Published on February 28th, 2008 | by Sarah Lozanova0
The Future of Solar Energy: An Interview with John Sedgwick
John Sedgwick is the Co-founder and Vice President of Solaicx, a company that manufactures silicon ingots and wafers for solar electric (PV) panels. They are then supplied to solar panel manufacturers across the globe.
Solaicx began production at their new manufacturing plant in Portland, Oregon at the end of 2007. While current capacity of the plant is 40 MW, production will increase to 180 MW in the future.
CleanTechnica: What kinds of general trends have you seen in the solar industry as a whole?
John Sedgwick: The general objective of the entire industry is to reduce costs. What we see in markets across the world is, as you lower the levelized costs of solar electricity down to the levelized cost of traditional electricity, the markets just go vertical. When you look over time, the industry is doing dramatically well at reducing costs.That’s even when you take into account some significant challenges, things like polysilicon shortages and other shortages that have popped up as a direct result of a market that has been growing at 35%, 40%, and 50% a year have caused shortages that have increased some costs in the chain. Yet, because of manufacturing efficiencies, conversion efficiencies, and economies of scale, the industry has been able to hold the line on any cost increases and has done pretty well at reducing costs.
CT: How do you envision the solar industry ten or twenty years from now? Do you have a concept of where you see things going?
JS: I have a very biased opinion. I see nothing stopping this market from continuing to grow at 30%-50% per year for the foreseeable future. We have not even scratched the surface of the total electricity market. We are not even a .001% perhaps of the total market, so the upside market is enormous. It is not intended to replace all forms of electricity, but there are innumerable applications where it is an ideal fit.
I was involved early on in my career with cellular phones. I remember in the early days of cellular phones, the market was extremely small. As the industry reduced costs and increased efficiency, it got to a point where the entire industry exploded. Now everybody has one.
I see the exact parallel happening with photovoltaics. We are an embryonic industry that is working on getting our costs and efficiencies improved and once we reach that point, it is just going to zoom.
CT: Do you have a sense of when this tipping point will be reached?
JS: I actually think we’re approaching it right now. There are still some things like bureaucratic challenges and other issues we need to get through, but I think we are at a point now where the market is growing on its own now. It’s going to maintain the same growth rates that it was exhibiting in the past when it was an extremely small industry.
CT: I’m sure a lot of it will vary by location, the price of electricity and the different power sources that are available. Solar energy is catching on much more in certain areas.
JS: Not only the government incentives, but the government’s attitude towards solar, too-encouraging it as opposed to building regulatory blocks-will have a big impact on how fast it gets to the large scale.