As Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX took the stage at the recent Model 3 unveiling, the world watched what many people claimed to be Tesla and Mr. Musk’s defining moment. They’d been building towards that moment since their inception; a relatively affordable, fully electric car that appeals to the masses. And they did not disappoint. The Model 3, like all of Tesla’s vehicles, appears beautiful and sleek, while promising to go far and fast on a single charge.

Musk, perhaps better than anyone, understands what it takes to get us to a future without the burning of fossil fuels and into the brave new world of sustainable transportation: people like nice things. That is a fact and not necessarily one we should stick our noses up at; it’s just the way we are. And Musk knows it: to have any chance at all of transforming an industry, a mindset and an utterly unsustainable addiction to fossil fuels, we need to appeal to the vanity that’s so innately baked into human nature.

This line of thinking should extend into all areas of renewable tech. The design process should encompass not just the visual appeal of things, but the function and usability as well. Tesla’s cars, while beautiful, are just as much about the entire experience. From handling to speed to software updates that help drivers avoid the costly regular maintenance found in traditional dealership models, they offer consumers the first real end-to-end all-electric experience that is actually exciting.

It’s as much an exercise in branding, communications, and marketing strategy as it is about the vehicles. They present themselves with all the appeal of a luxury car maker with the added benefit of sustainability. In fact, unlike other electric cars which sacrifice certain benefits such as speed and power, Tesla positions themselves as a contemporary to traditional luxury brands like Porsche, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW.

For other renewable energy sources to find success they must learn from Tesla’s approach. While the heart of any sustainable product needs to centre around its technology and environmental benefits, it still needs to appeal to consumers. And as they know, that appeal must drive straight into the heart of people’s vanity.

Here are a two other renewable products doing just that:

  • Solar Shingles: These shingles combine thin-film PV (photovoltaic, i.e. solar panels) cells with modules based on flexible CIGS (Copper Indium/Gallium di-Selenide) technology. Dow Solar’s version is designed to integrate inline with composition asphalt shingles, laminated architectural shingles, concrete and clay tile, cedar shake, polymer and traditional slate. Instead of attaching the shingles to a thermoplastic base with messy adhesives, Dow’s version features a mechanical interlock system to link the shingle-modules to each other. The system not only lowers installation costs, but also makes it easier to repair or replace a damaged module while integrating in a more visually appealing way to the over design of a home. Say goodbye to those traditional clunky solar panels.
  • Trinity Wind Turbine: this portable turbine converts into a three-blade, horizontal type wind turbine that comes in four sizes – the Trinity 50, 400, 1000 and 2500. These are basically larger versions with increasing size and levels of power generation, and which also convert from horizontal to vertical axis turbines. The Trinity 50, costing around $400, provides 50-watt generation and is only twelve inches high when folded. The minimum speed for the Trinity to work is 4 mph (6.5 km/h). Once speeds reach 25 mph (40 km/h), the turbine can be converted to the vertical setting. The Trinity also comes with a smartphone app, which allow users to monitor the battery level, turn the blades on or off, see how much electricity is being generated as well as the historical data of wind and energy generated. How cool it would be to have a wind turbine you can carry with one hand.

What do you think? Is vanity the key to a successful renewable energy technology? Let us know in the comments below!


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