The political will to support solar has arguably been the single largest factor determining the growth of the market in the last decade, with the German feed-in tariff (FIT) as the most obvious example. That political will depends largely on public awareness, and that’s where this group of PV champions comes in.
(October 7, 2010) — The political will to support solar has arguably been the single largest factor determining the growth of the market in the last decade, with the German feed-in tariff (FIT) as the most obvious example. That political will depends largely on public awareness, and that’s where this group of PV champions comes in.
These advocates have championed the cause in many different ways. Some have tackled state policy, or national policy or international policy; some have worked with utilities or energy regulators; some have helped lead the thinking and the global discussion about the industry; and some have led by example, putting milestone solar projects on roofs, on the ground — and even in the sky. They’ve shouted from the rooftops, sometimes literally, for the good of the solar industry and for the planet.
But they all share a passion for PV and a conviction that growing the solar industry is a major part of the cure for climate change, as well as for a variety of other society ills. They’ve changed minds and inspired change, and — working together with many other solar believers — they’ve collectively helped to grow the solar market from 1.46 gigawatts in 2005 and 7.5 gigawatts last year, according to Solarbuzz, to a projected 15.2 gigawatts this year.
Nearly a decade ago, solar entered Adam Browning’s life as an unexpected pleasure. He had spent 7 years helping to reduce pollution as part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), where he inspected facilities with toxic chemicals and did other enforcement-related work. Then, in 2001, his friend, David Hochschild had an idea: Why not put solar panels on San Francisco’s City Hall?
Hochschild, who had lived in the same hall as Browning at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, was working as an aide at the San Francisco mayor’s office. And Browning loved the idea of working toward something that would prevent — instead of control — fossil-fuel emissions and that would reduce the city’s energy bill, ultimately paying for itself. “It hit me viscerally, like a clobber over the head,” he says. “It just made so much sense.”
So they did the homework to figure out the costs and benefits of the project, brought the idea to then-city-supervisor Mark Leno and — after winning the support of another supervisor, current San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, and racking up endorsements to convince other supervisors — succeeded in getting a space on the ballot for Proposition B, a $100 million bond measure that would pay to put solar panels, wind turbines and energy-efficiency technologies on city-owned property. They began a campaign to get the measure voted in and found that the idea had captured so many people’s imaginations that they now had teams of campaigners willing to help, and ultimately, they were successful.
“The campaign was a blast,” Browning says. “It really captured a sense of people wanting to be part of something beyond themselves.” After the proposition passed, Browning and Hochschild started getting calls from people in other cities who wanted to do the same thing. If enough cities installed enough solar panels, they realized, the cost of those panels would go down and the industry would take off. And for Browning, solar offered a chance to replicate the feeling of success from Prop B. “So much environmentalism has been about saying ‘No, don’t do this’ or ‘Stop that,’ which was a necessary thing, but it’s also great to have a ‘yes’ to be a part of, a ‘This is the right thing to do,'” he says.
So Browning and Hochschild quit their jobs and started a nonprofit, Vote Solar, to help solar grow, and Browning became the group’s executive director. Funded by grants from foundations and a fundraiser in the form of an annual party, Vote Solar worked with others to help establish the California Solar Initiative, a $2.17 billion rebate program – started in 2007 — aimed at installing 1.94 gigawatts of new solar projects on homes and businesses, then intervened in four related rate cases to help get solar-friendly rates for the program.
The nonprofit earlier this year also worked hard to get the cap on net metering, a billing arrangement that allows solar customers to get credit for the electricity they deliver back to the grid so that they only end up paying for their net electricity usage at the end of the month, expanded from 2.5 to 5% in CA, the top solar market in the U.S. The cap limits the amount of electricity utilities can accept from net-metering customers and would have halted residential solar installations in the region of at least one utility, which was expected to reach the 2.5% limit this year, if it hadn’t been expanded, Browning says.
Vote Solar also has expanded its activities to other states. The nonprofit played a significant role in helping Arizona establish its renewable energy standard, which provides rebates for distributed solar and other renewable-energy projects, in 2008, for example. It also helped Nevada grow its renewable portfolio standard, which requires utilities to get a portion of their electricity from renewable sources, from 20 percent to 25 percent — with at least 6 percent coming specifically from solar power – in 2009. Not bad, especially considering the team consisted of only 3 people until 2008, and now has grown to 7.
