TR: But there’s still the cost issue of installing solar modules. What approaches are you taking to reduce costs there?
LE: There are some innovations in the value chain that we’re on the front edge of, including how you access your customer. In the U.S. we are selling products in more than 250 Home Depots, in California, New Jersey, and New York. Having in-store solar-sales capability basically simplifies the value chain so you don’t have BP Solar selling to a group that sells to another group that goes out and markets the product. There’s only the installer in between, and we endorse their capabilities.
Another aspect that we’re looking at is how you actually construct a frame [for a solar module]. Rather than using extruded aluminum framing, we’re looking at a cast polyurethane mold. It’s stronger, it’s lighter, it’s easier to install, and it looks cool. And if you were really into the architecture, you could have different colors, different types of arrays. [Aesthetics] is a big barrier for going mainstream within solar because people don’t want to feel like they’ve got a bunch of screen doors screwed into their roofs. And then the ultimate is if you make the solar as part of the roof, so you bring together building materials with the photovoltaic industry and say, Let’s build a new roofing material that’s pre-wired for new construction.
TR: Do you think that in the next couple of years we’ll see more economically successful solar efforts?
LE: What’s different now is that we’ve had a few years of high oil prices, we’ve had increased public pressure for policies that will allow for energy independence, and the environmental reality of making a difference in the carbon footprint of the planet is more accepted. So I think all those say there will be a big jump in continued demand. What we see is the demand forecast is significantly higher this year–and it just keeps getting bigger as more countries and more states enact policies to enable continued growth.