Sharp Corporation is well known for its consumer electronics, but it’s also one of the world’s top solar module manufacturers of all time. In 2013, it was the 4th-largest solar module supplier in the world. The company also has a habit of breaking solar cell efficiency records. While the company is certainly focused on making money, it is also a strong leader environmentally. It makes many energy-efficient products and it has a goal of becoming an “Eco-Positive Company.”
For these reasons, Sharp was a 2013 Zayed Future Energy Prize (ZFEP) finalist in the “Large Corporation” category. As the ZFEP team wrote at the time: “By ‘Eco-Positive Company,’ Sharp means a company that works with all stakeholders in creating solutions that have significantly more positive impact on the environment than the negative impact caused by business activities.”
While many companies have popped up in recent years to take advantage of low solar power costs and growing demand, Sharp deserves credit for getting us to this point through decades of work.
“For more than 50 years, Sharp's efforts in research and development have led to groundbreaking solar solutions from lighthouses to space satellites to mega solar power plants.” Sharp started researching solar cells way back in 1959, one of the first companies to do so. It commenced production in 1963. For years, it was the largest solar PV producer in the world. (For the past several years, however, Chinese companies have held that title.)
“Half a century ago, in 1959, Sharp began developing solar cells. As a manufacturer of products that consume electricity, we've always felt it's our responsibility to create electricity as well. No other companies were thinking like that 50 years ago. We were one of the first to realize the potential of solar energy and have continued to develop it ever since. From lighthouses to space satellites to mega solar power plants, Sharp has been providing reliable solar solutions in an effort to free the world from carbon dependency,” the company writes.
"If we could find a way of generating electricity from limitless solar heat and light, that would benefit humankind to an extent we can scarcely imagine," Tokuji Hayakawa, founder of SHARP Corporation, wrote in an autobiography way back in 1970.
“"I believe the biggest issue for the future is the accumulation and storage of solar heat and light. While all living things enjoy the blessings of the sun, we have to rely on electricity from power stations. With magnificent heat and light streaming down on us, we must think of ways of using that blessing. This is where solar cells come in…”
Indeed, Mr Hayakawa was in a select group of people who could clearly see the future many decades before it arrived. And his work no doubt helped to bring that future more quickly. We are still around the corner from the ambitious dreams Mr Hayakawa expressed, but we are very, very close now. Actually, the transition is in progress, with solar power growing at a rapid pace as the cost of solar power becomes cheaper than electricity from the grid for more and more people, and as people without electricity get it through small, distributed solar power systems.
Here’s a little more foresight from Mr Hayakawa:
“We should think of ways to convert heat and light to electricity and accumulate it simply and cheaply in storage batteries. For example, if we can install solar systems on roofs, homes could be self sufficient in power. And if we attached such systems to the roofs of cars, we could eliminate our reliance on gasoline and eliminate emissions.”
That latter part is a little further out, if it ever becomes competitive with the option of simply powering these cars from stationary solar panel systems. However, we do already have experimental solar cars and even solar car races. The future is now! But I can’t wait to see what our energy systems look like in 30 years. If Sharp is right again, along with solar power, smart energy storage solutions will also be important.
Image Credit: Sharp Solar