FountainBlue’s Clean Energy Entrepreneurs’ Forum was on the topic of Next Generation Solar Solutions, featuring:
Facilitator Shirin Cooper, Business Development, Sylvatex
Panelist Sean Garner, Manager, Energy Systems Group, PARC
Presenting Entrepreneurs Vikas Desai, CEO, EchoFirst Inc
Presenting Entrepreneur Jason Lu, Founder and CEO, EnFocus Engineering
Presenting Entrepreneur Alain Poivet, Founder and CEO, SunPlanter
Please join us in thanking our hosts at PARC and our speakers for taking the time to share their advice and thoughts. Below are notes from the conversation.
We were fortunate to have a wide range of perspectives on the panel: entrepreneurs from Asia, Europe and India, technology innovations in microinverters, integrated power and lighting, customized and integrated solar solutions with web-based user interface, and solar plant managers. Together, they have spent decades in the clean energy space, watching the ups and downs and have remarked on the following trends:
• Partly due to the manufacturing and process innovations introduced by China, (and neglecting the environmental impact of these changes) solar panels have become largely a commodity, impacting the industry overall.
• Led by Germany’s embracing of the solar market potential through subsidies, many European countries followed and enjoyed leadership in adoption and market, but financially-imposed policy changes in most European countries other than Germany makes it now difficult for both innovators and customers in Europe. Hence, people are looking more closely at markets in Asia and Latin America.
• The US with its huge market, technology innovations, entrepreneurial culture and great weather has the potential to be a leader in this space. However, local, state and federal policy hurdles, infrastructure challenges, lack of cooperation and coordination between major stakeholders, funding challenges, local government bureaucrats and policies are making it difficult for entrepreneurs to succeed.
Our panelists recommended the following opportunities ahead:
• Develop integrated solutions, leveraging existing and hybrid technology – for example, integrating power generation and lighting, or leveraging microinverters , or a racking system that saves installation time.
• Create cost-effective technologies that will provide an attractive ROI of 2-4 years, without subsidy.
• Develop solutions which can be easily integrated into existing buildings, infrastructure etc. For example, if a solar panel could replace a sunroof, it would be much easier to sell the value proposition.
• Find a way to use all the energy from the sun, leveraging mirrors or other technologies. Currently, there is a lot of wasted energy through heat.
• Develop manufacturing process improvements – perhaps something that doesn’t require the dicing of wafers, leveraging exfoliation techniques, perhaps something that requires less materials or is less labor intensive.
• Leverage sensors and software to provide details about solar energy usage.
Below is advice from our panelists for entrepreneurs in this space:
• Work with other stakeholders to minimize policy/reimbursement and pricing and installation uncertainties.
• We live in a global world, and markets will be global. Have a clear strategy on which markets are hottest now, the easiest to navigate, and prioritize your target markets accordingly.
• Focus less on the technology innovations and think deeply about the technology integration opportunities and the business model innovations.
• The market is still young and the opportunities are huge. Don’t let the recent failures in the market discourage you from exploring the opportunities in the space.
• Despite the hype, there are fewer subsidies for solar than there are for other emerging clean energy options including nuclear. And established businesses such as coal and gas have the largest subsidies of all.! So it will take leadership to forge change and encourage policies, people and markets to embrace more sustainable energy solutions.
• Create a solution leveraging and integrating proven technologies which is not capital intensive, and shows quick wins.
• Collaborate with all stakeholders to support the advancement of the industry overall, not just in the US, but all the global markets.
• Look closely at the opportunities in the retail market. What will generate a clear and quick ROI and be painless to install and implement?
• Scaling your solar business leveraging channels and social networks, partnerships and relationships, without compromising the brand experience.
• Start off in niche markets delivering quality solutions and strategically expand from there.
• Make your solutions more affordable and less dependent on spikes of energy you might get from natural sunlight.
• Propose a way for surplus energy production to be sold back to the grid.
In the end, it is the resilient, entrepreneurial leader who will succeed and lead their company, and bring the industry to the next level, so don’t focus on the (policy, infrastructure, funding, image and other) challenges but do focus on the opportunities ahead.
Tags: Clean Energy