About a year ago the CEO of power company NRG Energy, David Crane, said he thought that the future of the green technology industry would rest on consumers, and a big part of that would be how consumers embrace electric vehicles. But fast forward a year of very slow electric car adoption rates, and Crane has changed his tune slightly. At the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit in New York on Tuesday, Crane said that he is less bullish on the impact that electric cars will have on consumers given the slow roll-out, and he now thinks that the greentech and consumer game changer could be solar rooftops.
NRG is one of the most aggressive power companies in the solar space in the U.S., and was the single largest recipient of the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program, largely through its solar projects. But Crane specifically thinks that distributed solar panels on rooftops could be the breakthrough technology, because of the rapidly dropping price of solar panels — “solar has dropped like a stone,” said Crane — and the fact that distributed solar doesn’t need high voltage transmission lines, the way that solar thermal plants in the deserts do.
Solar is so cheap today that unless you tell me that you did a solar analysis yesterday, not last year or last month, then your analysis is out of date, said Crane. “We’ve put all of our renewable eggs in one solar basket,” said Crane.
The rest of the clean energy industry, indeed, looks far gloomier. Nuclear is in a state of disarray, with the last nuclear plant in Japan closing next month, said Crane. Last Spring NRG decided to stop putting money into the development of the nuclear South Texas Project units 3&4, and had to record pretax charge of about $481 million. NRG sold off its wind business in 2010, because Crane said NRG thinks that the high voltage transmission lines needed to connect wind to the cities that use the wind power, will be a major barrier.
Crane still thinks electric vehicles could possibly be a game changer one day, but the roll out has been too slow. He owns three electric cars (I think a LEAF, a Tesla Roadster and a Fisker Karma), and NRG made investments in Aptera and has the small electric car charging project eVgo.
Despite that NRG has gotten a large amount of support in terms of loan guarantees from the DOE, Crane says that “the worst thing that happened to clean energy in 2011 was that it got politicized.” “Washington is irrelevant to what we’re trying to do,” said Crane.
Image courtesy of GigaOM (not taken at the Bloomberg event).