This month’s solar veteran is James Marlow, president and co-founder of Radiance Solar, a commercial, institutional and utility solar EPC based out of Atlanta, Georgia. Radiance Solar has made our Top Solar Contractors list every year we’ve been doing it.
Marlow had a busy year back in 2007, in which he left his job at Yahoo, ran for congress and started a new career in solar. In our latest Ask a Vet, we learn how Marlow sees similarities between the early days of personal computers and today’s solar market. He also shares his views on the trade case.
SPW: What parallels do you see when comparing your experience at IBM and Yahoo with your experience in solar today?
Marlow: I find parallels in the early days of personal computers in that people use the same objections and phrases. What I think they’re often saying is they don’t really understand it.
In the early days of the personal computer, the people that really fought the personal computer the most were the main-frame people. They said that personal computers aren’t powerful enough, they’re too expensive. The co-founder of once IBM rival Digital Equipment Corporation, Ken Olsen, once said he couldn’t understand why anyone would ever want a personal computer. People that were in the industry didn’t understand the transition to distributed computing.
The same thing is happening in the utility sector today.
SPW: How can installers become better trained for the changes ahead?
Marlow: I think we’ve always gotta be learning and be creative problem solvers. We have to look for “velocity.” We need to install systems faster. We need more modular systems with lower tool and part count so they’re easier to design, install, commission, test and repair.
SPW: What are your thoughts on the trade case going on right now?
Marlow: We feel this is a really bad piece of policy. We oppose it and we’re working with SEIA and other groups to communicate to our elected officials that this is a job-killing issue.
I’ve traveled to D.C. to meet with SEIA and government officials to let them know the background, that Suniva is no longer a Georgia company, it’s owned by a Hong Kong-based billionaire. This is a complex issue that could have a negative impact on jobs.
This action could double the price of panels and take us back two years in our work and put a lot of installer jobs at risk. We hope that people will be rational in this action.
Check back monthly for a new episode of Ask a Solar Vet, in which editor Kathie Zipp brings you the unique perspectives and insights of those who have spent more than a decade in solar.