Thank you to everyone who joined us for our September 22nd Signature Event – Solar Business Model Innovation. Over 150 members of the CleanTX community from Austin, Houston, and San Antonio gathered for a lively networking reception in the Radisson’s Riverside Ballroom overlooking Lady Bird Lake, followed by a robust panel discussion. The Landers/Marshall Duo added acoustic harmonies to the mix and guests enjoyed cocktails, appetizers, and conversation. Photos of the event are online at the CleanTX Facebook page, and live-tweeting the night of the event can be found at #ctxsolar.

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Following the reception, Clay Butler of the Butler Firm moderated a fantastic panel of experts, including: Kate Sherwood of SolarCity, Colin Meehan of First Solar, Mark Begert of Meridian Solar, and Brian McCurdy of SunEdison. The panel touched on key issues within the solar industry today, from new financing models for solar projects to intermittency issues on the grid. The discussion centered around business models and what steps each company was taking to hedge the risk inherent in the industry. Providing examples of challenges specific to each company, the panelists helped to paint a picture of what the next five years are likely to look like for major industry players. While technological improvement will be important to the industry (see: recent competition between SolarCity and Panasonic over the most efficient solar panel), business process innovation and reduction in soft costs and installation costs are essential to brining down the price of solar.

The timing of this discussion could not have been better. Solar is in the headlines everywhere you look. Locally, the Austin City Council approved power purchase agreements (PPAs) for 300 MW of utility-scale solar for Austin Energy, its municipal utility. The $33 million is thought to be the lowest price ever paid for Texas solar. In this week’s Greentech Media podcast How Cheap Can Solar Get?, Varun Sivaram, a Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, echoed statements given by our event’s panelists. Speaking to Stephen Lacey and Shayle Kann, Mr. Sivaram detailed what steps must be taken to bring the price of solar down to 25 cents a watt over the next 30 years. Storage and demand-side management will each play a large role in brining the price of solar down, yet the acquisition and integration of these capabilities can be challenging.

In a perfect example of how acquiring smaller companies in order to become more vertically integrated can impact the value of these companies, SunEdison recently announced major layoffs after a sharp drop in market value over the summer. Alternatively, some companies will look to what new potential markets exist and how they can take advantage. Earlier this month, Wiser Capital released a report that pointed to a large untapped potential for commercial solar development in the Northeast United States, promising more opportunity and growth for the companies represented on our panel. Want to learn more? Still need a primer? Check out our recent whitepaper: Solar’s Bright Future.