Skip to Content

Why Solar Execs Say the Game Is Already Over for Non-Renewable Energy

Solar power may currently make up less than 2% of the world’s energy mix, but the outlook of solar company executives is, uh, sunny.

“What’s important is new [energy] generation, and in the US, renewables are 70% of new generation. It’s game over,” said Tom Werner, CEO of SunPower, the California-based solar company, speaking at the Fortune Global Sustainability Forum on Thursday in Yunnan, China. “That’s why big companies in electric distribution, oil and gas are flooding into renewables.”

Christian Rynning-Tønnesen, CEO of Statkraft, the Norwegian renewable producer, was similarly bullish. “Solar will be the biggest source for electricity on the planet from 2035,” he said, adding that his calculations show renewables accounting for 80% of electricity production by 2050.

“The conversion to renewables is inevitable and it’s happening—it’s climate change and it’s costs…capitalism works,” said Werner, who claims solar will continue to benefit from the equivalent of technology’s Moore’s Law (the price of the technology has been plummeting).

What about the argument that you can’t power things when the sun isn’t out and the wind isn’t blowing?  Werner conceded storage is a challenge—particularly going from summer to winter—but argues that’s a tired argument. He points to ongoing innovation around storage and energy distribution, and says a flexible grid will be a large part of the solution.

What about the shifting policy of governments, particularly, the U.S.’s towards clean energy? Werner called that a challenge as well, but contended that the pull for renewables outmatches unsupportive policy.  “The current [U.S.] federal administration is doing everything it can to incentivize utilities to build a coal-fired power plant. There are none being built. It’s because their consumers want renewables and because they’re economically-wise.”

Marjorie Yang, Chairwoman of the Esquel Group, a Hong Kong-based apparel maker, said it’s on the business community to voice their support for renewable energy (and consistent policy) to governments.

Though Esquel was an early adopter of solar panels at its factories, Yang said for small companies—Esquel has annual revenues of $1.8 billion—the returns on renewables are not compelling.  Plus, “There’s a learning curve to using solar panels,” she said. She’d like to invest more but says she is waiting for “cleaner panels.”

For her, the real benefit of using renewables to power her factories, is that it helps attract young talent, she said.

More must-read stories from Fortune:

—Watch here: Fortune Global Sustainability Forum 2019 livestream
—Impossible Foods wants China to make its own meat
—Dow CEO Jim Fitterling has a counter-argument to the plastic backlash
—Former Sinopec chairman says Chinese executives think climate change can wait
—China’s Yangtze river basin—the world’s third-largest economy—is at great risk
Get Fortune’s The Loop newsletter on the revolutions in energy, technology, and sustainability.