What does Browning consider the secrets to the group’s success? Understanding that each place has a different culture and that it takes different activities — in some cases, providing quality data and analysts; in others, proving to commissioners how popular solar is among their ratepayers — to grow solar in different states. Working collaboratively with local partners who have relationships with key lawmakers and who understand how to get things done in their state. And following initiatives through to the end.
“A successful market depends on many different pieces, many links, and after, say, a large piece of legislation passes, that marks the beginning of your work, not the end,” he says. “We’ve become a trusted resource to policymakers because we didn’t just tell them to do something, but stuck around to help them do it. We can pick up the phone and talk to utility commissioners in 10 states because we gained their trust in providing good information and helping them get through to success.”
The group — and the solar industry — still has plenty of work left to do, Browning adds. For the next year, his top priority is New York, where Vote Solar supports an initiative that would set a goal of installing 5MW of solar capacity by 2025, as well as a change in state law to allow cities and counties to provide loans for green retrofits (including solar projects) via property taxes. Overall, Vote Solar’s biggest challenge is still helping people to realize how cost-effective solar has become, Browning says. And now that many states have set renewable goals, another huge industry challenge is figuring out how to balance out intermittent renewables to maintain a reliable grid, he says.
But those are nice challenges to have. “Solar’s getting really cheap, we’re seeing gigawatts of solar projects going in and it’s an entirely new world from when we started,” Browning says. “It’s been a long, hard fight and we’re finally winning.” By Jennifer Kho
Update, October 20, 2010. It has been reported that Hermann Scheer unexpectedly passed away on October 14. For some, Hermann Scheer’s name is synonymous with solar. The German parliament member is the father of the feed-in tariff policy that helped to turn the country into the world’s largest solar-energy market. The move sparked the global solar industry, inspiring activity worldwide as companies scrambled to tap into the lucrative market. He also serves as the president of European Association of Renewable Energy, also known as Eurosolar, which he founded in 1988, and chairs the World Council for Renewable Energy.
Scheer gained prominence as a solar advocate in the industry early on, when he helped to craft the feed-in tariff program, which was introduced in 1990. Feed-in tariffs are government-set rates that utilities must pay to buy solar electricity. The incentive program that Scheer helped to craft has been lucrative and nurtured a market that in turn has paved the path for some companies to become the largest solar-panel makers today, including First Solar, SolarWorld, Suntech Power and Yingli Green Energy. The policy has inspired other European countries to adopt similar programs. Its success also has stirred talks about doing something similar in the United States, but so far the idea hasn’t won enough support among federal lawmakers.
Scheer didn’t start his career in solar. He worked as an analyst at the German Nuclear Research Center from 1976 to 1980, for example. But solar energy caught his attention not so long after. He has published five books on solar, starting with The Stored Sun in 1987. His other books include Solar Economy and A Solar Manifesto. Time magazine named him one of the five “Heroes for the Green Century” in 2002.
Scheer has used his experience and fame to champion solar energy in many speaking engagements around the world. But he isn’t a blind supporter of all solar-energy initiatives. He has questioned the likely success of Desertec, a consortium of European banks and project developers to build giant projects in Africa and export electricity to Europe. In fact, he called the project a mirage. Here’s an excerpt of his view of the project from his Website: “The expected costs are artificially down rated, while the possibilities to save costs when building the high voltage direct current transmission lines are highly overestimated. Even if the plan for supplying 15 percent of the EU’s electricity demand with supposedly €400 billion cost of investment would be feasible; this would not at all be less costly than generating power from renewable energy within the EU itself. In Germany alone, since 2000 – that is within nine years – the percentage of electricity generation from renewable energy has increased to 15%, while the volume of investment has been about €80 billion. The costs per generated kilowatt-hour keep falling constantly.” By Ucilia Wan.
