News
Sponsored
Solar
U.S. market

Solar's unlikeliest billionaire has a new venture

Helmed by industry veteran Dean Solon and Recom Technologies CEO Hamlet Tunyan, the project aims to reshore solar manufacturing.

|
Published
June 17, 2024
Listen to the episode on:
Apple Podcast LogoSpotify Logo

Photo credit: Costfoto / NurPhoto via Getty Images

Photo credit: Costfoto / NurPhoto via Getty Images

Three decades ago, there weren't many who would have expected Dean Solon to make one of the United States solar industry’s few billion-dollar fortunes. But during the solar boom of the 2000 and 2010s, the Purdue dropout and Disney fanatic supplied the unglamorous “balance of plant” tech the industry needed. 

Now, Solon is launching his latest manufacturing project: a joint venture with Hamlet Tunyan, CEO of solar module company Recom Technologies. 

  • The top line: Solon and Tunyan recently launched ReCreate, a new solar manufacturing facility in Tennessee that will produce solar cells and modules. The partnership between Solon’s most recent startup, Create Energy, and Tunyan’s France-based PV manufacturer is poised to take advantage of a newly friendly environment for U.S.-produced equipment created by the Inflation Reduction Act.
  • The market grounding: While the U.S. has some catching up to do with a China that has perfected the art of the cheap solar module, the IRA is prompting a wave of reshoring of clean energy manufacturing — especially as developers look to take advantage of a tax credit bump for using domestically produced materials. Tunyan said in a statement that ReCreate will “set the standard for the solar module and cell markets.”

A self-described “solar dude” who enjoys heckling and challenging the industry status quo, Solon has spent 30 years developing everything from cable assemblies to combiner boxes for photovoltaics. 

He founded Shoals, an industry leader in electrical balance of systems solutions for solar and batteries, in 1996. Early-2000s requests from First Solar and SunPower to develop their wiring and junction boxes put Shoals — and Solon — on the map. By the time he exited the company in early-2022, he had proved that there’s money to be made in domestic solar production. Estimates put his current net worth at over $2 billion

Post-exit, Solon started his next enterprise: Create Energy, a renewable energy manufacturer focused on engineering and research and development in solar, battery energy storage, and e-mobility. ReCreate — a portmanteau of Create and Recom — said in a statement that it plans to produce up to 10 GW of solar cells and modules each year at its Tennessee facility.

Industry-wide, Solon remains known for his gregarious, maverick nature that inspired him to color-code the uniforms of Shoals employees based on their similarities to Sesame Street characters. A frequent wearer of “jorts,” Solon is named on at least 30 granted and pending patents. 

Listen to the episode on:
Apple Podcast LogoSpotify Logo
No items found.
No items found.
No items found.
No items found.

Solon’s solar supply bet

As a part of the ReCreate partnership, Create’s existing manufacturing facility in Portland, Tennessee, will house the new production plant. However, no manufacturing timeline has yet been announced. 

The joint venture aims to couple U.S. manufacturing with EU-driven solar industry standards to bump up consumption of U.S.-produced solar products — and ultimately retoggle the markets to avoid an overreliance on imported solar, largely from China. 

It’s not clear yet what the price differential will be for the ReCreate-produced materials, versus what’s already on the market. But Solon has made a career of proving that the industry will pay a bit more for what he makes. Both at Shoals and now at Create, his plug-and-play solar equipment is known for safety, reliability, and easy installation. 

“You can’t look up the phone book and say, ‘I need to find me a tool and die maker.’ They’re gone, right? Those jobs have been moved overseas,” said Solon in a recent episode of the Power Players podcast. He added that it’s going to take time for the next generation of U.S. energy technicians to learn manufacturing best practices and specialized skills.

In the meantime, he’s apparently betting that the industry is still willing to pay the made-in-America premium to expedite the installation process and cut back on labor and maintenance costs — and it’s likely that the IRA will make that an easier bet than it would have been a few years ago.

No items found.