I have a day job these days. I joined a solar company called Sunpreme. I have a day job and a deadline for this column and I’m writing this during work hours. So, I say to myself, self why not kill two birds with one stone and write about my job.
This is the first time I’ve worked for a company that makes widgets since I can remember. Almost 25 years ago, I worked for a Harley Davidson distributor, which was…cool. Before that, I must have been a teenager. It is a strong reminder of how much of our economy (and employment) is constituted of services. Most of my career has been in the financial industry with some consulting and number crunching before that. This is my first time at a real Silicon Valley firm. The headquarters are in Sunnyvale. There are solar panels installed in the parking lot, one vertical panel on the roof. No one is wearing a suit. The office is usually quiet and people don’t make small talk. There are no Game of Thrones jokes. And when I really need to get some social in during the day, I go to our Chief Scientist for a lecture on valance bands and cell architecture.
The solar industry is considered a young industry, maybe 15 years old. Nevermind that it had some fits and starts in the 1970s with technologies that were too expensive to commercialize in volume. Remember the panels President Carter installed in the White House that President Reagan had taken down? Nevermind that Thomas Edison came across this technology and said, “I hope we commercialize it some day.”
Here we are. No amount of political positioning could stop the last 15 years. The technology is well past arrival. Underline this: entire systems, panels and land and steel and everything, are being installed in the US today at $1 per watt peak . That is, depending on location, 1.2-1.8 kWh a year can be generated indefinitely for an upfront cost of $1 (or less). To put that in perspective, my highest electric rate on my PG&E bill is $0.44 per kWh. At that rate, for the cost of 2.3 kWh of electricity from PG&E, I can get 1.2-1.8 kWh per year for as long as the system will last.