Carrie Cullen Hitt
Carrie Cullen Hitt came to the Solar Alliance armed with more than 15 years of experience in renewable energy. That experience should come in handy as she helms an organization that lobbies for solar-friendly policies at the state level.
In the absence of a federal solar policy, states have been key battle ground for the solar industry. A growing number of states require utilities to sell renewable electricity, and some states even mandate that a certain percentage of utilities’ electricity come specifically from solar energy. The top solar-energy generating state is California, which has coupled mandates with incentives to lessen the costs of going solar for consumers and businesses.
But solar advocates face uphill battles constantly. Efforts to put a similar policy in place in New York, which counts hydropower toward its renewable-energy mandate, didn’t fly earlier this year. And the California Legislature ended its session on Aug. 31 without passing a proposal to require utilities to get 33 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
Before joining the Solar Alliance, Hitt was vice president of renewable products at Constellation Energy, where she created programs to help businesses figure out steps to take to reduce their carbon footprint, such as by buying renewable energy. She also earned her lobbying chops as the company’s vice president of government and regulatory affairs. Before that, Hitt was the director of regional business development at Green Mountain Energy Resources, which sells renewable electricity and carbon offsets.
In a Houston Chronicle opinion piece last year, Hitt laid out reasons why solar
energy can make economic sense: “The knock on solar has been predictable in the past — it might make you feel good, but it’s too expensive. Today, the price of solar is falling as reliably as the cost of fossil fuels is increasing. The up-front cost of solar may be more than fossil fuel-based energy. But the fuel — the most volatile part of today’s energy costs — is free. Solar is fast becoming a legitimate cost competitor to coal and natural-gas-fired electricity, and it is only going to get cheaper.” By Ucilia Wang.
Rhone Resch has been an eco-warrior since kindergarten, when he was named the class environmentalist. As a child during the last solar era of the ’70s and ’80s, he heard President Jimmy Carter talk about solar, he saw solar panels in his neighborhood and in Radio Shack and he played with solar kits.
He remembers the fascination of being able to hold a small generator in his hand, one that ran on light, not messy fuel, that didn’t run out of batteries – or even need batteries — and that his parents would let him play with because it wasn’t dangerous or toxic. “Taking a photon and turning it into an electron — there’s something just magical about that,” he says. “As a kid, you don’t understand it, but you appreciate its potential. It’s such as elegant technology that even today it takes my breath away.”
For Resch, that magic has never faded. As a graduate student at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School, where he earned his master’s of public administration in management, and at the State University of New York at Syracuse, where he got his master’s of environmental engineering, Resch realized that he could make the biggest difference in the environment by working with business, especially in the solar industry. But when he finished school, he found no solar business jobs available. So he took a job as a program manager at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Protection Division during the Clinton administration, then switched to the Natural Gas Supply Association before seeing a job opening for an executive director position at the Solar Energy Industries Association starting in 2001.
He applied and came in No. 2, losing out to Glenn Hamer, but was so excited about the position that, when Hamer left to take a job at thin-film solar startup First Solar in 2004, Resch applied again – and this time he got the job. “I knew what I wanted and spent those [few] years making sure I had the skills to succeed at SEIA should the opportunity arise again,” he says.
One of the first things he did was talk with people in all parts of the solar industry to find out what it would take to really grow the business. SEIA had previously been asking for only a 10 percent residential tax credit, but it became clear that wouldn’t really accomplish much, while many agreed that a 30 percent tax credit would make a real difference, he says. So Resch proposed a 30-percent credit instead. “People said it was crazy,” he says. “When I first took this job, people were frustrated with Washington and thought nothing would happen and that all the activity would be at the state level… But when the 30% tax credit got passed in the 2005 energy bill, people who had given up on Washington realized that we can make game-changing policy through Congress and the White House.”
SEIA continues to focus its efforts on national policy. It succeeded in helping to expand and extend solar tax credits in 2008, so that both residential and commercial installations are eligible for 30-percent investment tax credits through 2016, residential installations are no longer limited to a $2,000 cap, and more entities – including public utilities – can take advantage of the credits. It also worked on the stimulus package in 2009 to get manufacturers tax credits, which offset 30 percent of the price of buying clean-energy manufacturing equipment, and Treasury grants, which allow solar developers to opt for cash grants in lieu of tax credits at a time when many weren’t earning enough annual income to take advantage of all the credits, included. “I think we’ve changed the professional nature of the industry,” Resch says. “I think we’ve really pulled together the industry to speak with one voice.”
