11 May 2007

I'm from the Government, and I'm Here to Help You

I was listening to the CEO of Applied Materials talk about solar PV on National Public Radio this evening. Despite having 2.4KW of PV on my roof and owning stock in Applied Materials, I must say he is not a great speaker.

While trying to make the point that Solar is better than Coal, he discussed the amount of CO2 emitted by coal power plants. Wrong point! Yes, the CO2 will mean that we'll spend billions moving people out of Florida to Colorado, and that lots of people will be dying in 50 years from the increased tornado and hurricane activity. But in the mean time, thousands of people will continue dying due to the particulates emitted by coal fired power plants. It's not the CO2. It's the fact that these plants spew all kinds of crap.

More importantly, he suggested that it was absolutely essential that the U.S. Government get involved in promoting Solar PV. Help me understand this. The industry has been growing at 40% per year for the past 6 years and probably for the next 6 years, and we need government help to make it grow faster? Presumably the government is supposed to supply tax incentives to help people by solar. But wait... the industry can't keep up with current demand! So let's increase demand?

He bemoans that the Japanese and German governments are leaders in building and installing solar and questions why the U.S. isn't a leader. Well, let's see. Japanese electricity prices are twice as high as they are in California. Maybe that has something to do with it. Japan imports all its oil, natural gas, and coal. German prices are higher than California, and Germany imports its natural gas from Russia.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is a leader in large portions of the industry. High purity Silicon? Hemlock and MEMC are leaders, and REC manufactures silicon in Oregon. Sunpower, Evergreen Solar, United Solar, Day Star, First Solar, and Nanosolar are all at the fore-front of innovation in cell and thin-film manufacture.

The industry is producing 0.1% of electricity and can't figure out how to sell solar PV electricity to displace the 1% of the most expensive electricity in the U.S.?

I'd have to say the problem is not that the government isn't doing enough, but that the Applied Materials either lacks imagination or is simply greedy. Must be time to sell my stock.

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