Privately Funded Solar Energy Companies Thrive as Solar Industry Booms

Some may think of the solar energy industry as new and even in need of government help, but those who have worked in it for decades say plenty of privately funded solar power companies are thriving.

Dan Shugar has built the largest solar plants in the world and is now CEO of Solaria Corporation.

"Over the last 20 years, solar has grown from 30 megawatts of shipments to 17,000 megawatts of shipments," he said. "Solar has been the fastest-growing energy technology by far."

Arno Harris, the CEO of Recurrent Energy, which plans large solar projects, agrees.

"Solar power is booming -- and fundamentally because solar is becoming more and more affordable every day," he said.

The solar industry has grown from a mere 20 companies in the 1980s to more than 5,000 today.

"There's been an explosion in growth in solar," Shugar said. "Last year the solar market doubled in the U.S. It's doubling again this year."

And Harris notes the industry now employees 100,000 people, and that it is actually a net exporter, to the tune of $2 billion a year.

As solar companies thrive in a free market, more people are questioning why federal taxpayers should be subsidizing them, as happened in the controversial case of Solyndra, which when bankrupt despite receiving a $530 million federal stimulus loan.

Solar power is becoming increasingly competitive because prices are falling. In fact, solar is now cheaper than power from a new nuclear plant or a new coal-fired plant.

That explains why it is attracting large amounts of private investment.

"What we need to do is really focus on our strengths - which is letting the venture capital community do its work, and letting the government do its work and letting consumers become really sophisticated shoppers in this sphere," Lisa Margonelli of the New America Foundation said.

Margonelli favors green energy but says a more efficient and direct way to support solar is to give consumers help in buying solar panels rather than giving loans to the companies to make them.

"When you have the government giving away a lot of risk-free money, companies kind of change their orientation towards courting Washington and away from courting consumers," she said.