Our electric future needs electrifying marketing

If we’re going to hit the net-zero targets we need, we have to electrify everything we can. And that means a new energy in our marketing, to sell people on the better lifestyle that could result.

I have seen the future of energy in a USB-C cord.

A decade ago, connecting my laptop to my monitor involved connecting a power cable, then a monitor cable and then a USB cable. It was like a slightly pathetic recreation of a cool sci-fi spaceship docking sequence. These days, I plug in a USB-C cable, and data, power and the display signal all happily flow down the same cable.

This is the blissful result of 25 years of digitalisation and simplification. Half a century ago, my Dad used to drag a briefcase around with him everywhere. These days, it’s just a shoulder bag with a laptop and a water bottle in it. (Oh, OK, I have a posh reusable coffee cup, too.) Even just a few years ago, I carried a bunch of dongles and a power adaptor. But I rarely need to do so these days.

What the heck has this got to do with energy? We’re in the early stages of doing to energy what we did to information. We digitised all the information that we practically could. And now we’re in the process of electrifying everything we can. Now, admittedly, there’s one big difference here. We digitise everything because, on balance, it improves our lives. We’re electrifying everything because we are, quite rightly, abjectly terrified of what the climate crisis will do to our world — and our standard of living.

COP28 points to an electrified future

The final agreement from COP28 back in December 2023 committed the participants to “transitioning away” from fossil fuels, tripling renewable energy and accelerating the adoption of zero-emissions vehicles. In other words, electrify everything you can and generate as much of that from renewables as you can manage.

We need to do this to moderate the worst of the climate crisis. And so we don’t have time for the benefits to become apparent. We can’t afford a 30-year transition when a 2050 deadline for net zero is looking squeaky at best. So it’s happening. But carrots are always better than sticks. A light laptop and a single cable are better than a heavy briefcase with a stack of documents in it.

And here’s where marketing comes in. Can we make the necessary desirable — and quickly? Because, right now at least, things are going in the opposite direction. The fearmongers are out in force.

Fear of change is stronger than fear of the climate

Yet another Facebook thread in a group I’m part of erupted into anger and denial over the weekend, as people discussed the local (to me) garage that had replaced half its petrol pumps with electric chargers. The whole range of EV misinformation was on display:

  • They’re a fad. (I remember when the internet was called that…)
  • They’re too heavy, so bridges and parking garages will need to be rebuilt. (Presumably, vans and lorries don’t exist in this person’s world…)
  • They catch fire too easily. (Less easily than petrol cars, as it turns out.)
  • They emit more carbon in manufacturing. (True — but they become lower carbon in total within a few years, depending on how much you drive and how your energy is generated.)

Some people are desperate for the hydrogen fairy to come and rescue them from change. Sure, hydrogen may be a part of the equation for commercial vehicles, but not the domestic commuter. Its only appeal is that you can fuel a car with hydrogen similarly to filling it with petrol. And synthetic fuels might hit — but right now, that’s dangerously close to hoping that the Mr Fusion Nuclear Reactor that powered the DeLorean time machine in the Back to the Future movies with rubbish will suddenly be invented.

Electrify the antidote

We won’t get where we need to go fast enough by just scaring people. Right now, we’re scaring them on both ends: the climate crisis, and changing how they travel. EVs are scary because they take longer to charge and there are fewer chargers — and they’re just different. Because the change to their daily life feels more immediate, people sometimes rationalise their resistance by downplaying the dangers of climate change.

There’s one simple antidote to this. It’s time to bust out your mad marketing skills, my friends, and start telling different stories. Stories that have dual wins: avoiding the climate crisis and living better lives when we do it.

Selling like a SolarPunk

The science fiction writers have led the way for us here. There’s a whole genre called SolarPunk, which imagines life in a post-carbon, renewables-powered future:

Imagine being surrounded by lush natural landscapes, buildings covered with verdant plants and vegetation complete with rooftop gardens, and cities that are completely powered by clean energy. Imagine having our technologies built in harmony with nature and shared equally with everyone on the planet. This is what our world should look like as envisioned by the solarpunk movement.

It’s the polar opposite of a dystopian future. It’s about envisaging how life changes as technology changes. We’ve seen that already with digitalisation. First, we replicate existing processes digitally, and then we re-engineer them to suit the new technology. We’re feeling that on the urban scale now, as the dynamics of cities change through hybrid working approaches. Electrification of cars will only accelerate that, as people change their own patterns. Why spend a miserable hour in crowded motorway services while your car charges, when you can spend that same time getting some work done in a coffee shop — or having a nice pub lunch?

All changes have upsides and downsides. Sell the upside, rather than letting people dwell on the uncomfortable changes. And then start looking for the market opportunities in these changes.

What do we do with the petrol stations no longer needed, as most commuters charge at home? What happens when power generation is local, and driven by solar, wind and hydropower? What happens when energy shocks caused by overseas wars no longer directly impact our daily energy needs? We can envisage that. We can plan that. And we can sell that.

Electrifying the electrification discussion

Rather than leaving people fretting about EV charge times, sell the future of cities free of fossil fuel pollution, with quieter streets thanks to the lower noises of EVs at low speeds. Sell a modern Parisian vision of a future where roadside cafés are much more pleasant places to be. Sell a future where your car “fuels” itself late at night, while you’re sleeping, using smart tech to choose the cheapest time to do so.

Hell, you can even trap your marketing reins onto the new hot tech, and ride that into sales. This electrified and electrifying future will need new ways of managing things — and managing power in particular. Renewables are not predictable in their output, and won’t always match demand. That can be managed through rapidly improving battery technology and grid monitoring. But that’s a huge task at any sort of urban scale.

If only we had developed some form of technology that was great at making usable sense of large volumes of data.


Hello, AI. We can’t escape you, can we? AI-assisted power management is likely to be a key urban infrastructure capability. There’s something else you can sell. Short of an utterly transformative new technology emerging this decade, our future is digitalised and electrified. If we tell the right stories, we can accelerate our transition into a new future by making it seem electrifying.

Photo by kaal.uk on AdobeStock.