If you sat for the SAT, ACT or like tests, you might remember hearing during the instructions: “There may be more than one right answer to a question, but there is one answer that is ‘more correct’ than the others.” While it may have been frustrating then, I now understand and appreciate the need to find optimal solutions to problems.
Which is why a recent article about what Japan is doing caught my attention.
Japan has a very interesting culture. From my assessment, it’s steeped in generations of tradition, but not so deeply that new trends and ideas are stifled. As an example, many Japanese embrace various aspects of American culture and trends, and one of those had been golf. For a number of years, Japanese fascination with golf resulted in the construction of hundreds of golf courses. As their tastes have turned away from golf, some courses have been abandoned.
While some of these courses can be reconverted to other uses, Kyocera, a Japanese firm, saw a different solution. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster and subsequent shutdown of nuclear facilities, Japan lost roughly 25% of its electricity generation, and that had to be made up by increased use of fossil fuels. Kyocera recognized an opportunity to address both issues at once. By beginning construction of a 23-megawatt solar plant on an abandoned golf course in Kyoto, Kyocera has found an optimal solution to two problems.
We are not in the same position Japan is … yet. The U.S. still has plenty of natural resources to continue producing energy, but we also realize we need to change the course of energy production. And while we don’t have the same land/space problem as Japan, we do have a similar problem with abandoned structures. Throughout the U.S., we have an untold number of abandoned factories, commercial buildings and strip malls.
I’d like to think that there is an opportunity here for utilities – and, frankly, for any company that wants to anchor its sustainability story in a renewable energy commitment – to provide an optimal solution to a number of problems. Where feasible, utilities or enterprising organizations should begin looking for larger abandoned properties and offer to retrofit the roofs, installing solar arrays, which could provide all or most of the power that would be needed by the facility if it were once again operating. They could then partner with local commercial and economic development groups to encourage the retrofit of the remaining parts of the building for occupancy.
Priority could even be given to providing space for non-profits ‒ especially organizations that have historically received support from the utility or company-foundation grants. Access to the renewable energy would reduce their ongoing overhead expenses and free up money for their organizational mission.
Finally, deploying solar arrays is an external sign of environmental responsibility and support for renewables, which we know from our Pulse studies have a positive impact on how customers view all companies (including utilities). In addition, revitalizing abandoned buildings shows community support and involvement, as does offering assistance to local non-profits – all of which can help improve customer satisfaction and brand tracking scores.
It’s an optimal solution that addresses multiple problems faced by our communities … and creates a perception win for the company that takes the lead.