Solar: No Joking Matter


Copper Mountain, the 48 MW PV project on the cover of this magazine, recently hosted a high-profile visitor: President Barack Obama traveled to the project site in late March for a speech highlighting his administration's renewable energy investment initiatives.

Unfortunately, much of the mainstream media coverage of the event was startlingly anti-solar – and riddled with factual errors. Both the slant and the inaccuracies demonstrate that our industry still has a great deal of work to do on our public-relations battle.Â

‘Is This A Joke? President Speaking At Solyndra-Esque Solar Plant?’ read the headline from Fox News, whose coverage of Obama's speech was widely disseminated via a prominent Google News placement.

Readers of Solar Industry are aware of the vast technological – and financial – differences among solar firms, and they understand why the seemingly random invocation of infamous cylindrical module manufacturer Solyndra is laughable.

The average readers of the ‘Is This A Joke?’ article, however, likely don't know their CIGS from their cadtel. They don't know their No. 1 module manufacturer (Copper Mountain supplier First Solar, per a recent Lux Research report) from their bankrupt manufacturer that, unfortunately, happens to be a household name.

The conflation propagated every time Solyndra is mentioned for dramatic effect in any solar-related story only serves to reinforce these false assumptions.

The Fox piece also links a 35% tax hike in Copper Mountain's host town of Boulder City, Nev., to the solar plant (and, inexplicably, surrounds the word ‘renewable’ with quotation marks). In the interest of space, we'll move on to another article – from CNN – covering Obama's visit.

This article seeks to describe the size of Copper Mountain: ‘In understandable terms, it makes solar panels, and lots them,’ the article reads. Makes panels? It is disturbing enough to see every solar manufacturer (including thermal equipment providers) equated with Solyndra, but now solar farms are being lumped in with PV module factories, too?

Why does all this matter for solar professionals, who might be tempted to mock such coverage and move on, or simply ignore it? When essential facts are distorted (intentionally or unintentionally), the solar sector suffers. Readers might include property owners who are photovoltaic system installers' would-be customers; local officials and administrators who can either approve a solar project or tangle it in red tape; and myriad other citizens with a major collective impact on market growth.

When they are barraged with negative and inaccurate coverage, will they take solar seriously, or believe the technology all to be merely an expensive joke?Â

This Sun Dial column was originally published in the April 2012 issue of Solar Industry.

Editor's note: To submit your own contribution to Viewpoints, email Jessica Lillian at

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