In 2003 the cost of solar panels was a staggering $10 per watt, one of the largest impediments to widespread adoption. However, today Photovoltaic (PV) modules have been reported to be as low as 10 cents per Watt in some SE Asian markets!  It’s not just a reflection of technological advancement, but also the result of relentless pursuit, strategic innovation, and the efforts of visionaries and executives working to scale the infrastructure required to bring the clean energy transition into view. The more the cost can be driven down the more it can be popularized and industrialized, and with solar technology, that cost begins at the solar cell. 

One company leading the solar revolution and continually innovating is Trina Solar. With over 150 GW of modules shipped since its inception and an impressive 5GW shipped to the US just last year—ranking number one in importation volumes—Trina Solar has stood for over a decade as a global leader in solar technology. They recently announced the expansion of their manufacturing into the US with their Wilmer, TX solar module facility. 

A key figure in Trina Solar’s impressive growth story is Steven Zhu, President of Trina Solar US. After spending his childhood in China, Zhu followed in his parents’ footsteps pursuing higher education in the United States at UVA.  After a stint at IBM, he transitioned into entrepreneurship.  His eventual fateful meeting with Trina’s Chairman Gao is a little-told but worthwhile story and it’s captured here in today’s episode. His leadership trajectory, marked by an impeccable balance of ambition and conservative execution, has been pivotal for the company. Steven’s visionary leadership has not only helped Trina weather the industry’s fluctuating highs and lows but also played a significant role in making solar energy more accessible and affordable.

Steven’s insights detail the importance of localization, technological efficiency, customer-centricity, and a balanced commercial approach. Illustrating the urgent need for a transition towards a clean, sustainable energy future, he emphasizes that to achieve our clean energy goals and reach 100 GW on the US grid, we need a continued diversification of the supply chain to reduce costs. Merely banking on incentives is not sustainable for achieving grid parity. 

This conversation underscores the broader lesson—the world must invest not only in renewable energy but also in strategic, sustainable, and diversified solutions to meet our critical energy demands. 

I hope you enjoy this rare glimpse into the foundational years of Trina Solar through the eyes of one of its key contributors.