By Julian Roberts

As someone who has been promoting the positives of energy efficiency for some time I couldn’t help but feel a little deflated the other day when I witnessed a ‘Groupthink’ – the name apparently attributed to a situation when everyone goes with the flow and sacrifices their own opinion in favour of what the general consensus is.

Worse still, my innocent two year old boy, had, by default, become a ‘Groupthinkee.’ He’s at that age when it just repeats absolutely everything he hears. Note to self.

The situation was this. As me and my son reached the end of a footpath onto the street, a car pulls up in front of a house complete with solar panels. Lots have sprung up in my neighbourhood in recent months, no doubt to do with all the buzz and controversy around the Feed-in Tariff.

So, out step two guys who are clearly visiting the area and Guy 1 notices a solar panel on a roof and says to the other:

“What an eyesore…I’d be really cheesed off if I was the neighbour opposite”.

Cue the neighbour opposite coming out of the front door. Guy 1: “Ere mate….what do you reckon about that solar panel opposite?”

“Haven’t really thought about it” responds the neighbour.

“Gordon Bennett, what an eyesore”, repeats Guy 1

Actually the language all round was a bit stronger than this – I’m now facing the same challenge that script writers must face when writing the dialogue for Phil Mitchel on the pre-watershed Eastenders.

“You’re right” says the neighbour, “it’s an eyesore.”

“Eyesore” repeated my son, piping up and pointing to the solar panel, “Eyesore”, “Eyesore”, “Eyesore”

“Ok son…..I get the picture.”

I sloped off home. With my son I might add!

All of this got me thinking.

What I had witnessed had nothing to do with a reality. Well, ‘the perception’ held by those guys was a reality but there was no mention of what these silver things on roofs could do and how they could benefit.

A quick side point: since when was a tiled roof a thing of beauty to be held up and admired? They serve a purpose, they look ok and all that but making them silver-looking can hardly be a blight on the architectural landscape of a perfectly nice, but typical, housing estate where I live.

The ‘eyesore argument’ is where many of those black and white debates are borne, manifesting themselves in overly simplistic and often inaccurate arguments to support a previously held, fundamental, and certainly not always accurate position. e.g. wind turbines hardly ever go round anyway and are noisy.

If we can do more to showcase the real and actual benefits of renewables, the parameters that dictate or restrict how we judge their aesthetic values may broaden our thinking.

After all, the National Theatre, now regarded a national treasure and iconic landmark was once derided by critics – described by Mark Girouard as ‘an aesthetic of broken forms’. Architectural opinion was split at the time of construction.

Even enthusiastic advocates of the Modern Movement such as Sir Nikolaus Pevsner have found the Béton brut concrete both inside and out overbearing. Most notoriously, Prince Charles described the building in 1988 as “a clever way of building a nuclear power station in the middle of London without anyone objecting”.

So what can we learn from the National? Well, it’s now judged by the public and critics by what it produces – that has shaped the value we place on it and the perceptions we now hold.

Secondly, like going to the theatre, investing in greening homes has been seen by many to be both a costly and largely middle-class thing to do.

Depending on your point of view, the barriers have to some extent come down with the National offering reduced priced tickets through the Travelex initiative and funding being made available to insulate the homes of people on lower incomes. I’m not attempting to debate the issues around the Green Deal and Eco in this blog, though. Back to the original detour.

The National Theatre has in recent years started to reach out so that passers-by can enjoy free outdoor events, and communities across the UK and beyond can watch plays that have been broadcast live across cinemas.

Can we take anything from this in terms of engaging people with renewables? Can industry and communities join forces broadcasting how much energy is being produced by local people in real time? There are some examples of this happening.

When the guy pulls up to park at least the neighbour might not default to a Groupthinkee position and think twice about agreeing with the attack on the nearby eyesore. At least we might begin to weigh things up in a balanced way by factoring in other values alongside the previously held aesthetic ones. Evidence can put those black and white arguments to rest.

It will all be down to the right technologies being installed in the right places in the right way and used effectively.

I Picked my son up from nursery the other day. He’s moved on from the subject of solar panels to a love of big and fast cars.

“Gordon Bennett.”