What Americans Can Learn from It by Osha Gray Davidson; available only as a Kindle download for $0.99.

My second solar book recommendation is Clean Break from environmental writer Osha Gray Davidson. For years, I’ve heard about Germany’s famously successful feed-in-tariff (FiT) program, but I never knew how it started or why it became so successful. With Clean Break, now I know. (German Renewable Energy World readers, forgive me for my ignorance.)

Davidson, who has written for Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Solon, and other noted publications, took three weeks in the summer of 2012 to travel through Germany and learn all he could about Energiewend or “energy change.”

It all started with Chernobyl’s disaster in 1986. Fall-out from that failed nuclear plant drifted from Russia and contaminated crops. At the same time, reports showed that acid rain from country’s coal plants were beginning to affect forests.  

A local movement grew into a political movement, and with fervent voter support, solar became a leading solution for transitioning the country away from nuclear and fossil fuels to 80% renewable energy by 2050 — or sooner.

Davidson also interviews the FiT pioneers and many Germans about their view of the program, utilities, and the proud self-reliance of German energy consumers.

In terms of applying Germany’s success to America, Davidson points to our growing solar success, but that our own American-style Energiewend will depend on politics and policy.  John Farrell, senior researcher for energy think tank The Institute for Local Self Reliance, also adds his thoughts on what it will take to have the same type of distributed solar model in America.

My own take is that the other reason for the Energiewend success was that it was borne of energy catastrophe, namely acid rain and nuclear disasters. (I say disasters because Fukashima’s meltdown has recently reinforced Germany’s commitment to solar policies.)  In America, we seem to be more resilient to taking action based on BP oil spills, the Big Branch Coal Mine Disaster, or natural gas fracking earthquakes or explosions. Perhaps Hurricane Sandy’s devastation will be our Chernobyl, but it’s too early to tell.

And that’s why these two books go well together. We need more energy activists like Kennedy and Davidson to learn about the success of Energiewend and to convey that success to policy makers, who may find the political courage to enact such an energy plan before the next energy catastrophe.

Of course, another reason why I recommend Rooftop Revolution and Clean Break is because they both…UnThink Solar.

Tor Valenza a.k.a. “Solar Fred” advises solar companies on marketing, communications, and branding. Want more solar marketing info? Sign up for the Solar Fred Marketing Newsletter, or contact Solar Fred through UnThink Solar. You can also follow @SolarFred on Twitter.

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