Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Next-Gen Energy Conference: Moore's Law for solar?

Is it time for the solar power industry to focus less on tech R&D and more on delivering affordable solar energy to the masses? That's a question posed by Alexander Bernstein, managing director of Merriman Curhan Ford & Co., to industry leaders at the investment bank's Next-Generation Energy Conference Tuesday. Bernstein and his fellow panelists agreed that lowering the cost of solar power for consumers is essential to mass adoption, but they offered differing views on the role technology will play.

Randall MacEwen, CEO of solar roofing maker Solar Integrated Technologies Inc., argued that technology will provide "incremental improvements in deployment and scaling."

"It's not about the technology," added Earl Fuller, general manager of Emcore Corp., which makes gallium-arsenide solar cells and panels. "It's about getting closer to the customer. We need more than one way to get cost out, including economies of scale and increased efficiency."

Fuller argued against a solar industry equivalent of Moore's Law, which predicts that transistor density on microchips will double roughly every 18 months.

Tom Werner, CEO of solar cell and panel maker SunPower Corp., disagreed, insisting that the Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore's famous dictum applies to the increase in solar tech efficiency.

"We're where semiconductors were 20 or 30 years ago," he said.

The panelists did agree that the industry will continue to consolidate. The opportunities are ripe for companies that can offer integrated technologies and services. SunPower, for example, acquired solar system integrator PowerLight Corp. for $332.5 million last year.

"Solar's on the verge of going mainstream and will become a much bigger industry," Werner said. "There's going to be a land grab like the Wild Wild West." - thanks to Mary Kathleen Flynn, The Deal Blogs

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