The chip industry and the solar industry are about the same age, according to Brian Halla, CEO of National Semiconductor.
But much of the difference ends there. The chip industry has mushroomed into a $300+ billion industry that sprawls across continents. Solar is about a $37 billion industry, or around one-tenth of the size. Why the difference? Chips offered consumers easy access to information, something they hadn't had before. Solar could be on the verge of doing the same thing: offering large, economical amounts of clean energy to replace fossil fuels.
And, like a lot of companies in Silicon Valley, National is trying to get into the action. It has developed a chipset, dubbed SolarMagic, which can improve the performance of panels. The company also bought Act Solar in March to bulk up its solar product portfolio.
National expects to play a role in controlling batteries in electric cars (power management is its specialty) and smart grid. One very interesting idea he suggested: the DC home. Right now, Energy from solar panels needs to be converted (via the inverter) from DC to AC so it can be used in the home. It then often gets re-converted into DC. Those conversions cause power losses. Eliminating the double conversion could thus lower power bills.
We sat down with Halla, who has been a fixture in the Valley for years, late last week and got his views on a wide range of topics. Check out the video here.