Thursday, February 25, 2010

Can renewable energy be differentiated?

When the solar market was hot I, like probably half the people in the Bay Area, was thinking about a career in solar. I thought about this a bit and concluded that this would be the wrong place for me because I could not figure out how it could be differentiated enough to yield an interesting marketing job.

Can renewables be differentiated?
Renewables, at the end of the day, are just another source of power. Power is a commodity.
Can a commodity be differentiated?
Or is it solely about $ / unit?

If you put it against grid connected power, then it is about $/kWh. It's a race to the bottom.
It's about being the cheapest because all the power is interchangeable.

If you put it against something else, then you have a niche and can be differentiated some other way.
For example: off grid development.
Are you the most rugged? Portable? Reliable? Efficient (kW/m2)? Flexible? Available in all weather conditions? Backup-solution-ready? Affordable (if you're off grid b/c no one can afford to build a grid)? Difficult to steal? Easy to install and maintain?

Or the "save the planet" green niche.
It's really important, but still a niche today.

Are these niches big enough to support a business in the US?
I think many people are counting on it getting really big... though there is a question of how realistic that is because of the scale of the problem...

If you don't want the niches, can you create differentiation where it doesn't exist with renewables and ride that to financial success?
Ok. Maybe this is more interesting than I originally gave credit for.