Selling the sun: A critical review of the sustainability of solar energy marketing and advertising in Germany
This paper looks at the messages by solar installers (SI) on rooftop photovoltaic (PV) systems to households in Germany (representative sample of n = 109 randomly selected websites). It examines the motivations they are aiming at in their online communications to convince potential buyers and how they describe living with a PV system. Economic benefits of PV systems are mentioned most frequently. Environmental arguments are also put forward, mainly to signal that buyers are making a valuable contribution to protecting the climate if they invest in PV. Only small parts of the online communication directly relate to energy consumption behaviour in the usage phase. Following this analysis, we discuss how the way PV systems are framed by SI could influence the expectations of households regarding electricity use. This is important with regard to climate mitigation strategies that assume a reduced energy demand in addition to increasing renewable energy sources. Therefore, our discussion focuses on possible rebound effects i.e. an increased electricity consumption by owners of PV systems. We hypothesise that the arguments provided by SI could instigate moral licensing, i.e. support the perception that with a PV system, households have fulfilled their environmental duties and therefore are free to use more electricity. Furthermore, the strong emphasis on economic arguments could weaken other motivations. This leads to the conclusions that (i) further research is needed concerning the influence of sales communications on actual consumption as well as (ii) the recommendation that communication strategies around PV systems should address the usage phase more carefully.