Tobin Booth, CEO, Blue Oak Energy, Inc.
Success. We are all looking to achieve some level of success in the solar industry. Whether it’s monetary, leadership, technical or an acknowledgement, we are all in this nascent energy industry to achieve some personal goal or reward. But success, as Winston Churchill once said, “…is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
Overall, uncertainty is the most difficult issue facing the solar industry. We have seen feed-in tariff (FIT) rates slashed in Germany, retroactive FIT cuts in Spain, and bureaucratic delays in Canada. Here in the U.S., we have a fragmented regime of incentives, taxes, licenses, and net metering laws. We have the heavy burden of uncertainty that begins with the current economic woes and extends to the retired tax credit grant program, the lowest natural gas prices in history and a rocky election year.
Ten years ago solar modules were $3.50 per Watt, and we wanted to jump for joy when solar modules hit the $1.00 per Watt threshold. We have achieved this significant milestone, yet uncertainty caused us to skip the celebration.
We need to gain a broader perspective to see a clear picture of the solar landscape: this is a consolidation point. Companies of high quality and solid balance sheets are going to control the future. We must embrace this destiny because, for the foreseeable future, there will be many more uncertainties that depend upon tax credits and government regulations.
If the regulatory nature of the solar industry is our biggest challenge, then we will thrive. But we will have more of the same if there are continued economic hardships, high costs of capital, middle market players, multiple profit and overhead markups on goods and services, and limitations in the tax credit markets.
As a collective industry, we need to consolidate and dampen the rollercoaster ride we have chosen. Otherwise, we might just lose that enthusiasm that has kept us here through many failures and a few successes.
Tobin Booth is the founder and CEO of Blue Oak Energy in Davis, California. With more than fifteen years of experience in renewable energy, Mr. Booth is a recognized national leader in solar electric photovoltaic energy systems, and has been a board member of SEPA since 2009. Mr. Booth holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Colorado State University.