What a Georgia-based solar technology company can tell us about what’s right and wrong with U.S. innovation and energy policy.

Solar-Panels-GeorgiaThe White House hopes green energy can power the 21st century, from research jobs for the lab coats to bolt-screwing jobs for the blue collars. But the United States’ buffet of clean tech subsidies pales in comparison to China, and green companies know it. That’s why some manufacturing companies, like Evergreen in Massachusetts, have packed up and moved to China, where work is cheaper and subsidies are sweeter.

Suniva is a different story. A leading manufacturer of high-efficiency solar cells, the Georgia-based company is an export powerhouse, winning a 2010 award from the U.S Export-Import Bank for its $2 million deal with India. The company more than doubled in size to 170 employees in 2010. “We’re not going to leave here,” says J. Bryan Ashley, Chief Marketing Officer at Suniva. “This is our home.”

To understand why the company still builds on U.S. soil, you have to understand how it was born. Suniva’s story began in the 1980s, when the Department of Energy asked Professor Ajeet Rohatgi to start a solar energy research program at Georgia Tech. The government-backed lab proved to be a nationwide-leader in patents and solutions for solar energy companies (including Evergreen). It eventually gave birth to Suniva, which took exclusive ownership of the patents developed at Georgia Tech. Rohatgi’s lab continues to supply the company with a steady stream of government-backed research to help it sharpen its edge.

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Source: Derek Thompson | The Atlantic
Photo: The Atlantic