The Solar-Powered 8-Ball (or why Eastwick believes in solar)
Let’s face it: none of us can predict the future. We can speculate, call on past experiences or histories, cite business cycles or run algorithms or confer with experts…or just trust our guts. But at the end of the day, nobody knows. A researched thesis or a Magic 8 Ball? Who’s to say which is better at validating an outlook?
So take these thoughts for what it’s worth, and consult your own 8-ball. But I’m writing about why I’m bullish on cleantech, and most specifically, solar.
Lucky me. I arrived on the personal technology scene early, in 1981, not early enough to watch the Steves debut the Apple II at the Homebrew show (reenacted here), but not far after. So I remember the days of skepticism and doubt, of fringe crowds gathering at ragtag shows and meetups, of financial wariness and audience resistance. Owning a computer then meant risk, not to mention financial outlay. It also meant uncertainty about the future: early Apple buyers couldn’t know if the geeky little boxes on their desktops would become agents of the future or relics of a would-be past.
Certainly Commodore, Franklin, and Apricot caused buyers to believe in the demise more than the potential of a sea change – or a market opportunity. But their failures didn’t signal the end of an industry.
Back in the day, when Apple would invest in showing up at a trade show or similar event, I’d often be there in the booth, watching people’s eyes widen at their first view of Visicalc or AppleWriter. Hah! How I laugh now. Most people today can’t imagine the sound of a world cracking open at the first sight of these early apps, carefully inserted into a “floppy disk” slot on the face of a textured beige wonder-machine any more than they can imagine lugging a two-pound, $4,000 cell phone into their DeLorean.
Looking back, it’s easy to see many expressions of a vision – bringing personal technologies to the masses – appearing on the scene, most of them destined to glimmer for but a moment in time. But look across the “portfolio” of expressions – start-up companies clamoring to gain traction, and big companies moving in to throw their weight at the opportunity – and even then we knew: something big was going to happen.
In solar today I hear an echo. Not just the crowded showroom floors, cluttered with me-toos and false starts, dotted by a few bright points of innovation and vision, together in the risk-mix. Looking at most of the booths, I think “no.” Most of them won’t make it, will confirm the belief that solar is a bad investment, too big a risk.
But looking at the industry, at the momentum of the total portfolio, sparks a different thought: that this industry is here to stay, or at least to shape something that will stay, in a way that causes a few future shapers to win big.
If that’s true, and my 8-Ball tells me it is, then the question becomes: what will it take for those few to win big, and for those of us who are betting on solar to identify them early?
For that, back to the ‘80s. The companies that will win are those driven to lead and to reshape, to blow through assumptions and to think different. Companies that aren’t bridled by the limitations of solar today – solar that I believe will one day be seen as “legacy solar” – but who innovate as they look to ways to harness the power of the sun.
Our good friends at Enphase – “the Apple of solar energy,” as Xconomy dubbed it – and other microinverter suppliers? They’re looking for new ways of making energy capture and management more efficient, safe, and intelligent. Companies that streamline installation or integrate solar into non-traditional settings? They’re directly confronting the cost and practicality obstacles to choosing solar. Big thinkers attacking conventional assumptions about solar production? They’re taking on the production cost and material consumption parts of this equation and (as our client Twin Creeks is proving) catching their breath as they witness the results.
As I look to the future of solar, experts and 8-Balls probably agree: a point will come where the value exchange clicks into place, and some group of companies is going to win big. When? Don’t know. How? Judgment reserved. But here’s what I believe: the breakthrough will be driven by engineering, design, and innovation, and will emerge from companies committed to thinking differently about the way they use technology to solve problems and improve lives.
That’s a pattern we at Eastwick know well, and that’s why we’re committed to building our solar, and overall cleantech, practice today. The entrepreneurs who are pushing the edges of today’s solar are likely to be the ones who also redefine its financial outlook, too. We’re believers, and we know how to help. It’s our mission to help tomorrow’s most future-shaping companies connect with the audiences who matter most. Today’s cleantech visionaries deserve this, and – much as we helped some of IT’s leading companies find their way through uncertainty and doubt, we’re committed to contributing to their impact and success.