In 1973 Stan Ovshinsky, President of Energy Conversion Devices (ECD) came into my office when I had just become an energy aide to Senator Jacob Javits (NY) in the first few lurching weeks of the first oil embargo. Stan, accompanied by his wife Rose, also a scientist as well as a co-founder of his company, proceeded to tell me the benefits of solar photovoltaics and their research in thin film flexible non-glass PV, solar-hydrogen generation and fuel cells, and advanced batteries.
Stan and Rose founded ECD in 1967 – six years before the oil embargoes that first galvanized attention of energy by the American public and our policymakers. But Stan was warning of the environmental, security , and economic pitfalls of being opiated on petroleum and coal, decades before anyone else took it seriously. He built technology subsidiaries underneath ECD, Ovonics for batteries with a facility in Ohio (sold to BASF), and it’s UniSolar subsidiary had three manufacturing plants – two in Michigan and one in Mexico for its this film lines.
That meeting in my Senate office became a forty year relationship, including having his PV panels along with others from 12 companies atop my DC office buildings overlooking Lafayette Park in front of The White House, his roofing shingles atop my Virginia office building, and his “peal and stick” modules atop my metal-seamed roof on my home’s south-facing porch.
If anything, Stan was a visionary enticing the likes of Cannon and Chevron to invest in ECD, buying SIT to laminate his thin film on commercial roofing membranes, He was the first to bring nickel metal hydride batteries (NIMH) to the market for electronics as well as vehicles; and those patents as well as the co-investments by a string of Fortune 500 companies kept his green empire afloat.
Over the decades I had the opportunity to get to know Stan and Rose well – to say they were before their time is an understatement. And the scorn they received was unprecedented for most of the technology, environmental, and policies we take for granted today. In fact, Stan and Rose (also deceased) were bulldogs in the face of well-orchestrated deriders.. Stan Ovshinsky who passed away this week, embodied the depth and breadth of the American dream – a real and brilliant entrepreneur, small business man, fighter against all the odds. We owe you, Stan.
Scott Sklar is president of a clean energy technology optimization and strategic policy firm, The Stella Group, Ltd, and an Adjunct Professor at both The George Washington University and The American University.
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