In order to have a mass market which could potentially consume all residential market (and expansion of commercial markets) places, awareness and motivation (incentive) must exist among the consumers. Further advocacy would also help grow the energy production market by utility companies.
SM: What is the level of awareness and motivation in the marketplace to adopt solar energy? TW: Here, in sunny California, we have one view of America, and with the California Solar Initiative it is becoming much easier and more economical to buy a solar solution. The industry is scaling and it is becoming far more easy and economical to buy a solar system.
You do not see that elsewhere in North America. The utilities commission in California created a market that is scaling the industry, led by SunPower’s lower cost. It is not unusual for California to lead the way in areas such as renewable energy.
In Germany and Japan it is typical, not unusual, to drive and see a solar system on a roof or on a farm. People in Germany are very aware of where their electricity comes from and they cause a percentage to come from renewable sources through their votes. In Japan solar is arguably mainstream. If you buy a house in Japan you select the cabinets for the kitchen, and the type of solar system you would like to have. Japan is really a market that we would like to create world wide and there the incentives are no longer needed. You see that happening in California.
SM: Have you started any efforts in India or China, or do you see that happening in the future? TW: Let’s talk about China first. We have a partner in China that does some work for us and has employed hundreds of people making the solar panel for us. We started that relationship in 2004. We do a substantial amount of work in china. We have sales people who have considerable experience in China and have had a considerable presence in China since 2004. Most of the Chinese market, however, is talk, not revenue. There are niche markets.
SM: Market education has not happened yet? TW: Some education is needed, and the policy has not come together yet in China. There is a huge growing solar industry in China that is simply exporting their products. We hope with China that it is a matter of when, not if.
When we look at India, they are a bit further behind. India has had great intentions but it has not come together at a government level in terms of a cohesive policy approach towards solar. You also have an infrastructure which is behind China. On one hand you can argue that it would cause solar to take off a bit more, but on the other had you have to get it there, and people have to be able to pay for it. In some cases that will require incentive from the government.
We know a lot about India because our Chief Operating Officer ran a company in India; it is where he grew up and was educated. We certainly know the market but it is a secondary market for us, in terms of developing new markets, after China. Just like other markets, the number of people and the size of the middle class is growing, they are going to be very important markets in the future, but not quite yet.