Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Solar power for Business English

A recent article about the decreasing costs of rooftop solar panels is not only a good source of information about the current state of the industry, but is also a good example of business writing.

The text is fairly short (331 words), but has language referring to increase and decrease, phrases incorporating statistics, as well as comparisons between the past and the present.

In addition, there is a graph included that can be used to practice "graph language" -- helping students learn how to explain information from a graph in either speaking or writing.

The article is Rooftop solar is getting dirt cheap. That's good news for consumers, but trouble for businesses:


Here are some examples of useful language from the text.

Vocabulary for expressing change/comparisons:
  • flourishing
  • grow by
  • compared to
  • by more than
  • as much as
  • is comprised of
  • grew 
  • eclipsed
  • slashed
  • less
  • at least as much as
  • plummet to less than
  • fluctuations
  • was/were down
  • dropped
  • ranging from ... to
Specific business vocabulary (with collocations): 
  • consumers
  • businesses
  • solar energy
  • market is flourishing / should grow
  • low prices
  • stocks have plummeted
  • global solar energy was installed
  • momentum
  • capacity
  • utility-scale installations
  • residential capacity has grown
  • costs were slashed
  • caused ripples in the market
  • traditional business model
  • leading companies
  • leasing
  • gear
  • generate energy
  • customers
  • lease an installation
  • pay less / pay as much as
  • local utility
  • make a profit
  • profit on the interest
  • afford to pay
  • upfront costs
  • owned
  • third-party
  • forecast is backed by
  • current market fluctuations
  • stocks were down
  • dropped its program
  • running shorter loan programs

Much of this vocabulary can be used to describe the information in the graph (eg., stocks have plummeted, market fluctuations, plummet to less than, fluctuations).

This is the graph that accompanies the text (Credit: GTM Research):

There are also good examples of the present perfect and past tenses that illustrate the difference between the two when referring to the past: use of the simple past when there is a definite past time; use of the present perfect to refer to the past without a definite time. These are two tenses that my students often confuse.

Uses of present perfect and simple past tenses:
  • Solar energy has become dirt cheap
  • stocks have plummeted by more than 50 percent
  • residential capacity has also grown a lot
  • As much as 85% of the global solar energy was installed within the past five years
  • The residential solar market grew 66 percent year-over-year
  • But because installation costs were slashed, this has caused ripples in the market.
  • In 2014, 72 percent of all rooftop solar was owned by a third party.
Another useful grammar focus is the use of the present progressive tense. My students think it is used for referring to actions "happening at the moment," but do not realize that it is used more often for situations or actions taking place currently or for current trends (not necessarily "at the moment of speaking").

Examples of the present progressive tense:
  • rooftop solar is getting dirt cheap
  • the market is flourishing
  • the low prices are making a lot of rooftop residents jubilant
  • the kind of momentum we're talking about
  • (the company) is now running much shorter loan programs

Other examples of tenses in the text are the use of the present tense for statements of fact, the use of the future with will, and the use of the conditionals would, should, and can.

For such a short text, there is a lot of material here for Business English.