SunPower Founder Dick Swanson Retires
As of today, SunPower founder Richard Swanson is officially retired.
Swanson, at age 67, said he’s done with “14-hour days” and operations reviews and is ready to adapt to his new role as “elder statesman.” Swanson remains with SunPower (SPWR) on its technical advisory board.
The arc of Swanson’s career is a classic American success story.
Swanson received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford University in 1974 and joined the Stanford faculty, where his group developed the point-contact solar cell. Lab versions set a record 28 percent conversion efficiency in concentrator cells and 23 percent in large-area one-sun cells. In 1991, Dr. Swanson resigned from the faculty to found and work at SunPower. The company had some lean times, raised capital from Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, notably T.J. Rodgers, become a technological powerhouse and moved downstream. SunPower’s deal with French oil and gas conglomerate Total, kept the firm afloat and gave it backing.
Swanson went from Ph.D. science project to the world’s energy stage.
The solar industry is transitioning, said Swanson. The current phase of “explosive growth” has been driven by investment capital from public markets and incentives from Germany and Italy. But in Swanson’s words, “This is rapidly coming to an end.” He called the subsidy regimes “fatigued.”
The costs of solar are coming down so fast, “we’re approaching grid parity.” Swanson said that even with the Investment Tax Credit expiring at the end of 2016, the falling cost of solar will more than make up for that 30 percent reward. He declared, “We’ll have weaned ourselves off of subsidies. We will have arrived as an industry.”
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