Every industry has a rock star. The financial industry has Warren Buffet. The tech industry has Steve Jobs. The oil industry (and now wind industry) has T. Boone Pickens. And the solar PV industry has Jigar Shah.
So what makes someone a rock star in the business world? Well, success is a prerequisite. As the founder of SunEdison, a firm that pioneered the commercial solar power purchase agreement in North America, Shah's rise in his mid-thirties was one of the first high-profile success stories in the modern solar industry.
But achieving rock-stardom is about much more than being a good businessman. Even Shah (who has never proclaimed himself a star of the solar industry) admits that financial success is only a very small part of industry success – especially in renewables and efficiency.
“You can really make a ton of money in these areas and never make a difference. And that's really sad,” he says.
He points to the energy efficiency sector where numerous $50 million-a-year businesses have barely made a dent in Americans' wasteful energy consumption. The same could be said of the solar industry, where a company like thin-film manufacturer First Solar – with revenues of over $2 billion and a market capitalization of $12 billion – is leading a market that represents a tiny fraction of the overall energy mix.
But Shah believes that solar is on a path toward high penetration. He criticizes those who say solar is too expensive, or that we need breakthrough technologies to make any difference. He believes that the positive indicators are staring us in the face, and anyone who doesn't see them is blind or purposefully ignoring them.
And this brings us to another defining trait of a rockstar: Someone who is able to envision and articulate the future of an industry, even if that vision is not always consistent with conventional wisdom (i.e. solar is too expensive, solar is too intermittent, the technology is not ready). ::continue::
I had the opportunity to co-host a web conference this week with AltaTerra research about the outlook for the solar industry through 2013. Shah was the featured speaker, and he offered a lot of insight into how this very volatile market will play out over the next few years.
The theme of his talk was “The Solar Industry Controls its Own Destiny.” By this, he means that the pieces are already in place for companies to put massive amounts of solar online. It's about building strong businesses now, not blaming politicians or the fossil energy industries for setbacks.
Here's a quick summary of the key points he made:
Shah's main point throughout the presentation was that the industry already has a good business environment to build from – it is no longer about what “they” are going to do to support solar. It's about what “we” are going to do to grow the industry. Even without the full support of heel dragging politicians and utilities, there's still plenty of business to be done.
To check out this web conference, go over to the AltaTerra website. You'll find some other web conferences that might be of interest too. Over the coming months, RenewableEnergyWorld.com will be working with AltaTerra to put together more online conference sessions, so be on the look out for those.
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