The National Academies
Dr. Wessner opened the proceedings by welcoming participants and noting the high level of interest in the topic of photovoltaic manufacturing indicated by the full meeting room. He clarified that the program on photovoltaics was not designed to showcase the “latest and keenest in technology,” but that its emphasis instead was “how we can deploy those technologies, and how we can set about doing it quickly as possible.”
He mentioned that the STEP program, under the guidance of Gordon Moore, Ambassador Alan Wolff, and others, had held numerous symposia on collaborations among industry, government, and academia. He also noted a general “policy hiatus in this area” that invited informed discussion. He welcomed the presence on the program of a representative from the InterUniversity Microelectronics Center in Belgium, which would present a European version of a successful collaboration.
Dr. Wessner noted that an evaluative study of partnerships, chaired by Gordon Moore, had concluded that such partnerships do work, and they work best “when they’re properly structured, funded, managed, and led.” He added his own personal conviction that industrial partners, rather than academia or government, were best situated to take the lead on multisector consortia. Successful consortia, he said, had the opportunity to contribute to national growth, to the security of the nation “in more profound ways than simple military force,” and to job growth as a central force in economic recovery.
He mentioned two programs, the Small Business Innovation Research program, within the Small Business Administration, and the Technology Innovation Program, within NIST, that had made “remarkable progress.” He noted that many success stories have come out of both programs, and advocated continued use of
these models rather than a search for new ones. “We tend to forget where some of the nurturing of small firms comes from. It comes from proven and existing mechanisms that help us do things quickly, without using exorbitant sums of money. This is easier and more effective when you have mechanisms already in place. You might be able to design a better mechanism, but that would take years, and may not be better after all.”
A key question for any country, said Dr. Wessner, is “how to keep the industry we have and generate new industries in the future.” Something that is seldom discussed in Washington, he said, is “the fierce locational competition for the industries of today and tomorrow.” It should not be solely the concern of lobbyists to support industries and create an attractive environment, he said, because industry is essential for the growth of the country as a whole. One way to do that, he said, is to bring together the tremendous assets of the research universities of the United States, the vibrant industrial structure, and an “informed and activist government with the funds necessary to help us cooperate.”
He suggested that the field of photovoltaics—the topic of the symposium—could benefit from such collaboration, as have semiconductors and other fields in the past, and that the symposium attendees were well qualified to contribute to both a stronger policy framework and practical steps needed to forge collaborations at many levels. He thanked, in particular, Clark McFadden, an attorney who had helped lay the groundwork for photovoltaics consortia, and John Lushetsky of the Department of Energy, whose department led the way in support of the symposium.