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Can Solar Energy Actually Compete in a Free Market? One Energy CEO’s Surprising Answer

DEPCOM Power CEO Johnnie Taul explains why the free market future of solar energy is so bright. 

This week FEE sat down with Johnnie Taul, the CEO of DEPCOM Power, to discuss energy markets and renewable energy. Based in Scottsdale Arizona, DEPCOM Power is one of the fastest growing energy companies in the world. In 2018, it landed in the fifth spot on INC’s list of the fastest growing private companies. 

As president, Taul oversaw a run that saw revenues soar nearly 4,000 percent in a three-year span and pull in revenues of $220 million in just its fourth year in operation. 

In a wide-ranging interview with FEE*, Taul discusses misconceptions about solar power and explains why he believes the future for solar is so bright. 

FEE: You’re a free market guy. And you run a green energy company. How’d that happen?

We’re certainly unique in being a free market, conservative renewable energy company. Thinking back to how we were founded, about a dozen years ago a number of us entered the innovative renewable space from a large scale construction and diverse power background. The goal was to bring that big power mindset to a new and emerging market that had a lot of potential. 

When many libertarians think of solar energy, they think of tax subsidies and government propping it up in one form or another. Are they wrong?

That view is not necessarily inaccurate; it’s outdated. There’s a misperception today that solar is high cost and heavily reliant on subsidies. That’s no longer the case. 

In early 2008, when we entered the solar arena, solar energy was the most expensive form of electricity available. Over 35 cents a kilowatt hour range. Fast forward twelve or thirteen years, it’s now the lowest form cost of electricity levelized in history. 

Point blank question: Can solar really compete with oil and natural gas in a free market? 

It absolutely can today—at utility scale. The sector of solar we are in is the utility market segment: large scale power plants. 

Lazard has a study where they look at a levelized, unsubsidized comparison of the various generation sources. Utility scale solar is the lowest cost of new generation that is available today, roughly 3 cents per kilowatt hour equivalent. Ten, twelve years ago that was over 30 cents, so it’s come a long way.

Now when you look in the commercial segment of solar—especially residential rooftop, which is usually what I get asked about by folks not familiar with the industry—that is still much higher cost. It doesn’t have the scale that utility does. 

Is this why solar is such a fast growing energy source? I saw its average annual growth rate over the last ten years is more than 40 percent. Is this why solar is booming?

Exactly. Costs have been reduced over 90 percent in the last decade. This has been the fuel behind the economic growth, instead of subsidies and mandates.