Energy advocacy group E2 has tracked every new clean energy project since Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in August 2022. As of October 2023, companies have started 234 new projects and invested almost $91 billion in the clean energy economy.
Over a year since the IRA, two things are clear — many new companies hope to take advantage of the landmark legislation, and, by consequence, many players have saturated the energy industry. But the momentum created by the IRA won’t last forever. New players entering the energy transition must hit the ground running while differentiating themselves from the noisy competitive landscape. Companies that have already announced new investments (and gained media traction) must plan to sustain communications as they turn intentions into action.
Here’s how energy communicators can prepare for this next phase of the energy transition.
Avoid a Post-IRA Energy Communications Lull
After Congress passed the IRA, energy companies announced their intentions to build massive manufacturing facilities, start new solar projects and produce unprecedented levels of American-made renewable energy. Clean energy startups and legacy oil and gas companies alike got in on the action, hoping to capitalize on the federal tax incentives and buzz around a low-carbon future. Employees, investors, and consumers met the announcements with excitement. Momentum was high, and the clean energy future looked promising.
As we approach 2024, enthusiasm for the energy transition remains. Still, many energy players have either scaled back their commitments to reduce risk, or have stepped into the background as they break ground on projects. Headlines about “the first” or “the largest” new energy projects have tapered off. Without consistent announcements, energy communicators must keep media opportunities coming through different outreach strategies.
To combat a lull in your efforts, tweak your strategies from “Let’s talk about growth and what’s coming” to “Here’s what we are doing right now.” Of course, there is nuance to communicating about progress, which is rarely linear. Find progress storylines in talking about your company’s approach to its projects and sharing expertise on current events.
The key is to keep beating the drum no matter the roadblocks or speed of progress — lean into thought leadership opportunities and keep a steady cadence on blogs, social media posts, and media relations. Also, don’t forget about internal communications — employees need to be engaged with just as much as any consumer or investor.
Now Is the Time to Shout Your Value from the Rooftops
As new energy companies have sprouted up and legacy companies have updated net zero strategies in the wake of the IRA, the energy space has become crowded. Companies old and new must begin communicating about their value and offerings now, and do so loudly, before the industry stratifies.
While this might sound like common sense, it’s important to recognize that across industries, new companies will wait to invest in communications until they are more established in their business strategy and offerings. To get ahead in the energy transition and ride the momentum of the IRA, your consistent, strategic communications must begin now.
Whether your goal is to scale into an energy giant, to be acquired, or anything in between, you need to start communicating externally through PR tactics. There is a lot of noise in the energy industry, and many companies are trying to mark their territory as early adopters. Working with an energy communications partner can help you produce quality communications that reach a diverse set of stakeholders quickly.
Attending energy industry events like RE+, Climate Week, and COP is also a great way for companies to signal they are a part of the rapidly accelerating energy transition. At these events, attendees host booths, get facetime with industry peers, and network with important stakeholders. Getting involved in industry events at this point in the energy transition is especially important. By attending, you’re showing that you’re an active player in the energy space, and you can further amplify this engagement through your communications. Participating in smaller, more focused events and speaking opportunities is also critical to building long-term relationships.
Use Differentiated Storylines to Pull Ahead
It’s not enough to enter the energy space and start communicating. Companies who want to capitalize on the industry’s growth must differentiate themselves from competitors. In the past years, a familiar storyline has emerged from many energy companies: they’re working to accelerate the energy transition, solve supply chain issues, and bring energy production back to America.
Instead, communicators should craft messaging around their key differentiators. What sets you apart if you’re not the first or the biggest? Is it quality? Innovation? Vision? They don’t have to be niche: if you’re a storage company, talk about how your mission, technology, or impact plays into the larger industry landscape.
Clarity on your position and mission will help make your company more recognizable in sales conversations and media coverage. A great energy communicator will earn coverage that features differentiator messages within articles about larger topics like the energy transition, supply chain issues and legislation. In the end, audiences don’t want to learn about what a specific company is doing — they want to hear how a company is helping to solve their concern about energy affordability, grid reliability or climate change (to name a few).
And whatever your unique storyline is, don’t wait for media opportunities to communicate it across audiences. Share your messaging externally on social media or your company’s website and internally through employee newsletters.
Remain Flexible and Strike While the Iron is Hot
As we reach a phase of the energy transition defined by the progress made, not the projects announced, energy communicators must remain flexible in their strategies. Realistically, renewables companies will hit roadblocks while building solar projects, wind farms, or battery systems. Energy technology firms will need to invest in more research and development to prepare their products for market. Just because a company makes an announcement doesn’t mean change happens with the snap of a CEO’s fingers.
On top of the internal hurdles companies and communicators must navigate, the energy industry is susceptible to greater geopolitical and economic factors. For example, some energy companies have pulled back net zero goals to mitigate risk in response to trade restrictions on Chinese-sourced materials and supply chain issues accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine-Russia war. Even events like the United Auto Workers strike in Detroit have placed EV production under scrutiny, causing transportation companies to second guess their electrification strategies.
Through it all, energy communicators must find comfort in their discomfort and keep their comms tactics dynamic and consistent as the energy transition evolves. By prioritizing communications, reporters will see you as a go-to resource, consumers will consider you a leader in your arena, and you’ll exhibit progress to your most important stakeholders.
Partnering with an agency focused on energy communications can expedite your efforts. A great agency partner will keep their finger on the pulse of the energy industry and the greater landscape, allowing them to quickly pivot narratives to fit important storylines and recognize opportunities and challenges that may arise.