What does it take to become a leading professional in the Solar panel market?

Never before has there been a time as good as the present for Solar energy, with the increasing attention and urgency to decarbonize society’s across the globe. Solar energy’s plummeting prices has enabled it to be a much more viable option in recent times. However, due to these plummeting prices, margins for players in the solar market are decreasing making it an extremely price-sensitive market. This has been amplified with the cheaper yet durable solar components offered by Chinese-counterparts. Hence, being a market leader is one part, being one for a sustained period over a decade, is an achievement in itself which REC Solar has achieved.

We had the honour of interviewing Mr. Jan Bicker, CEO of REC Solar to share his expert insights to shed some light on what it takes to not just become a pioneer in the solar energy market, but also sustain this growth over two decades, and what it takes to build a successful career in this industry.

SE: Can you talk us through your career trajectory? What has been the biggest learning you have had so far in your career?

JB: I have been working in large manufacturing companies most of my career. For more than 5 years I am now working for REC, Solar’s most trusted. It has been absolutely astonishing to me how much of a difference it makes to work in an industry that changes the world and makes a real difference to our future. This has been amazing not only for me but also for the REC Group as a whole.  

SE: You have been with REC since 2016 as a CFO, and now took over as a CEO. What is it like working for REC Group, and what sets REC apart from its competitors?

JB: For 25 years, as long as the industry is old, REC has been empowering consumers with clean solar energy through pioneering technology. Take our latest innovation, the multiple award-winner REC Alpha solar series, has a leading power density and with its next generation we are just pushing it even higher. The power density (power per square meter) is the key metric, not the absolute power output, which is allowing households and businesses to get more power out of their roof and therefore save more on their electricity bill. As Solar’s Most Trusted, REC is known for its patented innovations and multiple award-winning products with reliable long-term performance.

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REC’s other cornerstone is advanced and highly efficient manufacturing. This is allowing us also to save more on natural resources. Our solar panels are from the very beginning designed to last very long and be as much as possible recycled once necessary.

The last but for sure not the least one is our strong commitment to trustful relationships with our customers. We carefully listen to their needs, we are easily approachable through our local teams and share our expertise to better support their business, for example through our dedicated REC Partner Program for distributors and REC Certified Solar Professional Program for installers.

SE: Now that you have taken over the reins at REC, can you give us a glimpse of the vision you have for the company?

JB: REC’s most important asset is – and has been for 25 years – our innovations, which is why we’re totally focused on expanding our successful REC Alpha Series. We just launched a new generation of our multiple award-winning Alpha module, the Alpha Pure Series. With an innovative gapless cell layout, the new REC Alpha Pure Series has a power density of 219W/m2 ,one of the highest power densities on the market, alongside its elegant appearance and lead-free construction. This means the panel meets the European RoHS regulation, which is mandatory for all kinds of electrical products, but not for photovoltaic panels.  

It’s good that this entire question of the environmental footprint is gaining traction. We already have the world’s lowest carbon footprint for our silicon production in Norway. But we have to keep up the momentum. These innovations are a testament to REC’s continued commitment to clean solar energy while saving on natural resources, reducing waste and eliminating hazardous components.

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We’re also looking to expand capacity at our Singapore site as well as with a potential new factory in France. We have already expanded before in Singapore, and shown there is a real demand for REC solar panels ‘Made in Singapore’, especially in the US, where we in fact sell everything we supply.

SE: In your experience so far in the solar space as an executive of one of the leading firms, how has the industry changed over time, and how has REC managed to stay robust to this change to reach where it is today, especially with many Chinese players flooding the market?

JB: We believe solar is today a key pillar in empowering people with clean energy – and mitigating climate change. Thanks to bold innovations, solar generation costs are today at very few Dollar Cents per kWh and therefore absolutely competitive with fossil fuels. So, it’s affordable, it can be placed on existing rooftops, it is quickly deployable and is performing for 25 years or more. Solar energy is therefore already today accessible for many households, businesses and industries. It is allowed to easily contribute to fighting climate change and save on electricity bills at the same time. Looking back, one or two decades, only the biggest solar enthusiasts have been seeing this future, the rest of the world has continuously and strongly underestimated solar’s potential. 

While REC Group is clearly a “boutique” player in this industry, looking at global production capacities, we have been constantly setting the pace when it comes to high efficiencies, novel and here-to-stay products, acknowledged by multiple awards. We pay high attention to offer consumers a leading power density; it’s not difficult to deliver higher absolute power output if you make the module a lot larger. And we need to stress that not every panel is the same way green. We want to lead by example and are therefore minimizing waste, water, energy and hazardous materials as much as possible. On this one, we are already working on the next big innovation for the industry: upgrading silicon waste to be reused.

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SE: What challenges does today’s solar industry face and where do you think the industry is heading?

JB: Actually, Corona has reinforced the focus on sustainability at all levels – in policymaking, business, and also among consumers. New policy programs such as the Green Deal in Europe are springing up; corporations are making huge investments in solar power; and after months of home office, more consumers are discovering solar as a simple way to cut electricity bills, be more autonomous, and contribute to reducing carbon emissions. We are confident that by 2050, solar will be the absolutely dominant energy source, in an electricity market that will by then have grown significantly. 

But, in order to facilitate global energy transitions, we need bold innovations and a network of partners who are joining us on our mission to empower people with clean solar energy – be it distributors and installers, suppliers but also banks and politics. What the world needs to do is to go the last mile now, meaning get fully rid of fossil fuel subsidies, open up all markets for new business models e.g. for tenants, make financing easily accessible and invest also more in smart grids, e-mobility and large scale batteries.

REC Group will turn 25 years old this year, since being founded back in 1996. How significant will this be, being around for such a long time especially in an industry which has picked up only in the past decade?

I can honestly say it’s a great honour to take over at the helm of a company that is such a pioneer in the solar industry. REC is basically as old as the industry itself. Not many companies can stake a claim to this longevity! Having a management team with so much experience and such a great track record also makes my job a lot easier.

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