CleanTech Solar energy

Published on April 15th, 2012 | by Guest Contributor


Bill Gates Never Ran an Energy Company

This post by Jigar Shah (CEO Jigar Shah Consulting and Founder, SunEdison) originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Last year, Bill Gates noted in an interview with Alan Murray of the Wall Street Journal that technologies like solar photovoltaics and LED lights were “cute” but could never deal with the bigger issue of climate change and powering the developing world.

And, this week, writer Marc Gunther wrote in his post that “Germany, once the world’s leading market for solar power, is pulling back its subsidies. Q Cells, once the world’s largest solar company, just went bankrupt.’ This isn’t happy news.”

So, I am writing to point out three things:

1. The solar industry is growing and is significant, but is not going to solve all the ills of carbon;
2. Mistakes are a blessing; and
3. Theory is theory, not a solution

1. Solar Growth: First, let me make note that I, and others, have just spent the last decade in solar creating the solar services industry which, according to the 2011 National Solar Jobs Census published by the Solar Foundation, grew 6.8 percent between 2010 and 2011.

Plus, the solar industry installed $90 billion of equipment last year. That’s double the amount of equipment that was installed for the new coal industry.

And, GTM research and Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), issued a report that the showed that U.S. installed 1,855 MW (or 1.86 GW) of solar in 2011 and is expected to install a full gigawatt more than that in 2012: 2.8 GW.

GTM Research and SEIA estimate the U.S. solar market’s total value surpassed $8.4 billion in 2011. So, solar is winning and growing. But, no one is saying it is the only solution — just a compelling piece of the puzzle.

In fact, there is no silver bullet. We must find efficiencies and new solutions in solving the carbon issue in several areas: transport, agriculture, energy, forestry, industry, buildings and waste.

However, when we think about carbon, most of us tend to think of two areas: transportation and electricity. While Bill Gates might label solar and LED lighting as “cute,” the numbers seem to suggest otherwise. Both are billion-dollar industries and together with hundreds of other solutions will help reach the $5+ trillion in new investments necessary to make an impact by 2020.

Remember, we did not get to this point with one major offender, and we will not solve our ills with one major solution.

Gates, however, suggested that we spend more money developing a new generation of energy technologies instead of investing in incremental improvements of today’s energy technologies. He said this at WIRED’s third annual conference, Disruptive by Design.

“Can we, by increasing efficiency [technologies], deal with our climate problem?” Gates asked. “The answer there is basically no, because the climate problem requires more than 90% reduction of CO2 emitted, and no amount of efficiency improvement is enough.”

Again, I disagree with Gates as, in this case, “perfect is the enemy of good.” In solving our CO2 problem, we actually have all of the cost-effective technology need to meet our 2020 goals and more to meet future goals. More R&D is always a good thing, but to suggest the current suite of technologies is not ready is just criminal. Gates certainly didn’t wait for the perfect solutions to Windows before he deployed his beta versions on the world. We are a more productive society because he didn’t wait.
2. Mistakes Matter: As noted, Marc Gunther believes that Germany pulling back its subsidies, and Q Cells bankruptcy “isn’t happy news.”

I could not disagree more. While I do not wish for things like the Internet bubble, we now have a robust Internet economy. Did it come at a heavy cost at the end of the 90s and early 2000s? Yes.

But, pioneers are the brave people who take the risk.

Germany, through its aggressive subsidies did contribute to a solar bubble. But, Germany made the seed investment for the world.

The US market is now growing exponentially after Germany paid for all of the “scaling” costs. In my own analysis of more than 1,200 electric utilities, we have reached grid parity for more than 200 utilities in 20 states representing 20% of all electricity becoming solar. More states are coming by 2016.

Grid parity means solar is now a cost-effective alternative for electricity consumers who hate paying their electric bill to the local utility company. It is getting cheaper to install a new megawatt of solar and in 2011, U.S. solar energy Installations soared by 109% in 2011 to 1,855 Megawatts according to SEIA. We are at a point where the companies that cannot manufacture cost competitively, like Q Cells, must go by the wayside.

There is a new generation of solar deployment coming that is a roadmap of profitability. It is one with no subsidies and profitable companies.

3. Theory is theory: Finally, while Gates is an entrepreneur, he never ran an energy company. And, while Gunther writes about energy, he has never run a company.

I respect both of them. But each is espousing his own beliefs. Certainly each is well researched, but it is still theory.

