Siddika Pasi wants you to know that she and her fellow engineers at First Solar are doing everything they can to make the company’s photovoltaic power plants do more and cost less. If all goes as envisioned, one day the performance of solar power will have been improved so much and the barriers to adoption sufficiently removed, that its use will be widespread, and innovations in utility scale solar could even filter into residential DIY products. Home Depot might create a new department for rooftop panels and installation kits. We are certainly not there yet. Many of the barriers have as much to do with political and business model as engineering limitations, and some might dismiss the notion as wishful thinking, but then, many great things tend to seem impossible up until the point when they aren’t.
Siddika’s professional journey began with no less than a desire to harness the heavens. The self-described “science and math geek” initially saw studies in physics as a pathway to work for NASA, ultimately finding that mechanical engineering, an area of great interest, could also take her there. After college, she navigated several economic ups and downs, deploying her skills in consulting and commercial work when available, returning to academic research in areas of interest when it was not. As her career unfolded, instead of rockets and satellites she found her best opportunities drawing her into energy efficiency, then energy generation itself, and ultimately to her current work in renewable energy.
At First Solar she is part of a development group charged with creating the company’s next class of PV power plant design. This means that, as compared to incremental change designed to yield the highest value to the firm for an existing product, her team uses the data captured from current installations to brainstorm ways to create systems that perform substantially better or can be implemented at considerably less cost.
For an engineer (no offense, Siddika) she is remarkably aware of and conversant with the management strategy and economic sustainability considerations of product development. Siddika matter-of-factly declared, “If you can’t show a business case, it can’t be incorporated into the design.” Anyone hoping to encourage greater production of renewable energy ought to take note.
I asked Siddika what she thought it would take to generate more popular interest in our (clean) energy future. She thinks that, in time, the visible effects of climate change will become more apparent. Whether we want to pay attention or not, change will continue to come and we will be ultimately have to deal with the consequences of our choices. I am normally a proponent crafting a positive reinforcement message and try to avoid doom and gloom, but such a scenario would certainly expose the unrealized externalities of our current arrangement. Hopefully, events like the floods in Australia will not need to become completely widespread before minds begin to change.
If we really get serious about proactively meeting our energy needs with better sources and technology, we can look back on this time in history as yet another moment when many people came together to solve a problem that was big, difficult and completely worthwhile. We just need plenty of bright, hard working and dedicated hands to see that come together. Siddika may not have ended up at NASA as she had dreamed, but I think we need talent and drive like hers on Earth as much as we do on Mars.