Bulldog Barry and other stories: Opening salvoes from the PV Power Plant-USA conference

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Tom Cheyney
Tom Cheyney
Tom Cheyney, former senior editor of PV-Tech and Photovoltaics International, is now chief curator of SolarCurator.com and director of Impress Labs’ solar practice.

(Updated) If you’re not sure where Barry Broome stands on a particular issue, just give him a few minutes. The man can talk, and when he does, strong opinions leavened with humor often come pouring out of the mouth of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council’s president/CEO. Given his stocky build and tenacious style, it wouldn’t be a stretch to nickname him “Bulldog.” Though forcefully advocating solar power and its role in the current and future economic development of the Valley of the Sun, Bulldog Barry’s keynote address at this year’s PV Power Plants Conference USA and comments at a press briefing following his speech included several loud barks and growls directed at the solar community. 

Broome doesn’t think much of Team Solar’s ability to get its value proposition out there, calling it “the worst industry in the history of free markets in explaining itself.” For example, he believes there should be less attention paid to pushing for the extension of the US government’s 1603 cash grant program and more on getting what he calls the “top-line messages” out there.

“You have to sell the technology as universally good, regardless of internal differences” about which type of module or application strategy is better or worse. The industry is “losing the big picture discussion, with too much focus on myopic issues.”

He cites the hostile atmosphere created by the SolarWorld-initiated trade action against China as another example, stating that Arizona does not support the effort and that the “complaint won’t change Chinese behavior, only its behavior toward the US market.”  

 “Solar is a either a good thing or it isn’t,” he said, emphasizing the need for supporters to be a huge fan of all solar, from the smallest gadget-powering cells to huge utility-scale generation plants. There’s not much grey area in the Bulldog’s view—“you are for solar or against it.” Besides, “you can’t put a nuclear reactor on the roof of a school.”

He sees too much “intercompetitive, interpolarized” behavior in the sector, a tendency toward “carving itself up” instead of “talking up the upside” of solar. The industry has to “sell the technology as universally good, regardless of internal differences.”

As one might expect of someone with firm convictions and an enduring affection for the sound of his own voice, Broome steps into it from time to time. Take the following comment: “GPEC (the acronym for his group) is doing more for the solar industry than the industry is doing itself.”

While having a vociferous pro-economic development, pro-business guy like him in solar’s corner is a definite positive, he seems to have forgotten on which side the biscuit is basted.

Has he directly raised capital for new innovative companies, technology development or project financing, worked to improve PV module reliability and performance, raised conversion efficiencies while lowering costs, helped put smarts into inverters, or integrated a rooftop system?  

Kudos for your passionate facilitation and proselytization, Mr. B, but demerits for exaggeration in this case.

Bulldog Barry wasn’t the only speaker at the conference to sink his teeth into a presentation. Industry veteran Tom Dyer of Kyocera Solar (the outfit that makes the new MyGen(U)Flex module system kit) talked about the future of the PV market from a manufacturer’s perspective. His prognosis: it’s ugly out there, sort of.  

He pointed to several worldwide price trends over the last six months: polysilicon, down 47%; crystalline-silicon cells and modules, off 46%; thin film modules, slippage of 21%. Saying how “all of this is happy news one would think, but every manufacturer is losing money except First Solar,” a situation he rightly characterized as “not sustainable.” It’s a “race to the bottom, a race to nonsense, a race to insanity,” Dyer quipped.

As for the incipient solar “trade war” between certain US and Chinese factions, he is not a happy camper about the SolarWorld-led clash, clarifying that Kyocera was not part of the “group of seven” and that the industry has become “truly divided.”

He then asked, “is the US market sustainable?” His answer bore the weight of a battle-hardened realist: No, not if government support fades and/or manufacturing company losses continue and/or we end up in the midst of a harmful trade dispute.

Like many industry insiders and observers, Dyer sees a major shakeout coming, especially in China. “Who will be the last man standing? I’ll be there.”  Words spoken like someone who’s seen solar blow up from boutique scale to a multibillion-dollar business, warts and all, but who knows in his gut that the best is yet to come.  

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