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Resolutions To Reverse the Unsustainable Solar Industry

Viewing the solar industry (and all of its technologies) from the outside an observer would be confronted by two distinct views. View number one: THIS IS THE GREATEST TIME IN THE WORLD FOR SOLAR. GROWTH IS OFF OF THE CHARTS. THIS IS THE BEST YEAR YET. View number two: This is the worst time for manufacturers of photovoltaic technology. Enter at your own risk and consider failure the likely outcome.

Unfortunately both of these views are both true and untrue depending on the prism of the vested interest involved. Currently solar industry participants (particularly those involved in PV) are lined up behind these two viewpoints.  It is time to all line up together behind a common cause – battling entrenched and well-funded (including subsidies) conventional energy and unseating it to become the primary source of electricity globally and make money doing it. When a solar system is installed planet earth and all of its inhabitants benefit whether or not they actually paid for the system installation.

  1. As PV (and other solar technology) manufacturing pioneers continue dropping by the wayside time to STOP saying that this consolidation is healthy and start figuring out how to jump start a healthy recovery
  2. There are about a million examples that disprove the cliché THE ENDS JUSTIFY THE MEANS, so, let’s stop saying it.
  3. For goodness sake in a healthy industry everyone along the value chain needs to maximize utility – this means all players need to make money, save money and be able to justify the sale or purchase.  The time is long past when manufacturers of PV technology can justify losing money on such a massive basis.
  4. On the subject of money, the money losses of PV manufacturers are catastrophic and here is the primary reason why this is so – the loss of innovation (meaning low investment in R&D) will slow progress in this industry for the near-term, perhaps even the mid-term, but because of the innovative soul of the solar industry likely not the long-term.
  5. Moore’s law (about the doubling of transistors on integrated circuits over a period of time) is not a good match for decreasing costs of PV manufacturing.  PV is an industry filled with researchers, scientists, engineers – innovators all – can’t we come up with our own law?  Here is an idea, give an award to the student who develops a thesis (and proves it) that actually fits solar industry cost declines.  Hint: it will take time, research and money and it is worth it.
  6. And on the subject of poor analogies – just because the PV industry uses semiconductor technology does not mean its behavior is synonymous with the semiconductor industry. Please reread number 5.
  7. Nor is a-Si (amorphous silicon) and tandem junction a-Si or micromorph manufacturing synonymous with the LCD industry manufacturing. Please reread numbers 5 and 6.
  8. Whether upstream or downstream, and no matter the location, we are all in this fight together.  Time to join up on a global solar strategy.
  9. Cynicism should be out, let pragmatic optimism reign.
  10. Bias is almost always a thought killer; take in all the data and information and approach problems cleanly without a foregone conclusion or something you are trying to prove.
  11. No more killing off technologies (crystalline in the past, thin films now); there is an application for all solar technologies.
  12. Stop thinking that a brand new, game changing technology will be discovered tomorrow – the entire PV industry (and CPV and CSP) is already made up of game changing technologies.
  13. Stop looking for the brand new, savior application that will result in a sustainable (without subsidies) market for PV (CPV and CSP) – micro-grids, for example, have been around for decades. 
  14. Stop looking for the emerging market that will solve the solar industry’s problems either with or without subsidies.  Markets are opening up now because the low price of modules has enabled lower system costs and these same prices are killing off PV (and CPV and CSP) manufacturing.  These same markets will turn bad for system integrators, solar developers and EPC when the PPA and tender bidding becomes too low to support a quality or, profitable installation.
  15. Stop thinking that PV technology manufacturing (the cell, whether thin film or crystalline) should naturally be in China or other parts of Asia because they do it better – or, before reaching this conclusion, take a look at the current financial statements for manufacturers. Basically, there is no logic to concluding that one region or country should be the manufacturing or innovation center for solar. Think of all the young dreams and future innovation that is lost by discouraging manufacturing in Europe, the US and other regions and countries.
  16. Stop banging the grid parity drum it is drowning out common sense.
  17. Take a look at all the PV manufacturing top ten lists and, as all the manufacturers had negative net incomes in 2012, ask yourself who on earth would want to be on these lists.
  18. As the RPS standards in the US near fulfillment push either for extensions or prepare for a fight.
  19. One PV industry message to potential residential and commercial customers used to be energy independence – the joy of seeing the meter spin backwards and the thrill of zeroing out an energy bill.  This is being supplanted by: It is irresponsible to zero out an electricity bill because the utility needs to make money.  The follow on to this is that of COURSE system owners should be glad to pay a fee not to be taken off line. The fact is that in an emergency we can all be taken off line. Read your utility bill fine print.
  20. No more winners and losers, every time a solar participant fails something vital is lost.
  21. Some business is not worth doing, examples: unprofitable business done just to plant a megawatt in the ground or to serve the latest fad.
  22. PV is the best distributed generation technology – take it back to the community and find ways to make this work. The closer solar gets to the community the more involvement is created and the greater the chance of a grass roots movement building momentum.
  23. Financing (zero or low interest) remains the biggest roadblock to residential DG PV growth and the solar lease is not a panacea to this – let’s find a way for potential solar system customers (whether or not they rent their home) to afford PV system ownership – this means engaging landlords and other stakeholders.  The foreclosure crisis in the US and other places has allowed conglomerates to gobble up homes and become landlords.  This is unfortunate but does not mean that these new landlords cannot be encouraged to install PV systems for the good of their renters (lower utility bills) and for the good of the air we breathe. 
  24. There are no winners in trade wars and no country is a 100% good actor in terms of winning unfair industry battles.  Let’s work together as an industry to create our own standards and keep solar a global manufacturing and deployment industry – YES we say this all of the time. Let’s do it.
  25. It is currently in vogue to admit that conventional industry has unfair subsidies while also throwing up our collective and figurative hands and stating that there is nothing we can do about it – sure there is, and there is safety in numbers. Let’s get together as a whole and fight. 

Lead image: Business people via Shutterstock

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03/01/2015
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