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August 23rd, 2010
I recently finished listening to the audiobook of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and realized that the industrialization of the solar industry is very similar to that organic agriculture. Both stem from the Back-to-the-Land Movement in the 60’s and 70’s (please skim this Wiki article!), and were as much philosophical concepts as they were practical solutions to the energy and health needs of humans. As both ideas eventually hatched, they began to grow out of their idealism bubble and into the real world where they connect with other industries and organizations and mature. This article analyzes the social implications of this growth, as I’ve witnessed in my career.
Through the industrialization of solar panels as a commodity, small companies must grow by partnering with political and financial professionals not necessarily as passionately connected to solar ideals. The question is, do the ideals get diluted in this process, or do they in fact permeate the new realms of business and grow more? Most would side with the latter, but let’s not discount the former.
Regardless, I think it boils down to motivation – there are distinct categories of people working under the solar industry “umbrella.” These groups would be:
Group 1: People who are directly involved in the industry whose motivations at work mostly originate from a long-held belief in back-to-the-land values.
Group 2: People who have been peripherally involved in the industry whose motivations at work mostly originate from an interest in their previous field – e.g. finance or politics or manufacturing.
Generally speaking, the bigger Group 1 gets, the more it needs Group 2 to remain stable and effective. As far as I can tell, Group 2 folks are very excited to be working in the solar field, and seem to be more and more influenced by the motivations of Group 1. However, I hope that Group 1 doesn’t become too absorbed into Group 2 through the industrialization of the industry.
I hope we as young clean tech professionals can keep the solar industry (and any clean tech industry) from falling off course in terms of values. We can do this through relentless discourse at any and all levels. Keep the values and philosophy discussion relevant and central.
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