Solar: The Economic Argument

Solar: The Economic Argument

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

On the Eve of Earth Day, it’s telling to look at the green motivations of one of Silicon Valley’s leaders in solar technology: CEO of Akeena Solar, Barry Cinnamon. He’s been a solar advocate since the 1970’s when he studied the science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); however, he’s emphatic in his belief: economics trumps environmental arguments for going solar. So much so, that Cinnamon chose to avoid the color green in his company logo and vehicles.

What motivated Cinnamon to explore solar energy in the 1970’s?

“In the 1970’s we had the energy crisis and …(President) Jimmy Carter said ‘the energy crisis is the moral equivalent of war.’  …there was no environmental consciousness about fossil fuels being bad; nobody had ever heard of Green House Gases…We were all worried about nuclear winter.”

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On becoming a green entrepreneur

“It was a really FEEL GOOD THING….We knew we were doing the right thing for the environment…”

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On the economics of going solar

“Customers want to do it for the environment or for our country’s energy independence….but if the numbers don’t pencil out, they almost never do it…you’ve got to make a decent economic case.”

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How does “belief” in Global Warming alter the sales pitch?

“Some people don’t ‘believe’ it, and it’s a religious thing…’green’ works well in the Bay Area….but (elsewhere) customers would avoid a company who’s main pitch is green…but if you hit them with the economic argument or the energy independence argument – we don’t need to buy any energy from the Persian Gulf – it works just fine.”

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Could there be a repeat of the 1970’s boom then bust in alternative energy?

“In the 70’s/early 80’s, the crisis went away, tax credits went away…if energy prices suddenly plummeted again….it’ll happen again. We don’t have the political will to artificially support oil or gas prices….(but) because the world  demand for oil and gas is so high and the supply is generally limited…economics is going to reduce the chances that it will happen again…but it’s not impossible.”

Barry Cinnamon, Akeena Solar: On AB 32 and Government Policy

Barry Cinnamon, Akeena Solar: On AB 32 and Government Policy

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Ask Akeena Solar CEO Barry Cinnamon about the current brouhaha on repealing AB 32 and he’s likely to “get political.”  Since the 1970’s, he’s been a strong advocate for solar power and is an active member of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. I met with Barry at the Los Gatos headquarters of the solar designer-installer and he had strong words for the Governor and the two gubernatorial candidates, Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner:

1. Is Governor Schwarzenegger doing enough to stimulate the green economy?

“Nobody’s done enough.”

2. Advice to Governor Schwarzenegger on Gubernatorial candidates, Meg Whitman’s and Steve Poizner’s stance on AB 32 … that it’s killing jobs and should be repealed.

“Governor Schwarzenegger should pick up the phone to Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner and tell them to back off their inane commentary on AB 32. That it’s killing jobs….that’s just prima facie false.”

“Message to Governor Schwarzenegger: fantastic job that he’s done on behalf of solar …but as a leader of the Republican Party,  I’d encourage him to work out a little bit on the Republican candidates… explain to them that our state and Silicon Valley has become a leader in clean tech because of the State’s strong support for (alternative) energy. It would be disastrous if it was suspended in any way.”

3. Will the Whitman/ Poizner stance on AB 32 backfire?

“That policy (proposal) is going to galvanize every person and every company involved in clean tech to vote for (Gubernatorial candidate) Jerry Brown.”

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Rob Lamkin: Why Solar is the Solution

Rob Lamkin: Why Solar is the Solution

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh DialoguesRob Lamkin, Cool Earth Solar on Fresh Dialogues

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Here are the highlights of my discussion with Rob Lamkin, CEO of Cool Earth Solar, a concentrated photovoltaic startup based in Livermore.

Why is solar the solution to global warming and energy security?

“Solar energy is the only thing we have in near enough abundance to solve the energy problems we have.”

On hiring new team members

Technical skills are not enough, passion for clean energy  is a prerequisite. “Passion is a filter for us.”

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