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Solar Power International 2012: Bill Clinton on Solar, Creative Cooperation and Free Beer Tomorrow

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Whatever your political affiliation or personal opinion of the man, there’s no denying Bill Clinton’s skills as an orator. Fresh off his DNC speech (which is already being described as one of the best of his career), the former president spoke to a room full of solar folks today at Solar Power International (SPI). His talk was filled with kudos, ideas and some straight dope on where he sees the industry falling short.

Here are a few of my takeaways:

  • Solar is going to win…just a matter of when: It’s always nice to feel that you’re on the right side of history. Market leaders may change and technologies may evolve but success is inevitable. The key to getting there is through something Clinton called “creative cooperation” that he described this as different groups coming together to solve problems—public and private,  across national barriers and political backgrounds. He offered one great story that his organization Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) recognized with an award

 

  • The industry as a whole hasn’t done a good enough job of telling our story: As a PR practitioner, this point especially resonated with me. Pointing out all the ways that “Americans simply don’t realize” how much solar has achieved–including in job creation, building local economies, and becoming a sizable contributor to our state- and national-level energy mix–is indicative that we haven’t been doing a good enough job of telling our story.

This was one of the sentiments expressed by one colleague of mine in the SPI Show Daily this week and it may stem from the hesitance of some large non-US companies to engage in PR in an aggressive way. He also pointed out that yes, Obama opponents use Solyndra as an example of wasted federal spending on “pie in the sky” cleantech businesses. But you can’t blame people for believing a story taken out of context if you have, but don’t provide the context. We need to connect the dots regarding how much the industry has already contributed to communities around the country and what it realistically takes to get us to the next level.

 

  • Free beer tomorrow: Clinton seems to truly relish his life as an elder statesman with seemingly endless folksy anecdotes of his Southern upbringing. One story he shared was of a shop owner from his hometown who would hang a sign “Free Beer Tomorrow”, the joke being it brought people in but they’d never get their free beer…it’s always coming tomorrow! For solar, he sees it reaching the tipping point. There’s already been enormous success—including record growth this year—and we need to beat the drum for this success. Yes, there’s more coming tomorrow, but for today, let’s recognize how far we’ve come.    

 

  • Solar is an enabler for change:  How solar is playing a role in bringing opportunity and greater independence to some of the poorest regions around the U.S. and around the world is clearly a benefit near and dear to Clinton. It aligns with work coming out of the CGI, which focuses on helping communities and countries that are crippled by poverty, and in the case of Haiti, massively high energy costs. It’s inspiring to remember how energy can change lives, and how clean energy promises a very bright future for communities that would never have realized otherwise.

Having Bill Clinton join the show was a huge win for SPI this year, and a highlight of the entire show. Wonder who they’ll get next year in Chicago?

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