The association has grown from 65 members — and a $350,000 budget — when Resch started to almost 1,100 members and a budget approaching $9 million today.
Nobody can accuse Resch of being unambitious. SEIA is also setting a goal of installing 10-gigawatts of new capacity annually in the United States by 2015, a twentyfold increase from the 2009 market. By Jennifer Kho
Eleven years ago, Julia Hamm didn’t even know the meaning of the word “photovoltaic.” She’d received a bachelor’s of science in business management from Cornell University and she answered an ad — and got an interview — without knowing what industry she’s be working in if she got the job. During the interview, she found out she would be working for the Utility Photovoltaics Group. “Photovoltaics? What’s that?” she wondered. She soon found out.
And the more she learned, the more excited she got. “The industry was much more niche than it is today and the people who were involved were true, passionate believers,” says Hamm, the executive director of the group, now called the Solar Electric Power Association. “In 1999, that’s what really drew me in.” She loved that the industry was made up of such a small community, she adds. “I could go to a conference and be the one person in the room who knew who everybody else was, so I really enjoyed the close-knit – almost family – feel of the industry. Even as it’s grown over time, I think the industry has still been able to maintain, in many circles, that type of environment.”
Since then, the industry has grown, and the association – more than 700 members strong – has played a key role in bringing solar to utilities. That’s important because analysts say the utility market holds huge growth potential in the United States, where many states have set goals requiring utilities to get a certain portion of their electricity from renewable sources. According to a SEPA report in May, utilities installed 65 megawatts of solar in 2009, up from 18MW in 2008, making up a growing part of the U.S. solar market. The Solar Energy Industries Association in April estimated that the total solar pipeline for utility-scale projects had reached a whopping 17GW of planned capacity.
Helping educate utilities about solar’s potential is one of SEPA’s core missions, Hamm says. “I truly believe solar can’t be 100 percent mainstream until the existing electrical utility industry has embraced solar the way they do traditional energy resources,” she says. “Because of our work, we’re seeing utilities for the first time really take solar seriously and plan for it and see it, not as an outlier, but as truly part of their core business.”
The group also plans a big solar forum, Solar Power International, in collaboration with the Solar Energy Industries Association every year. The show annually sparks industry interaction and deals that, in turn, help the solar market grow more rapidly, Hamm says. “I’m all about bringing people together,” she says. “I think the solar industry can’t reach its potential without the utilities and I think the utilities of the future cannot be successful without the solar industry, so everything I do is focused on bringing those two closer together as industries and building relationships between individuals.”
In the next few years, SEPA also plans to tackle the challenge of integrating large amounts of solar into the grid, an issue that will become ever more urgent as solar becomes a larger part of utilities’ energy mix. It also hopes to help utilities cope with their aging workforce. The average age of utility workers is almost 50 years old, and 45 percent of the electric and natural-gas workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next several years, according to a study from the American Public Power Association. Hamm says she sees that statistic as a real opportunity for the solar industry.
“If we can get people trained in the solar industry excited about working in the utility industry, we can essentially transform utilities from the inside out, in terms of how they think about renewable energy and solar,” she says. Her association is developing a training plan that might include, for example, a program to offer renewable-energy students internships at utilities, as well as solar training courses for utility employees and training programs to help solar employees better understand utilities.
Ultimately, Hamm is pushing for the day when all utilities feel comfortable including solar in their portfolios. “When utilities see solar as a source of safe, reliable and affordable power for their customers is the day when I believe we’re going to see massive worldwide adoption of the technology,” she says. Aside from SEPA, Hamm is a board member of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, a renewable-energy nonprofit, and of Solar Energy Trade Shows, a trade-show subsidiary jointly owned by SEPA and the Solar Energy Industries. She was also named one of Earth2Tech’s Top 10 Women in Cleantech in 2007. By Jennifer Kho.
