Big Corporations Still Nibbling at Solar

Big corporations continue to nibble on solar energy, refusing to commit to it as their central strategy but investing intelligently, so they can move in at their own pace.

The latest example is DuPont, which is buying InnovaLight  for its silicon ink and process technologies.

InnovaLight’s business is evolutionary, not revolutionary. Its business is improving the durability and efficiency of crystalline silicon solar cells, the kind found on many roofs.

Despite not committing much of its attention to the space, DuPont is making real money at it. The company says its sales into the photovoltaic space exceeded $1 billion last year and will be $2 billion in 2014. Sounds like a lot, but when you’re talking about a company with annual sales of $31 billion, it’s not that material.

What REW readers will point out, quite rightly, is that the Innovalight purchase also ties DuPont’s solar future tightly with Chinese solar panel makers like JA Solar and Yingli, both of which have partnerships with the company.

This global shopping spree for greentech¬† is good news for the market. It assures a steady stream of supplies on a global scale, which helps the whole industry grow. It also creates entrepreneurial success stories, people who can become the “serial entrepreneurs” that make our tech industries the envy of the world.

But all these purchases are focused on the back end of the spear, not the pointy end. Corporate America is not innovating in solar or other green technologies. It’s waiting for the entrepreneurs to prove points, then picking up the businesses that result.

The relative success of China in solar is often attributed to government funding or low wage costs, but could it not also be down to the fact that its businesses tend to be the pigs on the breakfast plate, committed, rather than the chickens, who are just involved?

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Dana Blankenhorn has covered business and technology since 1978. He covered the Houston oil boom of the 1970s, began making his living online in 1985, and launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of e-commerce, in 1994. He has written for a host of off-line and online publications including The Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age, and ZDNet. He has covered PCs, networks, telecommunications, cable technology, Internet commerce, the Internet of Things, Open Source and Health IT, He began covering alternative energy at his personal blog, Danablankenhorn.com, in 2007.

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