Friday Focus: Solar’s leaders

  • Solar leaders
    The solar industry has produced many pioneering leaders. Image: Ewan Roberts.

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Lucy Woods

Solar is often defending itself under intense public scrutiny and political attack, but from challenges arise inspirational leaders. PV Tech celebrates some of the industry’s highest profile leaders, who are bringing the solar into the mainstream at the same time championing its role as a world changing technology.

1. Howard Wenger – SunPower

Howard Wenger is the vice president of global business units of Silicon Valley-based PV manufacturer and developer, SunPower.

Wenger has more than 20 years of experience in the solar industry. He helped solar get the attention of top retailers such as Macy's and Target, and win invaluable large-scale solar contracts with giants such as Nevada Power, Florida Power and Light, and Pacific Gas and Electric

The non-profit think tank Milken Institute said about Wenger that: “During his career in the solar and utility power field, Wenger has authored dozens of papers and public policies on solar power and developed software and tools still in use today.”

Tom Werner, SunPower's chief executive told Bloomberg that Wenger’s “work, and that of his team, is a testament to his passion for making SunPower the premium energy company worldwide, and solar the best choice of energy for individual consumers and utility-scale businesses alike”.

2. Bernhard Beck, chief executive, Belectric

The CEO of the Germany-based PV system developer, Belectric, Beck is a tireless advocator of the notion that solar power is financially viable everywhere. Beck has given numerous media interviews to voice that solar was, is and will be the cheapest energy source.

Beck features in author Philip Wolfe’s book ‘Solar photovoltaic projects in the mainstream power market’ as a technology pioneer for solar. Wolfe states that long before the advent of feed in tariffs Beck, was already developing a design for a collection of solar roof systems in Austria capable of delivering 123kWp, with a breakthrough performance of 80% efficiency. At the time the system was too small to gain aid from the present EU programme - but the German Environment Ministry agreed to support the project anyway.

After starting Beck Energy (now Belectric), Beck concentrated on system integration issues and designing systems “that could be installed rapidly and achieve high efficiencies through careful matching of subsystems”, says Wolfe.

A tireless advocate of larger scale solar plants as a provider of local clean energy, Beck told PV Tech’s sister site Solar Power Portal that prices of electricity from solar power plants “can already compete with the prices for conventionally generated electricity in a growing number of regions”.

3. Danny Kennedy, co-founder, Sungevity

The co-founder of Sungevity is also author of ‘Rooftop Revolution: How Solar Power Can Save Our Economy—and Our Planet—from Dirty Energy’ and contributes to the Huffington Post and Forbes in an effort to enthuse readers about solar. Kennedy started out in activism, as campaigns manger for Greenpeace Australia and also ran Greenpeace's California Clean Energy Campaign, which led to the current California Solar Initiative.

Sungevity is known for beginning the US solar leasing trend – bucking the notion that homeowners need a large amount of cash upfront to go solar. After Kennedy helped in turning the Sydney Theatre Company into a green building, actress Cate Blanchett even applauded him in news outlet Odwire for his work to make solar cheaper.

Kennedy has the ear of influential leaders, fronting a campaign for PV panels on the Whitehouse. After three years of campaigning this eventually bore fruit, but Kennedy subsequently wrote to President Obama to ask for more solar.

Kennedy is now in high demand as a speaker and innovator, opinion leader, activist and entrepreneur. He was awarded ‘Innovator of the Year' by TV show, Planet Forward, in recognition of starting Sungevity.

4. Jeremy Leggett, founder and chairman, Solarcentury

Founding Solarcentury in 1999, Jeremy Leggett proposed nothing short of reversing detrimental climate change. Leggett states on his own website that the purpose of the Solarcentury “is to make as big a difference as we can” in combating climate change: “Solar is not a magic bullet in cutting carbon emissions – there are none. But it is a vital member of the survival family of technologies and tactics.”

Using 5% of the profits from Solarcentury, Leggett founded SolarAid in 2006, specifically to bring light to Africa with solar power, replacing kerosene lamps and educating on the benefits and possibilities of solar.

Leggett is also chairman of financial advisory think tank, Carbon Tracker, assessing the market risks involving fossil fuels, and he is also a member of the green economists group, Green New Deal group, which specifically draws attention to the financing of green industrial jobs and economic recovery.

Leggett is also a self-proclaimed “whistleblower” on oil dependency, working on the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security – a group studying the economic threat of drops in global oil supplies.

The solar warrior is author of ‘The Energy of Nations: Risk Blindness and the Road to Renaissance’, ‘Half Gone: Oil, Gas, Hot Air and the Global Energy Crisis’ and many other titles on climate change and energy issues.

Described by the Observer newspaper as “Britain’s most respected green energy boss”, Leggett and SolarAid have won numerous awards for advocating solar energy and impacting remarkable social change, including The Google Global Impact Challenge, Guardian Sustainable Business Award and Ashden Awards.