When Dr. Steven Chu agreed to leave his nice perch as the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to head the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), he was stepping into huge responsibilities to create billions of dollars worth of renewable-energy programs under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 — and do it fast. Although Chu had a good idea of the sprawling and decentralized nature of the department as the lab director, he nevertheless faced a daunting challenge to whip a huge staff into shape and crank out the rules necessary to get the funding processes going.
For the solar industry, the DOE is responsible for a loan guarantee program to spur manufacturing and project development. Companies such as Abound Solar, Solyndra, BrightSource Energy and Abengoa Solar are benefiting from the largess. And Chu has played an active role, showing up for the ground-breaking ceremony for Solyndra’s new factory — which is being built with the help of a $535 million federal loan — last fall. In his speech he noted Solyndra’s novel design for its solar panels, which come with solar-cell-lined tubes using copper, indium, gallium and selenium as the active ingredients to convert sunlight into electricity. “If you build a better solar panel, then the world will beat a path to your door,” Chu said at the ceremony.
The DOE also lends its expertise to the Treasury Department to figure out who’s worthy to get the 30 percent manufacturing tax credit and a program that allows solar project developers to opt for the cash equivalent of the 30 percent investment tax credit. The stimulus package also funded the Advanced Research Project Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) to support early-stage, innovative technology development. And Chu also has distributed money to train solar installers.
Here is what Chu told Washington Post earlier this year about the cost of going solar: “I see the cost of [solar] photovoltaics going down and down. Right now it’s about $4 per watt for full installation. In 10 years’ time, it will certainly be less than $2. If it’s $1 or $1.25 then everyone will put it up without subsidy.”
Chu has spent most of his career in academia, winning a Nobel Prize for physics in 1997. While at Berkeley Lab, he championed renewable-energy research, including work developing a method of storing sunlight as biofuel and new materials to boost the performance of solar cells. Although he was a born in the U.S., his Chinese-American background contributes to his friendly persona as he works to corral China into doing more to lower its carbon footprint. He has helped to form collaborations between the United States and China on developing a wide variety of energy-efficiency technologies, from lighting to building-integrated photovoltaic systems.
While at the University of California at Berkeley, Chu taught physics and molecular and cell biology. Before his position at Berkeley Lab, he also taught at Stanford University and worked at AT&T Bell Laboratories. Chu received bachelor’s degrees in math and physics from the University of Rochester, as well as a Ph.D. in physics from UC Berkeley. By Ucilia Wang
With his well-publicized love of Hummers, Arnold Schwarzenegger may not have seemed a likely solar champion when he was elected as the California governor in 2003. But he has proven his commitment to the industry with myriad solar initiatives and bills, as well as with his regular appearances at solar conferences and ribbon cuttings.
Among other things, Schwarzenegger signed the Million Solar Roofs plan, or the California Solar Initiative, back in 2006. The program, which provides $2.17 billion in rebates, aims to spark 1.94 gigawatts of new solar-generation capacity by 2016. As of Sept. 14, some 387 megawatts of new distributed solar projects had been installed under the program, with an additional 434.2 megawatts pending. He also signed the state’s climate-change law, Assembly Bill 32, which sets a goal of reducing carbon emissions 25 percent to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. A ballot measure in the coming November elections, Proposition 23, aims to suspend that bill.
Last year, Schwarzenegger signed an executive order requiring California utilities to get a whopping 33% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. The order, a boost from the previous (and unlikely-to-be-reached) goal of 20% by 2010, could be overturned after Schwarzenegger leaves office in January. But the state legislature has been unable to pass its own 33% bill so far. Schwarzenegger said he would veto the bill as it’s currently written because it places too many limitations on how much renewable energy can be imported into the state. He also expanded the production-based incentive for large-scale solar projects in October of last year, and signed a law allowing net-metering customers to get paid at the end of the year if they supply more electricity than they produce.
Net metering enables utilities to credit customers for the electricity they supply to the grid, so that they only pay for the net amount of electricity that they use every month. California utilities were previously restricted to accepting only 2.5% of its electricity from net-metering customers, and several utilities were approaching that limit when Schwarzenegger signed a bill in February to expand state utilities’ net-metering limit from 2.5 to 5%. If the limit hadn’t been expanded, solar experts say the market for residential installations would have shut down in the Golden State.
