Iâ€™m increasingly bullish on solar energy, and Iâ€™m not alone. The market capitalization of the publicly traded solar companies on US exchanges has grown from about $1 billion in 2004 to about $70 billion today. The cost of generating electricity from solar photovoltaic panels is dropping, and the industry says it can get to grid parity in the next five to 10 years. That may seem like a long time, but itâ€™s less time than it will take to get the next nuclear power plant built and, almost surely, less time than it will take to build a so-called clean coal plant to scale.
In the current issue of FORTUNE (cover date: Oct. 15), I take a look at an interesting solar energy company called SunPower and the three characters behind itâ€”a soft-spoken former Stanford professor and solar pioneer named Dick Swanson who started the company, an outspoken Silicon Valley CEO named T.J. Rodgers (above) who saved it, and a hard-charging CEO & tri-athlete named Tom Werner who now runs it. It was an enjoyable story to write, for a lot of reasons–met lots of people, felt some excitement building in the industry, visited the top executives of other fast-growing solar companies, including two in my neighborhood, SunEdison in Beltsville and BP Solar in Frederick, Md. Solar panels are actually made in the Frederick plant, which is undergoing a major expansion. In fact, solar is one of those green tech businesses that has the potential to create many thousands of jobs in the U.S.
The SunPower story is posted online here but it will be a better read in the magazine with photos and charts. This is also FORTUNEâ€™s annual â€œMost Powerful Womenâ€ issue. My friend Betsy Morris wrote the cover story, a profile of Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy. Xerox has a great corporate culture and tradition.