Jigar Shah was my favorite presenter at this year’s Building Energy Conference.  Mr. Shah founded SunEdison in 2003 and sold it five years later for $200 million.  Here are some quotes he offered up in the “Energy Subsidies and the Future of Solar: Where Do We Go From Here?” session:

He outlined a 25kw project in Kentucky installed for $3.45/watt, a 5MW project in North Carolina installed for $1.85/watt, and projects at Walmart getting installed for $2.05/watt.

“If you’re a solar installer and you can’t get to these numbers over the next couple years, you should start looking for a job.  You’re going to be out of business.”

Several in the audience lamented the fact that their utility isn’t easier to deal with and puts too many hurdles in place around permitting and interconnection.  Mr. Shah shared his experiences putting at least one utility into bankruptcy and urged people to think of utilities as any other company that can be taken on and defeated.  It was a subversive message that felt powerful and a little dangerous.  The audience loved it.

When asked about what incentives the solar industry should be pushing for, he said:

“It doesn’t matter what subsidies exist for oil and gas – we’re in an age of austerity.  Pigs get fed and hogs get slaughtered.  Solar looks like a hog right now.”

During the Q&A session a member of the audience criticized Mr. Shah’s focus on solar, saying building efficiency investments have a bigger potential impact, to which Mr. Shah responded,

“I hate building efficiency people because you’re so self-righteous.”

He went on to explain that the progress made in the solar industry was hard won and as much as he would like to do more for other technologies, it’s not that simple.  He urged other industries to do what it takes to make change happen, rather than criticizing the efforts of others.

“Solar thermal is a backwater industry because companies in the industry refuse to step up when it comes time to pass the hat and fund the trade organizations and build infrastructure.” (this point clearly applies to the geothermal heat pump industry too)

Mr. Shah is abrasive, but he pulls it off because he has accomplished so much and is surprisingly warm and likable, even when he’s telling you you’re wrong.  His style stood out as honest, militant, and effective.  I left energized.