However, we are at a tipping point. The place where the theorists who blazed the awareness trail, must give way to the brave entrepreneurs who are willing to risk it all to drive us ahead with real solutions and real businesses.

So, I thank those who have really brought climate change and energy to the forefront of awareness including Al Gore, Bill Gates, and all the writers like Marc Gunther.

And, I thank the Q Cells of the world and Germany for putting a stake in the ground to blaze the trail.

But, now, with time running out, and much learning behind us, we must implement with speed — and implement wisely.

Electricity production using solar technology is proven. Now we need to deploy it as fast as we can to build the next economy. There are thousands of other proven technologies to be implemented in other sectors as well to make an impact and make the next economy. For example, the shipping industry could save $50 billion per year on fuel and reduce carbon and other pollutants by 30 percent using existing technologies.

And, while we attempt incremental improvements, let’s also spend more money developing a new generation of energy technologies. It is not either/or, it is both.

We will continue to implement thousands of proven ways to reduce carbon and improve energy efficiency. And, we will continue to make mistakes.

Let’s leverage what is proven, and learn from our mistakes as we go. It is in fact, the only way forward.

In the meantime, I do admit I am not qualified to run a software company.


Sun image via shutterstock

Jigar Shah is an entrepreneur and visionary committed to leveraging the next economy by solving the challenging issues of our time. Shah has recognized this as “The Impact Economy.” He is CEO of Jigar Shah Consulting and a board member of the Carbon War Room. He works closely with some of the world’s leading influencers and guides policy makers around the globe on key issues to implement solutions for global warming and sustainability that will unlock that next trillion dollar impact economy.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

About the Author

  • Peter Reefman

    Excellent article Jigar. I couldn’t agree more, and am looking forward to a time where there are NO energy subsidies. When that happens, renewable technologies that are cost effective to roll out, and zero cost from then-on will be the only pragmatic option.

  • Uncle B

    Path to The Future
    At last! Admissions, acknowledgements that in fact, American prevalent, “Black or White” logic is nonsense. Even militarily we are finding a balance of many powers in this world over the conqueror, conquered, idioms of the previous times.
    All: Solar, Wind, Wave, Hydro, Tidal, Geothermal, Bio-mass, Anaerobic sewage digestion, Thorium (safer) fission, and vastly improved (Chinese Pebble Bed, Gas) Uranium fission processes as well a development of more, better, super insulations, and the eradication world-wide of the “American Dream” lifestyles, substituted for sustainable lifestyles, as well as the disappearance of the gasoline motor-car, emergence of cheap, fast, efficient, public transportation, evolution of electric bullet trains over jet flights, save for extra-continental situations, where nuclear powered ships will displace oil burning (expensive) jet planes – all this to transpire in this marvelous 21st Century if we do nor heed Israel’s call to WWII styled battle on Iran. If America accepts change, realizes the future belongs to those who take a gamble, relinquish a comfortable Status Quo for the promises of the future.

  • Peter

    Bill Gates need to make his house & office energy efficient and set up an example as far i can read Bill doesn’t focus on Renewable energy etc, you can read his house details , He is like given up kind of situation

  • L J Furman

    100% Clean Energy
    100 Gigawatts Wind: $300 Billion
    100 GW Marine Hydro: $300 B
    50 GW Solar: $200 B
    50 GW Geothermal: $200 B
    200 GW Equiv Efficiency : $200 B
    A Smart Grid: $100 B
    500 GW or GW Equiv. $1.3 Trillion
    … Save the world: priceless)
    And we could do it within 25 Years if we wanted to.

  • Mind Bird

    Web Application Development Bangalore proceeds easily from their website fall into the web based business category. Web Application Development Bangalore is naturally online retailer’s submission of various products for sale from an online catalogue. The needs of Web Application Development Bangalore businesses go far away from simply provided that product information and collecting customer feedback.

    Web Application Development Bangalore

  • Mind Bird

    Web Application Development
    Bangalore has
    been fuel by modernization of the market world and the outburst of internet
    technologies that determine the customer’s relationship to the company. Web Application Development Bangalore is important for the company to be connected
    to their clients’ at all possible times. Web application development
    Bangalore is affirmatively updated to the varied
    improving Web solution technologies.

