How to Be a Solar Advocate
Spoiler alert: You don’t need to have solar panels or picket the White House.
You recognize all the benefits of solar energy. Maybe you even have solar panels on your roof or use solar-powered appliances for your home or apartment. Or maybe you’re unable to install solar panels, but you’re still 100% pro-solar and believe it’s one way America could work toward clean energy independence.
Advocating for solar is the best way to help its expansion. But, you don’t have to drive to Washington, D.C., and picket outside the White House to make a difference. You don’t even have to have your own solar panels (and, no, that doesn’t make you a hypocrite — solar doesn’t work for everyone).
So, what can you do to be a solar advocate? How do you encourage other people to get behind this amazing source of clean energy? What can you do to convince your local politicians to get behind solar?
Question it no more — we’ve got you covered.
What You Can Do to Be a Solar Advocate
Solar advocacy starts small and grows as much as you put effort into growing it. Every pro-solar person can make a big difference, so let’s start with six easy ways you can support solar energy.
1. Educate Yourself About Solar
Obviously, it’s hard to advocate for something you know little about. Take some time to educate yourself about solar energy, including how it works, solar incentives, and how to finance solar panel systems.
Don’t think learning about solar will make a difference? Rebekah Carpenter — CEO of solar installation company Finger Lakes Renewables — begs to differ.
Carpenter told EcoWatch there are times she’ll do a home assessment with potential customers who end up not being able to install solar, but she doesn’t view it as a lost business opportunity because she was still able to teach people about solar energy.
“It doesn’t mean they’re not making an effort and making a difference just by the fact they’re investigating it and wanting to be doing something different,” Carpenter said. “There are a lot of different ways to make changes and make differences. And if you can afford the resources to make big changes in differences, that’s fantastic! And if you can’t, then you make small changes and differences and you don’t feel [bad] about yourself for doing that.”
Not sure where to get started on your solar education journey? Check out some of our solar guides:
- How Solar Energy Works
- Solar Panel Buying Guide
- How to Install Solar
- Community Solar Guide
- Solar Energy Pros and Cons
- Solar Net Metering Guide
2. Support Solar Businesses
If you’re switching to solar energy, you’ll either be supporting a business that installs solar or one that sells solar products for your DIY installation. But you don’t have to support a business that’s in the solar industry to be a solar advocate.
Does your neighborhood restaurant, grocery store or nursery have solar panels? Spend your money there and let the owners know that you appreciate their decision to use clean energy. Then leave them positive reviews online to encourage others to support these businesses, too. It’s a small way to create a ripple effect of supporting those who invested in solar energy.
3. Talk to Friends and Family About Solar
Sometimes it feels harder to talk to those closest to us about contentious topics such as switching to solar energy. But getting your family and friends on board is a huge way to spread and encourage solar energy.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to experience the financial benefits of switching to solar energy, don’t keep that information to yourself! We know that talking about bills isn’t everyone’s go-to topic, but who doesn’t love saving money?
Anya Schoolman, the founder of solar advocacy group Solar United Neighbors (SUN), told EcoWatch she’s seen firsthand how fast solar can spread from solar users sharing their wins.
“Once people meet someone who’s gone solar, and they show them, ‘Hey, my electric bill dropped from $150 to $20,’ they become converts pretty fast,” Schoolman said. “It’s really about meeting real people that have gone solar. It’s that peer-to-peer education and normalization that really makes a difference.”
That said, we know there are some people who have strong opinions against solar energy. You don’t want to go into battle without armor, so check out this article for some of the most common arguments against solar and how to best respond to them.
4. Join a Community Solar Project
Would you rather promote solar alongside your neighbors? Community solar programs are popping up around the country and are a great way for people who can’t install their own solar panels to be able to enjoy the benefits of going solar.
So, what is community solar, exactly?
Community solar is a term used to describe solar photovoltaic (PV) systems that are shared by multiple consumers — that could be homeowners, renters or businesses. Everyone pays a share or subscription, and the electricity savings and other benefits are split among the community.
As a bonus, you’ll instantly be connected with like-minded people who share your vision for clean energy!
5. Contact Lawmakers About Adopting Solar Policies
Schoolman also has some great advice when it comes to contacting lawmakers to fight unfriendly solar policies. For her, solar advocacy started back in 2007 when her family decided to install solar panels on their Washington, D.C., home and were shockingly denied by every solar installer they called.
