Meet Our Local “Sun King”

Palisadian Ishaq Shahryar Is a Leader in the Solar Industry

Pacific Palisades resident Ishaq Shahryar recently opened Sun King Solar, a company on Via de la Paz that installs solar panels. Shahryar was a member of a team of scientists who developed the first terrestrial solar cell and the process of screen-printing cells on solar panels in 1972. The solar panel (above) converts sunlight into electricity to light his driveway.
Pacific Palisades resident Ishaq Shahryar recently opened Sun King Solar, a company on Via de la Paz that installs solar panels. Shahryar was a member of a team of scientists who developed the first terrestrial solar cell and the process of screen-printing cells on solar panels in 1972. The solar panel (above) converts sunlight into electricity to light his driveway.
Photo by Rich Schmitt, Staff Photographer

The title ‘Sun King’ may have belonged to France’s Louis XIV in the 1700s, but today Ishaq Shahryar has earned the nickname ‘ not for identifying himself with the Greek god Apollo, but for the advancements he has made in solar technology. A British scientific publication, New Scientist, first referred to Shahryar as the ‘Sun King’ in a 2002 article and the name stuck, Shahryar said, so he decided to call his new business, Sun King Solar, Inc. Shahryar, who has nearly 40 years of experience in the solar industry as a scientist and entrepreneur, recently opened Sun King Solar in the Atrium Building at 860 Via de la Paz, where he offers system design, engineering and installation of solar panels on residential and commercial buildings. ‘I have always been an environmentalist,’ said Shahryar, a resident of Pacific Palisades. ‘I am so glad the solar industry has taken off. I think people are seeing the danger of global warming.’ The solar panels convert sunlight directly into electricity, and depending on how many are installed, they will supply 50 to 100 percent of a consumer’s monthly electricity, Shahryar said. The panels even work on cloudy days, albeit not as efficiently. ‘It’s pollution-free, maintenance-free and noise-free,’ Shahrayr said. Business owners and homeowners can receive a 30-percent federal tax credit for installing solar panels. Homeowners have a $2,000 cap, but the U.S. government recently passed a bill to lift that restriction, which will be effective January 2009. Business owners can also write off the depreciation of their solar panels. The state of California offers cash rebates to offset the cost of solar installation on new and existing homes and commercial buildings as part of the California Solar Initiative, a 10-year $3.3-billion program that started in 2007. The rebates vary depending on the type of building and installation, but cover between 20 and 30 percent of the cost for the system, said Joel Davidson, Sun King Solar’s director of engineering. For example, an average homeowner can install a 3-kilowatt system for about $27,000 and receive more than $6,000 from the state. Many homeowners in Pacific Palisades have larger homes, so they typically install 6-kilowatt systems, which cost about $54,000 before tax credits and rebates, Davidson said. ‘The government’s tax breaks have all helped solar move forward,’ Shahryar said. Shahryar, who has lived here since 1981 with his wife Hafizah, first became interested in solar energy after graduating from college. He had earlier moved to the United States in 1956 from Kabul, Afghanistan, on a scholarship to study at UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara, earning a bachelor’s degree in physical chemistry and a master’s in international relations. Upon completion, Shahryar worked for aerospace companies that manufactured space solar cells for NASA’s unmanned satellites. In the early 1970s when the government began looking for alternative sources of energy, Shahryar took a job with Spectrolab, a division of Hughes Aircraft. With the help of two other scientists, he invented the first terrestrial solar cell and developed the process of screen-printing cells on solar panels, which is still used in the market today. ‘They used to make fun of me,’ Shahryar said of some of his colleagues who thought it was impossible to screen-print the solar cells. ‘It was quite an invention.’ Shahryar then traveled around the world to sell the concept of sun being converted into electricity. ‘And I became a believer.’ When Hughes Aircraft wanted to focus more on space, Shahryar founded his own company, Solec International Inc., in 1976. His company, located in Hawthorne, commercialized the field of photovoltaics and outfitted more than 1,000 homes and businesses in Southern California as well as in India and Indonesia with solar panels. In 1993, Shahryar received a U.S. patent for creating a 20-percent-efficient silicon solar cell. A year later, he sold Solec International to Sanyo/Sumitomo of Japan and then founded and managed Solar Utility Inc., in Los Angeles. With that company, he developed the famous solar-powered Ferris wheel on Santa Monica Pier. In 2001, he applied for a new patent that reduces the manufacturing cost of silicon solar cells by 50 percent. A year later, Shahryar sold his company in order to volunteer as the Afghan ambassador to the United States because he had a desire to help his home country. He was the first Afghan ambassador in 23 years, representing the government of Hamid Karzai, who became Afghanistan’s new president in the summer of 2002, following the defeat of Taliban forces. Shahryar resigned in 2003 and then helped establish the Afghanistan Technical and Vocational Institute in Kabul. In the first year, the tuition-free school enrolled 600 students and now has 1,000. Shahryar hopes to create satellite campuses in other parts of the country. Wanting to return to his passion of photovoltaics, he decided to start Sun King Solar this year. ‘I don’t know anything else,’ the 72-year-old said, adding that he is not interested in retiring. ‘I’ve worked all my life; I think I am making a contribution, so why quit?’ He is expanding his company daily, but currently has eight employees, including his son, Alexander, a UCLA graduate with a degree in finance. ‘I train him,’ Shahryar said. ‘I want him to learn everything from A through Z.’ His daughter, Jahan, is attending college in California, studying political science. In the next three to four years, Shahryar’s goal is to manufacture a new solar technology that is being developed called thin film. This technology should be cheaper to manufacture and would help government eliminate solar energy subsidizes. After the new technology is developed, Shahryar hopes the government will require all homes and businesses to install solar panels. If that happens, solar energy could ultimately provide 20 percent of the energy used in the United States. For more information about Sun King Solar Inc., visit www.sunkingsolarpv.com, call (310) 230-8900 or e-mail info@sunkingsolarpv.com. To find out more about the California Solar Initiative, visit www.gosolarcalifornia.org.

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