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RIP Steve Jobs and 3 Lessons for the Solar Hot Water Business

R.I.P. Steve Jobs

When Steve Jobs resigned as CEO of Apple, I wrote a blog post on RenewableEnergyWorld.com about lessons that the solar PV industry could learn from him. Now, as the news streams in about his death, I’d like to add my thoughts about what the solar thermal industry can learn from Apple and Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs/Solar Thermal Lesson #1: It’s okay to be #2, so long as you’re working hard to be the best at what YOU do. Even with all of Apple’s success today, the world is still dominated by PC based computers. Similarly, the solar thermal industry gets less attention from the press and policy makers. Being the #2 computer platform didn’t stop Steve Jobs from innovating and finding an extremely loyal following for Apple products. In the same way, solar thermal installers must continue to develop our own customer base that can most benefit from solar hot water and solar thermal applications.

Consequently, we must aggressively engage with apartment building owners, hotels, hospitals, colleges, and all multi-residential facilities, educating them about solar hot water’s benefits. With centralized heating systems and limited roof space, solar thermal is clearly worthy of the owner’s attention, and like Jobs, we must continue to send the message that solar thermal works and that it is cost effective for these applications (and more) —even without subsidies.

Steve Jobs/Solar Thermal Lesson #2: Rely less on policy and more on creating the market. While the CSI Thermal program here in California is in full swing, according to the latest research from SEIA, solar thermal growth in California is still pretty flat. I can’t think of any way that Jobs and Apple were markedly affected by a government policy, except perhaps NAFTA. But Free Trade benefits everyone. So, when it comes down to it, the Apple team and Jobs became successful without policy makers and incentives. They charged premium prices to customers, who gladly stood on a line for hours, sometimes days.

In the same way, solar thermal—and PV—must strive to provide solar thermal products and services that cost effectively serve its commercial and residential customers without depending on subsidies. In fact, Free Hot Water did just that recently, reducing prices on our new OG300 systems to make solar thermal more affordable for residential customers. Do subsidies help? Of course they do, but solar thermal is and will remain cost effective today, especially for large commercial installations listed above.

Steve/Solar Thermal Lesson #3: Believe in what you do and persevere. Steve Jobs has a great deal of success, but he also had a great deal of failure, being ousted from Apple in 1985. But he kept going, creating another computer company, NeXT… which also failed. And yet, Jobs didn’t stop innovating. He founded invested in Pixar and eventually returned to Apple to save it from bankruptcy. He didn’t do it for the money, but because he wanted to challenge the status quo. He didn’t believe that everyone should settle for a boring, complicated PC computer –or smart phone or slate computer.

Similarly, like Apple, solar thermal technology is very different from gas, propane, and electric water heating. Those energy sources currently may be the default water heating energies in America, but that’s not the case in other countries. Europe, Israel, and China are filled with solar water heaters and very common. Why? Because they lack the gas and coal that’s so abundant and cheap in the U.S, and so free solar energy is more valuable and prized.

Despite American market challenges, as an industry, we must continue to show people that there is another source of thermal heating power and that it is available throughout the world, today and for the foreseeable future–especially as fossil fuel prices rise.

Those are our thoughts on lessons we can learn from Steve Jobs’ life and work. If you have more thoughts related to the solar thermal industry, pleas share them in the comments.

Finally, we’d like to leave you with some inspiring quotes from Steve Jobs. At Free Hot Water, we celebrate his life and his worldwide inspiration to think differently. We hope you do too.

Living Life

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

– Stanford commencement speech 2005

Working Hard

“I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard on something, but working on Macintosh was the neatest experience of my life. Almost everyone who worked on it will say that. None of us wanted to release it at the end. It was as though we knew that once it was out of our hands, it wouldn’t be ours any more. “When we finally presented it at the shareholders’ meeting, everyone in the auditorium stood up and gave it a 5-minute ovation. What was incredible to me was that I could see the Mac team in the first few rows. It was as though none of us could believe that we’d actually finished it. Everyone started crying.”

– Playboy magazine 1985

Doing the Work for Customers

“There’s nothing that makes my day more than getting an e-mail from some random person in the universe who just bought an iPad over in the UK and tells me the story about how it’s the coolest product they’ve ever brought home in their lives. That’s what keeps me going. It’s what kept me 5 years ago [when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer], it’s what kept me going 10 years ago when the doors were almost closed [on Apple]. And it’s what will keep me going 5 years from now whatever happens.”

- AllThingsD Conference, 2010

Doing the Work for Yourself

“We think the Mac will sell zillions, but we didn’t build the Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build. When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”
– Playboy magazine 1985


“That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
– Business Week 1998


“Innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10.30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem. It’s ad hoc meetings of six people called by someone who thinks he has figured out the coolest new thing ever and who wants to know what other people think of his idea. And it comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”
– Business Week 2004


“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
– Stanford commencement speech 2005

Doing what you love


“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”
– Stanford commencement speech 2005


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One Response to RIP Steve Jobs and 3 Lessons for the Solar Hot Water Business

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