“[Going solar] was really complicated in the city. There weren’t any permitting rules, there weren’t any interconnection rules — all the things you need for a solar market. And it was really expensive, and it was really confusing,” Schoolman told EcoWatch.
Instead of accepting defeat, the Schoolmans lobbied for change. Because of their efforts, Washington, D.C., ended up passing a law that created solar incentives in the city and, in 2008, the Schoolmans had helped 45 homeowners go solar. That grassroots effort is what led them to start SUN — one of the biggest solar advocacy nonprofits in the country.
Now, we’re not telling you to go build your own grassroots solar advocacy organization (although, that would be amazing). But we’re hoping the Schoolmans’ story will encourage you to act against unfriendly solar policies. It’s far more important for lawmakers to hear from their constituents than from solar companies that profit off of solar expansion.
And the great news is, solar advocacy groups like SUN make it very easy for you to share your thoughts with lawmakers. In fact, you can tell your legislators why solar matters to you in less than a minute by filling out this form and supporting the 30 Million Solar Homes campaign, spearheaded by SUN.
Speaking of solar advocacy organizations…
6. Join a Solar Advocacy Organization
This might be the best way to be a solar advocate, because it covers all the tips we’ve mentioned so far. Solar advocacy groups have tons of resources on solar education, solar businesses and how to talk to others about solar. And, as we mentioned, these groups also make it easy to contact policymakers to push for pro-solar laws.
If you’re not sure where to start, we recommend signing up for the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA)’s Solar Power Advocacy Network. By joining, you’ll get periodic emails about current solar issues and how you can help.
Top 6 Solar Advocacy Groups You Should Follow
Solar energy may not be where we want it to be, but it’s come a long way. A lot of that is thanks to the advocacy groups fighting every day for solar expansion. Here are a few that you should follow and support:
American Solar Energy Society (ASES)
The American Solar Energy Society is one of the oldest solar advocacy groups. It was founded in 1954 — back when photovoltaic research was just beginning. ASES has since expanded to have local chapters in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, plus student chapters at eight colleges and universities.
Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC)
IREC has made clean energy possible for millions of Americans for nearly 40 years, promising solutions to advance renewable energy and energy efficiency. In 2021, IREC merged with national nonprofit The Solar Foundation to deepen and expand its impacts across the industry. On IREC’s website, you can subscribe to emails to receive the latest in solar news and research and learn more about how you can get involved.
Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA)
We already mentioned the SEIA, but it’s been around since 1974 and is the largest nonprofit organization dedicated solely to America’s solar industry, so it’s worth mentioning again.
The SEIA focuses on initiatives and advocacy across all elements of solar, including solar policy, solar financing and taxes, social awareness, environmental impacts, industry issues, and the technology itself. It’s a go-to resource for all things solar in America — you can even see what’s happening state-by-state.
And again, the SEIA makes it easy to support the growth of solar by joining its Solar Power Advocacy Network.
Solar United Neighbors (SUN)
You can probably tell we’re big fans of SUN around here, ‘cause here we are, mentioning them again. But honestly? It’s kind of hard not to be. SUN has helped more than 6,000 homes go solar and invested more than $130 million into solar through solar co-operatives. SUN’s website is dripping with different opportunities for you to be a solar advocate, so go check it out.
The Smart Energy Power Alliance (SEPA)
SEPA is a nonprofit on a mission to make America’s power grid carbon-free by 2050. How is it going to accomplish that? By advising its 1,000+ members — including 700 utilities — on how to make smart clean energy choices. Click here to learn more about becoming a SEPA member.
Vote Solar has an incredible mission, using policy expertise, coalition building and public engagement to “help build a strong, just and inclusive 100% clean-powered future.” And you can help make that vision a reality! Vote Solar asks people who believe in solar to take the pledge on its website, joining its tens of thousands of solar activist members across the country.
Kristina Zagame is a journalist and content writer with expertise in solar and other energy-related topics. Before joining EcoWatch, Kristina was a TV news reporter and producer, covering a wide variety of topics including West Coast wildfires and hurricane relief efforts. Kristina’s reporting has taken her all over the U.S., as well as to Puerto Rico and Chile.