Green Marketing TV

Marketing: Clean energy ought to take a cue from coal

Recession hit America hard. The housing crisis, banking collapse and automotive industry meltdown led the charge.

Rising energy prices added to the pain.

Pundits and various economists have predicted recovery, but few of those who have lost their jobs, homes or self respect have seen it.

Despite the gloomy mood, even somebody who's been sucker punched by a layoff appreciates a little levity, especially in a TV commercial. The right advertising campaign in a down economy could position a concept for broad public acceptance. Many businesses got their start that way, starting a whole new idea. The list includes MTV, FedEx and Microsoft. And Apple launched its iPod in 2001 just a month after 9/11.

The visual power of coal, a pro-coal group in Alexandria, Va., produced a commercial running currently on network television that makes a strong connection. It speaks to the downtrodden and forgotten by flashing from images of a business man, professional woman, graduate, blue collar worker and a couple others. Each is shown sprawled on the canvas as the narrator says, "Our economy. Our work force. We've all taken some big hit."

Who can argue with that?

The narrator continues: "But this is America." The footage cuts between the workers all staggering up, looking determined and beating the count.

"Jobs in America. Together we will power the next big comeback."

The medium is the message

The crowd is initially silent, then with scattered cries of "Get up!" members of the audience stand and cheer as the workers prepare to fight.

"Clean coal. That's America's power."

Not exactly what climate-watching scientists say, but it's a great message. Coal. Good old hot-burning, full-of-energy coal just happened to get it right. The jury remains out, but the campaign registers significant chutzpah.

A lesson for clean energy

Clean energy ought to do something similar. Make it simple and to the point, following the format established by America's Power.

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a commercial of a person in a space suit wandered an empty radioactive city. The message was Cold War era danger. It still haunts me.

Imagery is powerful. Coal has deep pockets, and America's Power is unapologetic and aggressive in its push for the public eye. Right there on the site's home page, it says coal is green power.

They got it half right. Power, yes. Green? Not so much.

Coal extracts momentum

Coal's coming off a big legal win. U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton issued a decision against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, saying it overstepped its authority regulating mining companies.

Essentially the EPA teamed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers "to coordinate reviews of backlogged permit applications for waste disposal at Appalachia mountaintop mining operations that raise serious environmental concerns," wrote John Raby on

He quotes U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., as saying, "This is a significant step in our efforts to rein in the EPA."

Clean coal wins support

The coal industry wants to make sure it remains in the game. Coal has a lot going for it. The fuel is domestic and cheap and it fuels about half the nation's energy needs. Yet, questions about its clean future remain despite industry efforts to scrub emissions and contain CO2.

Clean coal has believers. The U.S. Department of Energy is kicking in $450 million from its Clean Coal Power Initiative to help build a 400 megawatt plant in Texas "that combines an integrated gasification combined-cycle system with urea production and carbon capture and storage technology," according to

For at least the time being, there's room for multiple energy sources. But clean and renewable energy has to elevate its visibility. Government subsidies would help, but they may not last and could be used as leverage by opponents.

Getting a leg up

The argument against subsidizing clean energy by the fossil fuel lobby is somewhat disingenuous. For instance, coal has had them too, according to a recent study.

Coal has received tax breaks totalling $1.3 billion over the past decade from a capital gain treatment on royalties, says the study "What Would Jefferson Do?" by Nancy Pfund of San Francisco-based venture capital firm DBL Investors and Ben Healey.

The study underlines how energy doesn't develop in a vacuum. Clean energy is dropping in price. Combined with energy efficiency and smart grid technology, much of it is making economic sense.

And that's the message. The fight's not begun.

Guest post: Three unique solar-powered buildings

By Lorna Li

When you think about switching to renewable energy, chances are you envision a typical rooftop home solar system or a complicated solar thermal array at a Silicon Valley business.

But homes and traditional businesses aren’t the only structures that can make use of the money and planet-saving qualities of clean energy technology.

All over the world, innovative designers and fearless city governments are finding new and exciting ways to utilize solar energy. Read on to learn about some of the some unexpected places where people are benefiting from the use of clean, reliable solar energy.

Kaiakea Fire Station

Hawaii is synonymous with constant sunshine, so it only makes sense that local governments would want to put this free, abundant resource to work powering an essential public service. The Kaiakea fire station will be the third municipal structure to be powered by solar.

“We are very excited about the start of another county PV project,” said Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. in a statement. “Incorporating renewable energy into as many county facilities as possible is one of our top priorities and is on our list of Holo Holo 2020 projects.”

Scheduled to be completed in August 2011, the Kaiakea PV system is expected to produce over 40,000 kw of energy each year.

California Community College

I know this post is supposed to be about unique solar-powered buildings, but powering an entire college is even better, don’t you think?

Butte College, in a wildlife refuge just 75 miles from Sacramento, is officially the first “grid positive” college in the nation. This means that the college’s 25,000 solar panels generate far more energy than the small school can use — 6.5 million kilowatts to be exact.

Currently, this excess energy is fed back to the grid, which results in a tidy profit for the school.

FabLab House

There’s nothing unique about using a home solar system to offset your use of grid power. But building a house that’s intended to be a self-sufficient habitat?

That’s something new.

The FabLab house was built by the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia in Madrid, Spain. The futuristic dwelling, which has been described by observers as a “peanut house,” “cinnamon submarine,” “forest zeppelin” or “whale belly” features some of the most advanced solar technology in the world and was recently awarded the People’s Choice award at Solar Decathlon Europe.

Photo: Kaiakea fire station courtesy

-- Lorna Li is the editor in chief of Green Marketing TV and Entrepreneurs for a Change. She’s specializes in Internet marketing for socially responsible business and enjoys writing about green business, social enterprise, and solar leasing.