Now They’re Talking

It is late September, and discussion of solar is everywhere.

TV's morning news hosts are bantering about Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantees in between their recipe demo segments and celebrity interviews.

Local politicians are opining on polysilicon prices (and inevitably stumbling over the pronunciation of ‘photovoltaics’). Acquaintances are forwarding email chains dissecting government conspiracies.

What has caused this slightly surreal situation? Alas, the answer is not that we have entered an era where solar power is truly mainstream.

Instead, the public's sudden interest in our industry can be summed up in one word: Solyndra. Â Â Â

As you are undoubtedly aware, the Fremont, Calif.-based cylindrical module manufacturer – and DOE loan-guarantee recipient – filed for bankruptcy in early September, setting off a public and political drama that continues to unfold.

Given that the solar market is still just starting to gain significant traction in the U.S., the Solyndra setback is being felt industry-wide, on several levels. One of the most acute effects may be the public-perception damage.

Frustratingly enough for installers and manufacturers, the Solyndra bombshell closely follows other negative news for U.S.-based solar manufacturing (which, at the time, seemed to be receiving an inordinate amount of mainstream media coverage).

‘I've recently had a number of customers express concern about installing solar PV systems because of the recent news regarding Solyndra and Evergreen,’ wrote one industry professional in response to a recent article on Solyndra that we published online. ‘Do they have reason to pause?’

In this new, bizarre ‘solar is everywhere’ world, I find myself regularly explaining to friends and family the differences between Solyndra's copper indium gallium diselenide tubes and conventional crystalline silicon modules (and why one will fare better than the other in a cheap-polysilicon environment). Similar conversations are probably taking place between countless industry professionals and nervous potential customers, investors and detractors.

But even so, the public has made Solyndra synonymous with solar. Worse, all indications are that the congressional hearings and investigations will not end anytime soon, thus keeping this story at the forefront.

As policymakers sort out what the government's role in renewable energy investment should be (and solar advocates fight to ensure that role continues to exist), one task that lies ahead for the solar sector is to continue to demonstrate its viability.  Â

This Sun Dial column was originally published in the October 2011 issue of Solar Industry.


Editor's note: To submit your own contribution to Viewpoints, email Jessica Lillian at jlillian@solarindustrymag.com.

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