Time magazine, writing about the rising hopes for solar power, notes a $250 million investment by the late John Walton in a solar company that is now showing great promise thanks to "thin-film" solar panels.
It was that reality that led the solar arm of BP to pull out of the thin-film industry in 2002, claiming that the economics would never add up. But the numbers have changed, thanks largely to the enormous success of Phoenix's First Solar. Though the company was launched in 1999, it has its origins in a solar start-up that had been around since the mid-1980s. First Solar spent years tinkering before moving to mass production. It was able to weather those early days of profitless experimentation because it had a rich, patient backer: Wal-Mart heir John Walton, who pumped $250 million into First Solar before his death in 2005.
Walton's investment has paid off handsomely. Since it began commercial production of thin-film modules in 2002 (much of the output has been sold to small-scale solar farms in Germany, where generous subsidies have primed the market), the company has done nothing but grow.