    Web Application Development Bangalore

  • Mind Bird

    Windows Application development Bangalore allows us to put this experience to work-creating
    high quality custom solutions for your organization. Windows Application development Bangalore delegated authentication technology allows a
    user to delegate authority to a particular application for a specific set of
    resources. Windows Application development Bangalore can specify the duration that the application
    will be able to access the resources. Windows Application development Bangalore service offerings will require that the
    application accessing the data identifies itself in a unique way.

    Windows Application development Bangalore

  • Mind Bird

    Web Application Bangalore in the Web solutions for the websites developed at Web Application Bangalore have become more relevant for key problems wherein incorporation of
    practical web solutions play the key role in customer satisfaction. Web application Bangalore highly specialized and
    focused area requiring a lot of research and brainstorming. Web application Bangalore is providing an optimized and most cost-effective website design
    for the developed website.

    Web Application Development Bangalore

  • Mind Bird

    Ecommerce Development Bangalore
    typically offer e-commerce plans for businesses wishing to venture into the
    world of online retailing. The quality and
    cohesiveness of the Ecommerce Development Bangalore fundamentals
    in your website says a lot approximately you and your online business. A successful Ecommerce Development Bangalore not
    only looks good, but also performs in bringing revenue. Ecommerce Development Bangalore can
    provide enormously, cost-effective development without compromising on quality.

    Ecommerce Development

  • Mind Bird

    Bangalore researches your industry, your competition,
    target areas and the keywords you want to target. Seo
    Bangalore provides regular, detailed updates on your
    website’s rankings and traffic.


  • Mind Bird

    Web Design Bangalore is more of an experienced
    art form in today’s situation with an escalation of number of growing sites
    offering this service. Web Design Bangalore Hardly ever do these sites
    provide to a reasonable range of approval thereby putting off the plan
    undulating. Web Design Bangalore with modifying promotion
    situation for all aggressive products. Web Design Bangalore is more of a skilled art
    form in today’s scenario with an escalation of number of emerging websites
    providing this service. Web Design Bangalore rarely do these websites
    deliver to a decent scale of acceptance thereby putting off the agenda in

    Design Bangalore

  • Mind Bird

    Website Design Bangalore dedicated in beautiful design and programming affordable price. Website Design Bangalore comprises many different skills and disciplines in the production and
    maintenance of websites. Website Design Bangalore is a communal of designers and site owners sharing free web design
    templates, website templates.

    design Bangalore

  • Mind Bird

    Website Designing Bangalore Web
    page overhauling is an absolute necessity for fulfilling dependable client
    conservation. Website Designing Bangalore allows
    customers to mix-and-match compare or choose a best-suited product/solution. Website Designing Bangalore
    Customize solutions with configurations based on pre-set permutations &
    combinations. Website Designing Bangalore Connect
    with the customer’s interests and generate qualified leads.

    Designing Bangalore

  • Mind Bird

    Ecommerce website designing frequently referred to as e-commerce is the latest art in
    internet marketing and World Wide Web. Ecommerce website designing centered alternatives help in offering their desirables at
    the first in a simple and easy way. Ecommerce website designing is
    effective call-to-action based ecommerce websites to online payments and
    delivery. Ecommerce website designing can be
    assured that your customers will have a powerful yet easy-to-understand
    shopping experience. Ecommerce website designing
    services follow some simple yet effective rules. A typical on-line shop must do
    the following for your customers.

    Ecommerce website designing

  • Mind Bird

    Ecommerce website development is
    built in accord to Search Engine Optimization strategies for improving their
    visibility on major Web servers. Ecommerce website development is an
    ascending marketing strategy employed by all business firms in order to reach
    out to the masses in least possible effort made by the user. Ecommerce website development has
    tremendous expertise in providing e-commerce websites with unified facilities of
    shopping cart software Ecommerce website development centered alternatives help in offering their desirable
    at the first in a simple and easy way. Ecommerce website development has
    enhanced an easy-to-use and evident feature which
    thereafter benefits the customer to effortlessly end their transaction

    Ecommerce website development

  • Mind Bird

    Website Design Bangalore is
    modernization of the market world and the outburst of internet technologies
    that determine the customer’s relationship to the company. Website Design Bangalore is affirmatively updated to the varied
    improving. Website Design Bangalore technologies and is always keen of
    incorporating the aforesaid into the developed client projects in accordance to
    their requirements. Website Design Bangalore instilled with Web Solution has provided more effective and productive
    solutions for our clients in recent past. Website Design Bangalore submission Logo Design, Web site
    Designers, Designing to small and
    medium businesses in Bangalore

    design Bangalore

Back to Top ↑