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October 2013

Battlefield Roof

Rooftop Solar

How the fight between residential solar and utilities is shaping the future of household energy.

On rooftops across the U.S., a battle for the future of household energy is raging. On one side stands residential solar. On the other: American utility companies.

According to industry data, the pace of residential photovoltaic installations is booming, with one new solar unit installed every four minutes by the end of 2013.

But as more households take advantage of the falling cost of rooftop solar, utilities struggle to make up for lost revenue and stem customer attrition. Many utilities fear that as solar transitions from a niche to mainstream energy source, they’ll lose the revenue they need to maintain the far and distant reach of the power grid.

A Stormy Situation

Despite its inherent eco-friendly advantages, solar alone can’t sustain the future of residential energy. Even if every American household installed solar panels, the intermittent energy source still leaves considerable gaps in electricity demand. Though recent innovations have dramatically improved solar cell efficiency, advanced storage technologies lag behind. When the sun goes down, most customers still rely on utilities for a steady stream of power.

Utility companies are left trying to figure out how to make up for the revenue shortfall, and they’re coming to different conclusions.

When only a portion of energy customers utilize solar, a utility company’s costs are absorbed by the rest of the population — which carries the risk of disproportionately hitting lower-income households that cannot afford solar startup costs.

Some utilities are responding defensively, charging premium prices to those who install solar panels on their homes. Others are going straight for the solar companies themselves, fighting for regulations that would curb solar subsidies. Both of these approaches heighten customer resentment toward utilities, exacerbating tense relationships between residential customers and energy providers.

Better Collaboration Is Needed

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the future of household is energy is going to depend on solar and utility companies overcoming the current struggle and working together. And many utilities are already realizing this.

Some utilities are choosing to invest in residential solar companies, offering customers more control over the energy that powers their homes. Edison International, for example, recently acquired SoCore Energy, allowing the major utility to install solar panels for the customers who request them. Other utilities are buying excess solar energy from residential PV and selling it back to other consumers at a discounted rate.

However solar and utilities choose to work together, one thing is clear: energy collaboration will reign supreme. And pioneering solar and utility companies that choose to work together, instead of in opposition, will be able to take advantage of the shift toward alterative energy.

Produced by: Patrick French

The Untapped Power of Quora, Pinterest and Google+

Connected world

Some unexpected social tricks to drive traffic and search performance.

When it comes to marketing strategy, we think of brands as diverse ecosystems, made up of interconnected elements that have to work in harmony for brands to flourish.

Like natural environments, these brand environments function best when supporting elements (social media) fit into larger systems (SEM) in a truly symbiotic relationship.

Using this dynamic view, we can help uncover untapped brand potential, especially in social marketing. There’s a lot to it, but for the sake of this blog we’ll focus our attention on Pinterest, Google+ and Quora.

Skeptical? Stay with us. You might be surprised how these social media channels can generate new opportunities and get brands one step closer to becoming one cohesive marketing ecosystem.

Google’s latest social pet project, Google+, has been seamlessly integrated with Google’s search engine and Gmail services – the likely source for the network’s whopping 359M+ active users. Yes, Google Hangouts are cool and it’s one of the few male-dominated social sites, but its true value stems from its direct ties to Google’s search engine.

That’s right, as Google continues to integrate Google+ into its web services, brands will be able to take advantage of their presences and use branded content to shape search performance. Gaming the system? Not really; think of it as content marketing backed by Google.

Tips for Implementing Google+:

  • Create a Google+ corporate account and add it to your other branded sites
  • Repurpose content from other internal sources, including corporate blogs or Twitter feeds, to continually refresh your network (and search results)
  • Optimize content by using brand keywords and site links to boost search
  • Post regularly to provide fresh content and bolster Google page rankings
  • Connect the dots by tying Google+ posts to current PR, SEM and sales efforts; ensuring they’re easy to search, informative and ranked above the fold
    • Unlike Twitter or LinkedIn, these posts can resemble ads, as SEO is the main goal vs. user engagement

For brands unfamiliar with Pinterest it’s time to get acquainted. This influential photo-sharing site has over 25 million users and generates more referral traffic than YouTube, LinkedIn and Google+ combined (according to a recent Forbes article).

It’s still heavily dominated by women (84 percent of users) and high-income visitors, but represents one of the fastest-growing social networks on the web. Retailers have been the biggest players in the space so far, using it as a reliable e-commerce option and brand recognition engine.

When it comes to cleantech, green businesses have to be brave, and savvy enough, to stake their claim before competitors – especially as industries like solar become more dependent on female consumers.

Tips for Implementing Pinterest:

  • Become a Pinterest authority by adding a corporate profile (logo, bio, etc.)
  • Curate quality content by sourcing site and branded imagery that promote:
    • Green, eco-friendly lifestyles
    • Interesting infographics
    • New technology features and applications
    • Engaging multimedia demos
  • Drive referrals investingby pinning high-quality content from others to build rapport, trust and expand your reach (and thus referrals)
  • Track referrals on your site, determining which elements had the biggest impact
  • Write informative descriptors and tags to take advantage of Pinterest search features, while expanding reach on and off the network

A more real-time version of wiki-Answers, Quora was started by two former Facebook engineers and has grown to 500,000+ active global users. The Q&A site gained popularity in 2010, as tech innovators like Robert Scoble sang its praises and helped forge its role as an intellectual hub for entrepreneurs and investors.

Quora has largely been ignored by brands and remains an academic forum that’s ripe for the picking. Its two most impressive assets: influential professional audiences and powerful search features.

Both offer pioneering brands unfettered access to promote industry expertise, while helping to easily identify underserved industries and engage real-time with quality sales leads. What’s not to like?

Tips for Implementing Quora:

  • Lead by example and get engaged personally, build on-going credibility and source new lead opportunities for sales representatives slow to make the shift
  • Follow relevant Quora questions and blogs, opting in for email recaps to stay abreast of the most dynamic discussions
  • Engage directly with influencers and prospects, keeping it friendly and informative without being too self-promotional
  • Leverage the forum’s brain trust to source new trends and identify areas where brands can provide more education/industry expertise

Do you use Quora regularly or contemplated adding a Google+ profile? Share your experiences with us here, via LinkedIn or Twitter (@Yelloblu), and we’ll factor them into our next social marketing post later this month.

Produced by: Gretchen Fitzgibbons