Kevin Chen, Chief Marketing Officer & Managing Director of Business Development in the Energy & Environmental Solutions Unit at Applied Materials, sat down with us for a conversation about solar energy and why he is participating in the Utility Technology Challenge at TechConnect World.
Q: Why is solar a unique solution for energy issues faced both in the US and abroad?
A: “At a high level, I’d say that there has been a lot of news around solar in the headlines, but the end market for solar is growing quite rapidly. We’ve gone through a couple of years where the forecast for solar energy has been exceeded by a large amount versus what people thought solar would do at the beginning of the year.
Why is solar unique? Well, it’s a renewable energy source and so meets many climate goals that countries have for non-carbon based energy generation. Solar PV addresses peak energy demand. Solar energy is generated during the day, and that’s when we use the most energy, so it coincides with peak demand. The other thing with PV is that it can be distributed. It can be designed to be modular for whatever application it is trying to address, whereas other types of energy generation are not modular. Because of that, it can be used for many remote or off-grid applications.”
Q: What are the biggest challenges facing development and adoption of solar?
A: “Solar PV has come a long way. If you look at countries like Germany, it has a very streamlined way of adopting solar and tying it in, but a lot of other countries are still catching up to that.
One place where improvement is needed is in the installation infrastructure for solar. Are there enough folks trained to install solar panels?
In some countries, another issue is financing, because solar projects have to be financed by banks, for example. As banks become more familiar with the technology, their process for lending will become more streamlined.
The cost of solar continues to come down, so that’s something that is moving in the right direction. As the cost comes down, solar becomes more competitive with traditional energy, and it can become an economic discussion.”
Q: What solutions/innovations would significantly impact your work with solar?
A: “We are looking at a lot of different innovations in the area of manufacturing and process. Applied Materials provides equipment that manufacturers use to produce solar cells. Working with new materials that need to go into the manufacturing process to meet requirements that our customers have; this is the type of innovation we’re looking at. Solar is very competitive, so one way companies differentiate themselves is by solar cell efficiency.”
Q: Why are you attending TechConnect World? What do you hope to achieve on site at the event?
A: “Applied Materials is a sponsor of TechConnect World, so we’ve had a presence at the conference. This will be my first time, personally, and I’m looking forward to it to share some of the needs we have, share some of the work we are working on, and connect up with other companies doing similar or adjacent things.”