Billions of dollars of investment flowing into renewable energy. A President pushing for solutions to combat climate change. Innovative technologies challenging the status quo. This is all very current, but it’s also exactly what happened in the first wave of renewables during the Obama administrations. For companies seeking success today in what’s shaping up to be the even bigger second wave of renewables, it’s wise to consider the lessons of the first wave. And take into account a host of new considerations that are making today’s opportunities unique in the history of energy.

I’m basing these observations on first hand experience in both periods, having worked with companies like First Wind and Deepwater Wind in wave one, and Greentown Labs and numerous startups in wave two.

Lessons from wave one.

How did ‘alternative’ energy like wind become mainstream? In 2007, wind energy was about as welcome in America as alien spacecraft, with all kinds of objections blocking project approval.

First Wind and others managed to speed adoption not because they had superior technology, but because they found a better story that appealed to communities considering wind farm development. Market research showed that what small town community leaders really cared about were economic benefits, versus saving the environment.

First Wind changed their story to “Clean energy. Made here” with a major focus on “energizing local economies.” Thanks to increased business activity plus ongoing wind farm revenue, some communities were able to cut their citizens’ tax burden in half (or better). When people realized wind farms would pay for their new fire truck or school, approving projects became a no-brainer.

To connect with consumers and get a green light, the key to success—in any era—is simply putting yourself in customers’ shoes. What do they care about? What are their pain points? How do you take away their pain,

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