One of the anecdotes I’ve been hearing a lot about in the halls at Solar Power International in Orlando this week came from the opening day CEO panel addressing “Change in an Uncertain Market.” The moderator asked the CEOs whether they thought the solar industry would be better under a Romney or Obama administration. The surprise? Everyone ran for safety, answering that it wouldn’t matter for them or the industry who wins in November.
As a CEO, I know why no one wanted to answer the question. At the end of the day, CEOs have to hold the interests of their companies and shareholders paramount. That means they have to be prepared to work with whoever is occupying the White House. And there’s no value to politicizing the industry by taking sides if you make enemies in places where you need friends. So when in doubt, the safe answer wins.
But there’s a downside to giving a safe answer in a situation where the audience knows there are clear differences. It hurts credibility because it leaves the audience questioning whether the answer is authentic.
Here’s how I would have answered the question had I been on the panel.
First, solar is going to play a part in mainstream energy markets no matter who is in the White House next spring. Ask any energy expert what our future holds and the answer is always some combination of “solar, wind, and gas.” Why? Solar is increasingly cost-competitive, the need for renewables is increasingly popular with voters, and once our economy recovers we’re going to need a lot more generation.