Brad Mattson Why the American Solar Industry Is a Solar Phoenix


If Brad Mattson is bad at anything, it’s retirement. After a distinguished career in Silicon Valley — where he took not one, but two startups public — he had the luxury of reflection. He asked himself: “Has technology really made the world better?”

“Is the next generation of tablet important,” he wondered, “when people in Africa and India do not have clean water, basic sanitation, or lighting?”

Through his work in developing countries, Mattson came to the conclusion that a lack of energy is at the heart of the problem. Renewable energy is the solution.

Mattson likes all renewable energies, but sees particular potential for solar because of its ubiquity. On his watch, he saw solar technology grow to a point where it is now really popular. What we lack is widespread public support and a leader.

“When we decided to go to the moon, we went to the moon,” says Mattson amiably.

This is the foundation of his new book, The Solar Phoenix. Mattson paints a picture of where we are now, where we can go, and how we get there. When he says “we,” he means America.

The U.S. lost the battle of “Solar 1.0” to China, Mattson says, but we can win what he calls “Solar 2.0.” However, we cannot beat China on their playing field. The U.S. has to play our own game, and in order to do that, The Solar Phoenix presents a plan.

Unlike many other books that simply complain about our energy situation, the majority of The Solar Phoenix is about solutions. It presents a number of “roadmaps” with something for everyone:

  • Manufacturing
  • Technology
  • Products
  • Policy
  • Investment
  • Business models
  • Efficiency
  • Public support

The goal is to start a conversation both within and between these groups. This book is a good primer for the general public, as well as specialists; Mattson says that “sometimes it might get a little nerdy.” The depth of coverage is a testament to Mattson’s experience in industry and knowledge of the topic, but he points out that there are many people in each of these specialities who know more than he does. The goal is to get people talking.

Mattson admits that the breadth of The Solar Phoenix is ambitious, but the solution has to be. After spending time in venture capital, and as the current CEO of Siva Power, Mattson hopes that this book will help investors look at solar in a new light. He hopes that policymakers will re-examine how they intend to support solar energy, looking at best practices around the world. He hopes to bring solar manufacturing back to the U.S. in a big way, without necessarily sacrificing costs. If done right, he says, the U.S. can make solar kilo-watt hours cheaper than China.

We are on the cusp of an energy future, where solar power will play a huge role. “I’d like to see America play a role in this future,” says Mattson. But who will lead? “There are over 30 different associations dealing with solar. The power of these groups coming together would be awesome.”

Our recommendation? Read The Solar Phoenix and begin to think about how you can contribute to a sustainable future.