Friday, December 14, 2007

Solar Jobs - America's New Economic Engine?

Well, maybe not a new engine, but surely it has the potential to add some significant horsepower. Let me start by espousing a vision that I have had for some time. America is in economic trouble in the grand scheme of things. I was a part of the early 2000 telecom and internet bust that saw hundreds of thousands of technical manufacturing and R&D jobs get sent overseas, primarily to China, India, and Malaysia. High Tech manufacturing has been sort of a safety net for the American middle class. Our public schools have performed relatively poorly for the last 30 or 40 years but luckily, we have had a strong manufacturing base that would scoop up these kids after high school and they could earn a nice middle class income. Not any more. If your kids do not get a good college education, they could be facing some grim employment prospects. We need to do 2 things to turn this around: 1) fix the educational system by introducing competition 2) encourage new growth industries. I want to focus on the 2nd one. Why isn’t America at the forefront of Solar Energy Technology. We had the lead for years, but because of our inaction and the action of others, Japan, Germany and the Netherlands are leading the world in this technology. If it wasn’t for California, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, we wouldn’t have a solar industry in this country and we would probably not be able to do anything about it. But there is still some time to get back in the lead. The IC2 institute commissioned by the University of Texas published a recent study that suggested Texas could gain 123,000 jobs by 2020, second only to California at 141,000. I believe a lot of these jobs would end up staying here. A manufacturer can ship a box of semiconductors from China to Austin, but it is going to be much more difficult to ship a 4 foot x 8 foot pane of glass with embedded photovoltaic material. It is the same reason why glass manufacturers are distributed in the regions where their customers are. Now, there are other substrates that will be developed that will be easier to transport but glass has some very big advantages. It has been studied like no other material and it stands up to hail, rain, humidity and other harsh conditions. So where are these jobs and why aren’t we doing anything to compete for them? SunPower is a great example of this. Cypress semiconductor bought SunPower earlier this decade and located their manufacturing plant in Round Rock, Texas. But with little incentive to stay, and with major customers in Asia, they set up shop in the Philippines. The Batangas facility employs approximately 3,5000 while the Laguna plant employs 1000. Sunpower is growing rapidly and they have just announced three new power plants in Spain. There is a ton of job creation going on and in my next post I will tell you about companies like First Solar, SolarWorld, and BP Solar. Silicon Valley seems to understand the trend and has done a great job in creating opportunities. A large part of that has been due to a government and business partnership that makes it easy to do business and creates incentives to protect this fledgling industry. If you look around at Germany, Japan, and Silicon Valley – that seems to be the common thread on why they are so far ahead of everyone else.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Solar Energy Vs. Solar Power

What is the difference between Solar Energy and Solar Power? That was the topic of a blog written by Scott Sklar, founder and president of The Stella Group, Ltd., in Washington, DC. You can find the original blog by following the link at the bottom of this post. Below is my response to him.

Hey Scott,
Very interesting topic. I think another way to make sense of it is to think of the generic terms: power and energy. Energy is the potential to do work and power is the rate that the potential is put into action.

It seems that to keep in line with the traditional definitions of power and energy, it would make sense to define solar energy as a potential that is generated by the sun. At the point that this potential is converted into electricity and put into action it is then considered power.

To augment what you have said above - solar energy has been used commonly to describe many forms of potential such as passive technology that incorporates building orientation and solar thermal for water heating. Whereas Solar Power is commonly tied to production of electricity from photovoltaics.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

HelioVolt - Why go Solar?

That is the question I asked myself when I recently left a job with a semiconductor company. Actually, I intuitively knew the answer the minute that I received the phone call asking me to come in for the interview. With my electric bill in the $200 range and the price of a barrel of oil in the $80 range, turmoil in the Middle East, and concerns about global warming - it just makes sense that our Nation needs to do something about our current energy situation.

After doing some research, I have determined that we are on the cusp of some very disruptive technologies. With nano-technologies, thin film photovoltaic material offers a much cheaper alternative to tradition silicon based methods. The price to retro-fit a house could come down from $30,000 to $5000 within a couple of years.The venture money is starting to flood into these high tech solar companies.

HelioVolt just received $77M which is one of the largest investments in green tech to date. Another company to check out is First Solar (FSLR) who went public in Dec. '06 around $20 a share and is now in the $140 range. DT Solar, which is fronted by Ted Turner, has made Austin, their "Southwest Headquarters".

The buzz isn't just being generated by the venture capitalists. Cities are aggressively pursuing these companies.^1530584

Is this technology going to revolutionalize our world? It's possible. There are several angles to look at the revolutionary aspect of this technology. It addresses global warming, energy independence, changes the geo-political equation in the Middle East, deployment of energy sources in remote and sometimes poverty stricken regions in the world.

One other near term benefit for places like Austin and Silicon Valley - Jobs. There will be an explosion of manufacturing jobs in these regions and that is precisely why the more forward looking officials in city governments are chomping at the bit to get these companies to locate in their region. Austin, in particular, does not want to repeat the fiasco of letting the next Dell get away from the long arm of its coffers.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Official Google Blog: Corporate solar is coming

Official Google Blog: Corporate solar is coming

Another Blog - Recruiting Solar Energy Professionals

So, I got up way too early this beautiful Saturday morning and as usual I pulled out my iphone and started reading the latest news and came across an article on using blogs as a marketing tool. That isn't an entirely new idea to me but what stood out is that there are websites where you can hire professional bloggers to get the word out about your company. It's called pay-per-post. One company said that they began using a similar concept 1 year ago and their website traffic has increased 200 percent. Interesting.

My problem is that I don't like to pay for things and I question the effectiveness of the concept of hiring professional posters to recruit professional engineers. The kind of people that I am looking for can probably spot a fake when they see one. Maybe the idea works for companies trying to sell consumer items, but for my purposes I have to doubt the effectiveness and wonder about the damage that might occur in the companies brand identity in the minds of a select group of highly intelligent engineers.

When I recruit, I don't pretend to be an expert in the field but I do take time to understand my subject as not to waste the valuable time of the people I am trying to recruit. My goal isn't to necessarily to get someone to jump ship and join my company. My goal is to develop a personal relationship with each individual, understand their skill set, inform them about the nature of my company, it's technology as well as finances, the living conditions of Austin, Texas, the working conditions of an exciting leading edge thin-film photovoltaics pre-IPO startup and anything else that the engineer wants to know. My goal is to befriend and inform, and then when the time is right for that person - they know that they can come to me for help in getting a conversation started with my hiring managers.

I think this approach is a two way street. I position myself as an ally in the unpredictable quest for job security. We never know when a company or an idustry is on the brink of boom or bust.

I certainly try to sell my company but for some people a move across the country is just not in the cards. But I can still be helpful in getting them in contact with the right people at companies in their region of choice.

A lot of HR teams rely on job boards or they use what I call the yesorno approach. Do you want the job? Yes or No? Okay, next person. They think it is more efficient and that they can get through the masses quickly to find the pearl. I prefer a more long term view - it is more effective and generates a higher quality resulT.

If we take the time to know each individual, they will take the time to refer their friends or perhaps even themselves.