Not all of Schwarzenegger’s initiatives have met with unqualified success, of course. In 2008, he signed a bill giving California cities and counties the ability to offer low-interest loans for homeowners and small businesses to install solar and energy-efficiency technology, which they would pay back through property tax bills. He also set up a $50 million reserve fund to support government bonds to finance the program. The upfront costs of installing a solar project can still be a major barrier, and this law — known as PACE, property-assessed clean energy — was meant to help solve the problem with easier financing. But the state ended up yanking the financing for the program after the Federal Housing Finance Agency issued a warning of “significant” concerns about PACE programs and discouraging mortgage holders from buying loans on PACE properties.
Still, the setback doesn’t seem to have dampened Schwarzenegger’s enthusiasm for solar. He’s visited Solyndra, SunPower and CaliSolar this year, among others. And at the Solar Power International conference in 2008, Schwarzenegger gave the keynote speech. “I can envision going with the helicopter up and down California and seeing no more warehouses without solar panels,” he said, to applause. “No matter where you look, there’s solar involved. It’s everywhere. It’s the future; it’s now. It can’t be stopped.”
The way things are going, he said, he’ll soon be driving a solar-power Hummer. By Jennifer Kho
Steven J. Strong
Steven J. Strong has a knack for racking up firsts. He famously installed the first PV panels on the White House during the Carter administration — which were famously removed by President Reagan as one of his first acts in office — and was invited back to install new PV panels for the George W. Bush administration.
Other notable firsts by Solar Design Associates, which Strong founded in 1974, include the first private home to be fully powered by a grid-tied solar electric system; the first solar-powered neighborhood, which included commercial buildings and homes; and the first solar-powered Olympics, using the world’s biggest roof-top PV system for a swimming pool at the Atlanta Summer Games. There was the first solar-powered U.S. embassy—the U.S. Mission to the UN in Geneva, the first of several embassy projects. Then there was the first fully solar-powered academic facility, the Lewis Environmental Studies Center at Oberlin College; and the first solar-powered Major League Baseball stadium, the stunning AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants.
Solar Design Associates has dozens of other projects to its credit, everywhere from Napa Valley to Maine, to Saudi Arabia and at least eight other countries. The firm’s innovative integration of solar energy systems into buildings of every size and scale has won many accolades. TIME magazine named Strong an Environmental “Hero for the Planet” in 1999, and in 2001, he was awarded the nonprofit American Solar Energy Society’s highest honor, the Charles Greeley Abbot Award, for outstanding achievement in the advancement of solar energy.
Strong, the author of The Solar Electric House and other publications on photovoltaics and sustainable building, became interested in the possibilities of solar and renewable energy when working as an engineering consultant on the Alaskan pipeline project during the first oil embargo. He realized that there must be other ways to provide electricity to the world than “going to the ends of the earth to extract the last drop of fossil fuel.” Turns out, he was right. By Jeanmarie Todd
As any installer can confirm, solar projects can take months of permitting and piles of paperwork. PV Legal, launched in July of last year, is working to cut through the bureaucracy in Europe to make it quicker and easier to get solar projects done.
The consortium of 15 industry associations has done a backbreaking amount of work in its 14 months of existence. Among its successes, PV Legal participated in the effort to reduce speculative reservations in the Czech Republic via the requirement of deposit payments and land-planning permits for larger installations; in the Italian government’s adoption of national guidelines for approving PV systems; and in a new law — as well as two ministerial decisions — in Greece that pave the way for projects on historical buildings and that simplify the permitting process for installations, such as by eliminating the need for a production license for most small projects of less than 1 megawatt of peak capacity, local permitting applications for small projects of less than 100 KW of peak capacity and an environmental permit for rooftop and industrial projects.
