Since 2008, the solar industry in the USA has grown from less than $3B in 2008 to more than $15B projected by the end of 2013. During that same period, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)
- Secured an 8-year extension of the solar tax credit in 2008 In the 2009 stimulus bill,
- Secured the 1603 grant program in 2009 which brought in an entirely new group of investors into solar
- And recently, the SEIA has come out with a new approach to solving the Chinese tariff case
Yet with all this financial growth of the solar industry, plus expanded responsibilities of the SEIA, my guess is that SEIA’s budget that is $9.2 million today has not kept pace with the growth of the industry over the past five years. It appears that when the solar industry’s profit margin started to shrink, the first priority of many members was to zero out growing their investment in SEIA.
Plus, over these years, our industry has asked SEIA to do a lot more work with the same limited funds. In discussions I have had with executive director Rhone Resch, he has noted that SEIA is dipping heavily into its reserve account to continue to expand markets for companies.
And our industry is in a David & Goliath war. SEIA is confronting Edison Electric Institute (EEI), which has a budget 10x larger.
Yet the 5X increase in industry revenues with a roughly flat SEIA budget does not add up. After all, SEIA is the official trade association of the US solar industry that helped to lobby for and stimulate this growth. This growth includes large utility scale solar electricity, distributed solar electricity, and the solar thermal industry.
The main thing that does not compute is that SEIA has less than 1,000 member companies in an industry numbering more than 6,000 in the US alone.
Yet we have had a sort of mutiny in the industry. In the past few years alone, solar was used as a symbol of failure for the loan guarantee program, a German solar manufacturer created a global trade war, and now a well-respected Arizona solar manufacturer on the board of SEIA decided to go to war with the whole solar industry on behalf of their utility customers.
In marketing terms, there are four stages to the growth of an industry. The pioneering stage when an industry is first formed and technology is first deployed. This pioneering stage is marked with technological advances and first mover companies.
The second phase is the growth phase marked by many companies entering the market and widespread acceptance of the product or service. This requires that companies in the industry cooperate to build the industry.
Third is the maturing of an industry. This is where the dozens of companies consolidate either through merger or attrition.
And, finally is decline. This is where a market runs its course. The classic example is buggy whips, displaced by the automobile. Or, right now we are starting to see the displacement of the personal computer by smart phones and tablets. And, we are witnessing the displacement of old energy sources like coal with solar.
Solar is in its growth phase. As a result, it is critical that all members of the solar industry work together to growth the industry. In doing so, each company will get its fair share of market. For example, while I founded SunEdison, it would be naïve of me to think that SunEdison will win every solar services deal. While we compete for projects, we must stick together as an industry.
That glue of our sticking together is the SEIA. Keeping the solar industry working together and growing revenues 30%+ per year requires a lot of work and coordination. And if we can grow the industry another 90% -- the bottom line is that it adds up for all of us.
At the end of the day, our industry is dependent on fair policy. We need to support our national trade association if we want a level playing field to stay in business.
So, who needs the SEIA? Answer: the solar industry. We are in this fight together.