5. Tom Matzzie, founder and CEO, Ethical electric

Tom Matzzie is founder and CEO of Ethical Electric, a unique renewable power-only utility. Matzzie has used the power of the internet to build online communities to challenge the status quo and raise more than US$150 million online, via millions of US$5 and US$10 donations.

Matzzie has contributed to the Huffington Post to defend Solyndra, the collapsed US PV manufacturer, and to advocate green technology.

Serving on the board of community-scale renewable energy group, Community Power Network, Matzzie advises companies on using renewable energy, and was noted by the New York Times as a “rising star”.

Always rocking the boat, Matzzie also made headlines for live tweeting an overheard conversation by former NSA senior staff. He is the former Washington director of MoveOn, a political group that led campaigns to end the war in Iraq.

6. Yosef Abramowitz, CEO, Energiya Global

An investor and activist, Yosef Abramowitz is president and CEO of Energiya Global Capital as well as co-founder of the Arava Power Company with Ed Hofland and David Rosenblatt

With Energia, Abramowitz aims to provide solar power to under-served populations, fight climate change and promote clean energy for development, focusing on Africa.

Meanwhile, Arava installs solar in the Israeli Negev desert. After moving back to Israel from a beak in the US, Abramowitz explains: “I got distracted on the first day by the unbelievable sun. On that day I said that someone should build a solar power system here because it’s really sunny. I decided to live it instead of write it.”

“He saw alternative energy where others only saw desert. He combines his vision with a tireless pursuit to make things happen,” says Michael Hoffman, CEO of See3 Communications, a leading authority in online video for nonprofits.

According to Nefesh B’Nefesh, a non-profit organization supporting immigrating Jews, he is considered a founding father of the solar industry in Israel, working constantly for change in the Israeli government. Working with the Bedouin people, he has also signed numerous deals with tribes for solar power, and is now taking the Arava model and promoting it in poorer countries worldwide to reduce dependence on oil, with solar power. He also advises 20 different governments and is working actively with Haiti, Cyprus and additional countries.

Abramowitz has been co-nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize for work in the Former Soviet Union and been awarded 14 journalism awards.

7. Nat Kreamer, CEO, Clean Power Finance

Nat Kreamer co-founded SunRun in an effort to change the idea of residential solar financing after fighting for the US in wars he said were over energy resources.

“I was in the Middle East, in uniform, carrying a gun to protect our national energy interests. A little over a year later I took off from Bagram Airfield, returned home, and co-founded SunRun to help American homeowners get their energy from clean, affordable, and domestic solar power,” he wrote for a White House blog.

After founding SunRun, Kreamer became president, CEO and member of the board of directors of Clean Power Finance and vice chairman of the board of directors of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

Kreamer was honoured at a White House ceremony to receive commendation as a ‘Champion of Change’ in the ‘Veterans in Clean Energy and Climate Security’ category.

 “Nat has done exemplary service for our country, and has emerged as an inspirational leader in an industry that is taking action on climate change,” said Google Ventures general partner Joe Kraus, an investor in Clean Power Finance. ”He’s one of the most compelling operational executives in Silicon Valley, and is making a difference by striving to lower the consumer costs of solar power.”

8. Tony Clifford, CEO, Standard Solar

Clifford was made chief executive of Standard Solar in 2007 and has since developed it into a leading solar installer in the US.

He is a member of the US Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and an authoritative voice in re-shaping renewable energy policies. He is the author of the US Department of Energy report, ‘Tax-Advantaged Investments in Renewable Energy Projects’, for which he received a Special Achievement Award for Technology Demonstration, from the US energy secretary.

Clifford was also recognised for his work in the state of Maryland for championing solar, receiving the 2011 Industry Leader Award, by the Maryland Clean Energy Center. He also writes for the Solar Industry Insider to set the record straight on solar costs and trade wars.

9. Julia Hamm – SEPA

Helping utilities and solar companies find common ground is no easy task, but Julia Hamm, president and CEO of the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA), a national non-profit, helps solar companies and utilities work together.

Talking to PV Tech, Hamm said her role at SEPA “get’s more exciting and relevant everyday”.

Hamm is also the founder of Solar Power International (SPI), North America's largest solar power trade show and conference, and is in high demand as an expert in the field of utilities versus solar. She was named one of the top 10 women in clean technology, by news outlet earth2tech in 2007.

10. Masayoshi Son, SoftBank

Son founded Japanese technology giant SoftBank in 1981, and is most well known as an entertaining, eccentric internet billionaire, he has an estimated worth of $13 billion.

Son turned his attention to the energy industry after the Fukishima nuclear disaster and has since become of the most “outspoken advocates of new energy in Japan”, according to the Wall Street Journal.

SoftBank has also become a key player in Japan’s booming solar industry.

Top Solar Leaders

Top leaders in campaigning and advocating solar, be it finance or political activism, these leaders in the industry go the extra mile to keep solar in the spotlight.

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