WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced the winners of the inaugural American-Made Inclusive Solar Outreach Awards (Solar Outreach Awards), a competition designed to recognize solar energy communications campaigns that help expand adoption of low-cost solar power and solar careers in underrepresented communities. The winners have successfully reached new audiences through innovative tactics and strategies, which are documented in DOE’s new Best Practices Guide for Inclusive Solar Energy Communications. Announced during the Department’s first-ever Justice Week, the Solar Outreach Awards support the Biden-Harris Administration’s national goal of achieving an equitable transition to 100% clean electricity by 2035.
“President Biden’s agenda and its historic clean energy investments put us on track to vastly expand access to solar energy, and, importantly, to ensure all communities can unlock the health and economic benefits solar power offers,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “Increased access cannot happen without authentic community engagement, and DOE is proud to put forth proven strategies for deploying compelling human stories and trusted messengers for inclusive community outreach.”
The Solar Outreach Awards encourage solar industry communicators to submit campaigns that seek to help more families save on their electricity bills with solar energy or recruit talent for good-paying jobs in the solar industry, and that have the potential to increase the diversity and equity of solar adoption and in the solar workforce. Applicants submitted campaign materials to DOE that showed the effective use of communications mediums to achieve those goals.
The five teams that demonstrated successful communications and outreach campaigns are:
- Astral Power, Powered by Neighborhood Sun in New York collaborated with local partners including civic leaders, agricultural groups, and nonprofits to encourage community solar adoption among low- and moderate-income (LMI) households in rural New York. Their campaign to raise awareness of the benefits of solar energy drove a quantifiable increase in web traffic, email open rates, and social media reach.
- Energy Outreach Colorado (EOC) in Denver, Colorado activated trusted neighborhood ambassadors to connect with energy-burdened households that previously been assisted by EOC to help overcome their hesitance to consider solar adoption. Through word-of-mouth sharing and bilingual informational materials, EOC met its goal to subscribe more households in community solar programs.
- Lightsource bp in Ellis County, Texas highlighted the solar industry’s potential to create meaningful career opportunities by highlighting the stories of 50 Texas veterans who participated in a solar apprenticeship program. By uplifting the veterans’ stories in high-quality photography and video, press outreach, social media, and a website, the campaign encouraged other contractors to create similar apprenticeship programs for veterans.
- Solar Landscape in New Jersey partnered with nonprofits, public schools, food banks, municipal governments, and other local organizations to spread a message about the benefits of New Jersey’s clean energy program. The team reached LMI households through a call center, webinars, community events, and a website.
- Solar United Neighbors (SUN) in Duluth, Minnesota leveraged their proven solar co-op model to increase access to solar energy among LMI households in Minnesota’s Duluth and Arrowhead areas. SUN partnered with a local land trust to identify an audience and ran a crowdfunding campaign to help eligible households go solar.
“Ensuring everyone can plug into clean energy is critical to our efforts to combat climate change, and organizations like Maryland-based Neighborhood Sun play a key role in helping folks make the switch – especially those who may have thought they couldn’t afford to do it,” said U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (MD). “Through the Inflation Reduction Act, we’ve taken big steps to make it more affordable to install energy-efficiency upgrades in homes and businesses, launch community solar projects, and manufacture clean energy products here at home, all while creating new jobs in the process. As we keep working to get the word out about how Americans will benefit from this transformative new law, Neighborhood Sun and the other Solar Outreach Awardees will continue to be valued partners in helping people save money, improve their homes, and find new opportunities.”
DOE also announced the launch of a new Inclusive Outreach Community of Practice to implement the lessons from the best practices guide. The best practices guide includes case studies from the winning teams and answers to frequently asked questions. The guide is available as a resource to other communications professionals to support their solar energy campaigns. Through the community of practice, DOE will encourage more communicators to adopt practices that can increase access to clean energy adoption, create clean energy jobs in underrepresented communities, and utilize proven communications strategies.
DOE will launch the second round of the Solar Outreach Awards in January 2022. This is an honorary, non-monetary award.
The Solar Energy Technologies Office launched the Solar Outreach Awards in March 2022 as part of the American-Made Challenges. The awards are administered by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.