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Every cleantech company justified itself with conventional truths about the need for a cleaner world. They deluded themselves into believing that an overwhelming social need for alternative energy solutions implied an overwhelming business opportunity for cleantech companies of all kinds. Consider how conventional it had become by 2006 to be bullish on solar. That year, President George W. Bush heralded a future of “solar roofs that will enable the American family to be able to generate their own electricity.” Investor and cleantech executive Bill Gross declared that the “potential for solar is enormous.” Suvi Sharma, then-CEO of solar manufacturer Solaria, admitted that while “there is a gold rush feeling” to solar, “there’s also real gold here—or, in our case, sunshine.” But rushing to embrace the convention sent scores of solar panel companies—Q-Cells, Evergreen Solar, SpectraWatt, and even Gross’s own Energy Innovations, to name just a few—from promising beginnings to bankruptcy court very quickly. Each of the casualties had described their bright futures using broad conventions on which everybody agreed. Great companies have secrets: specific reasons for success that other people don’t see.
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