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Tag Archives: renewable energy
Tom Werner, a 1982 UW-Madison industrial and systems engineering alumnus and CEO of solar energy company SunPower Inc., visited the UW-Madison campus on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, to give a talk about his company’s growth and what the future holds for solar energy. In these excerpts from the talk, Werner argues that solar energy doesn’t just have staying power, but also has the potential disrupt the energy industry.
Following is a transcript of the podcast:
Scott Gordon: It’s not surprising that the CEO of one of the world’s leading solar-energy companies would defend the viability of solar and offer some well-honed rebuttals to common criticisms of solar. But Tom Werner, CEO of SunPower Inc. and an alumnus of the UW-Madison College of Engineering’s Industrial and Systems Engineering Department, went a step further when he visited campus on September 6, 2013, to give a talk at Union South. Werner argued that solar energy is not only more practical than many people think, but that it’s also poised to shake up energy markets in a profound way.
Tom Werner: The state of the solar industry, renewable industry in general but for sure the solar industry, is at a phenomenally important time. And the fact that we can sell energy that’s comparable to conventional energy, which some of you in the room will dispute, I’m sure, at some point here—you’re wrong. We can compete. That’s going to be fundamentally disruptive to the way conventional energy is delivered.
Scott Gordon: During his talk, Werner elaborated on where solar energy does and doesn’t work in the United States.
Tom Werner: Solar is disrupting conventional electricity in Hawaii as we speak. Japan, same thing. New Jersey’s a very big market for solar. Not so much, hardly at all, in Wisconsin. When I say “solar energy” to most of you, it doesn’t mean much. If you were in California, it’s the opposite. People are like, “What do you mean, you don’t have a solar system?”
Scott Gordon: But he also noted that there’s even more interest in solar overseas.
Tom Werner: The short story is, China wants solar energy badly now. They set a goal of 35 gigawatts by 2015. That’s more than America’s ever installed, cumulative. They’re going to do 10 gigawatts this year. When China says they’re going to do something, they do it big. The reason why they want it is because you can’t breathe the air in most parts of China. The pollution is horrific. The number-one market this year in solar is China.
Scott Gordon: Werner didn’t shy away from discussing the tension that exists between solar companies like SunPower and more traditional utility companies.
Tom Werner: I went to see P&E and the CEO was telling me to get coffee for him. Very dismissive. By the way, when I was sitting with him, the market cap of SunPower was bigger than his, but I didn’t say that to him. But he was literally like, “Why am I meeting with you?” He subsequently has been fired, and I’m still here.
Scott Gordon: Still, he acknowledged that before the big disruption happens, the solar-energy industry has to overcome a few obstacles.
Tom Werner: It’s not intermittent. It’s very predictable. It makes energy when the sun’s out. Then you say, “Well, but there’s clouds.” But the clouds aren’t simultaneously over the entire array. So you can actually predict the output of a solar system fairly well. You’re right, if you add storage it’s perfect. Solar is not dispatchable. You can’t use it when you want. When you get storage, that’s the killer combination.
Scott Gordon: Learn more about accomplished UW-Madison engineering alumni at badgerengineers.engr.wisc.edu.
Thomas Werner’s solar energy company, SunPower Inc., in San Jose, has been keeping some pretty high-profile company these days. Take the San Francisco 49ers: The franchise is partnering with SunPower this year to make the new $1.2 billion Santa Clara stadium the greenest in the National Football League.
And then there’s Warren Buffett, the household name of mega-investors. Buffett’s organization, MidAmerican Solar, is investing as much as $2.5 billion in a Los Angeles-area SunPower installation that is the largest permitted solar power development in the world.
Naturally, this is great business news for Werner, a 1982 UW-Madison industrial and systems engineering alumnus who has served as SunPower CEO since 2003. But these stories also represent an exciting turning point for the industry, which Werner describes as “the mainstreaming of solar energy” across major corporations, utilities and residential homes.
Kenneth Walz, a 2006 PhD graduate of the Environmental Chemistry and Technology program in the UW-MadisonCollege of Engineering, was named “2010 Wisconsin Professor of the Year” today by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).
Walz teaches chemistry and engineering at Madison Area Technical College and leads a consortium for education in renewable energy technology. He also is an adjunct professor in UW-Madison civil and environmental engineering and at UW-Stevens Point.
Walz was one of 38 exemplary teachers chosen nationwide by CASE from more than 300 nominees.
“I’m so honored to receive this award, but really the ultimate measure of my success is the ability of my students to achieve their goals and realize their dreams after they have left my classroom,” says Walz.