In May, the group also launched a free database full of detailed information about the permitting processes — and the bureaucratic barriers – for installing photovoltaic systems in 12 different countries, which has proven to be a valuable tool for project developers, installers and policymakers. Now, among many other efforts, PV Legal is working to reduce the paperwork and speed the permitting process for PV installations in Spain and to establish a clear permitting process and reduce administrative waiting times in Bulgaria. Thomas Chrometzka, PV Legal’s coordinator and one of its founders, says the group also plans to produce “best practices” reports and advisory papers with suggestions on how best to remove the roadblocks in different countries in the months to come.
Chrometzka’s solar career has accelerated as quickly as the consortium’s activities. Chrometzka says he became interested in renewable energy as a student and knew he wanted to help develop the industry when he graduated with a master’s degree in political sciences in 2006. “I consider working in the renewable-energy industry as a great privilege since restructuring our energy-supply system is one of the most pressing challenges of our time,” he says. “Solar, to me, is the most fascinating way to produce energy, and since it provides the greatest potential, it is the industry sector of my choice.”
He started his career as a project manager at the European Renewable Energy Centres Agency, then in 2007 took a job as the international affairs officer at the German Solar Industry Association, also known as BSW-Solar. He worked with Gerhard Stryi-Hipp, then the managing director of the association (and now the head of energy policy at the Fraunhofer Institute, the largest solar-energy research institute in Europe), who was spearheading the application for European Commission for the PV Legal project. Last year, after Stryi-Hipp left BSW-Solar, Chrometzka took over the final negotiations for funding and became the head of international affairs at the German industry association.
Chrometzka says the PV Legal project is one of the achievements of which he is proudest. Removing administrative barriers to solar installations “is one of the most crucial barriers to address to provide for better market deployment of solar,” he says. By Jennifer Kho
Bertrand Piccard stands out among our champions for many reasons: he’s the only Swiss psychiatrist, the only roving ambassador for the UN, and the only third-generation balloonist and explorer. Along with Briton Brian Jones, he made the first nonstop hot-air balloon trip around the globe, in less than 20 days, in 1999. The reason he’s on this list, though, is his next adventure, which he estimates will take as long as 25 days this time: flying a solar-powered one-seated plane, the Solar Impulse, around the world to promote renewable energy and conservation.
“We believe that if an airplane can fly around the world with no fuel, nobody can say after that it’s impossible to do it for cars, for heating systems, for air-conditioning, for computers and so on,” Piccard told the audience at a TED conference in 2009. Piccard is the initiator and chairman of the Solar Impulse project, and his co-pilot and CEO is Andre Borschberg, an engineer and professional helicopter pilot. A host of financial and technical partners and supporters includes the Ecole Polytechnique Federal de Lausanne, or EPFL, which is the team’s scientific adviser. The two pilots will trade off the flying duties during their five-leg circumnavigation of the globe, set for 2012.
The Solar Impulse HB-SIA is the first airplane designed to fly day and night without fuel. It first became airborne near Zurich in December 2009 and had a successful daytime maiden flight in April 2010. The first night flight ever by a solar plane was in July 2010, lasting 26 hours, with Borschberg at the controls. The goal was simply “to reach the next sunrise before the batteries are empty,” Piccard told the TED audience, in an apt metaphor for humankind endeavoring to transition to the next power paradigm in time. “In our world, if we keep on spoiling, wasting our energy resources, if we keep building things that consume so much energy that most of the companies now go bankrupt, it’s clear that we’ll never give the planet to the next generation without a major problem.”
The Solar Impulse has the wingspan of a Boeing 747-400 or Airbus A340, about 209 feet, but the carbon fiber plane weighs only 3,500 pounds, akin to a family sedan. The plane will employ 11,628 solar cells on 200 square meters of wingspan and a horizontal stabilizer, collecting sunlight during the day while soaring above the clouds and storing the excess in lithium polymer batteries to power the plane at a lower altitude at night. The plane has four electric engines, with a maximum of 10 horsepower each, and is planned to travel at a leisurely average speed of 43 miles per hour.
Piccard noted that a racing yacht manufacturer built the airframe, not knowing any better, after the job was turned down by aircraft manufacturers, who said the specifications were impossible. “People need solutions, not problems. So we have to demonstrate the solutions,” Piccard said. “We have to show that it’s possible to do great things.” By Jeanmarie Todd