Black Coral’s Rob Day Talks Cleantech By Way of IT, Why Evergreen Solar’s Bankruptcy Isn’t the End, and Boston’s Energy Future
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We’ve had some companies that have the potential to incorporate those ideas into their existing product. I’m only seeing now the wave of companies that are being built from day one in pursuit of those kinds of ideas.
What I’d like to see is probably going to look more like business-to-business at first. For example, things that help lighting designers understand and then purchase—specifically in rapidly emerging, LED-based options. Which is tough. What would be good is a website that would make it a lot easer for a lighting designer to make a decision.
See, a lot of these [IT-focused cleantech] companies I’m talking about are going to have to get their hands dirty in the physical world. Information and content are enablers for the more lucrative investment opportunities. They’re not the be-all and end-all by themselves.
X: What do you make of Evergreen Solar and its recent bankruptcy filing?
RD: There were definitely some wrong bets made that aren’t specific to Evergreen Solar. At the end of the day it was buying into a commodity business that looked like the smarter, cheaper approach. Then they got leapfrogged. What really crushed them was the rise of East Asian solar technology, but without that they still would have been hurting.
It’s one on a long list of painful lessons learned by those who are investing. You need to look pretty far out on the cost curve, and make sure you’re not investing in a temporary part of the cost curve. It’s tough to do because you don’t know what other people are working on.
I do think that [the Evergreen Solar story is] overblown at the moment. It’s one of many companies that will have to get consolidated. But it’s not going away. Bankruptcy is a process, not a finality. We will see that asset be useful in other ways. Bankruptcy is part of the process. It’s not like planting a gravestone on the asset and saying it will never be productive again.
There is controversy surrounding the state’s involvement. I sympathize with the decisions they made at the state level. People were looking at the rapid growth of the solar market and saying, ‘Yeah, we want to have technology-oriented manufacturing jobs in our region.’ It’s a long tradition that the economic development groups will try to keep such businesses around.
What I think, though, that it really points to is the idea of [supporting] one manufacturer. And that’s not pointed at Massachusetts, but the U.S. It’s a lot more attractive to try to grow markets and let the market make vendor selections. I’d point to the DOE loan guarantee program. There are very smart people trying to make the best decisions they can and select one vendor over another. Instead they should be creating opportunities that multiple vendors could apply for.
You can favor homegrown manufacturing and assembly, but ultimately you can’t outsource solar installation. [The state] should also foster the end market. If you want green jobs in state, it should be about the non-exportable jobs you’re creating, You can incentivize accordingly.
X: How would these incentives work?
RD: They could provide incentives that would lower the cost of installed solar to … Next Page »