AEE Solar Dealer Conference Review

resized AEE Solar conferencecollage10 AEE Solar Dealer Conference Review

AEE Solar, which sells exclusively wholesale renewable energy sourcesand components to renewable energy resellers, contractors, integratorsand installers held its annual conference and expo February 17-20 inMesa, Arizona.

It is one of the primary solar distributor organizationsin the U.S., and it aids many solar panel manufacturers in reachingtheir end markets. The main 3 days of the event included numerousclasses, workshops and expo demos of cutting-edge products andservices. Only approximately four major solar photovoltaic (PV) modulemanufacturers were represented at the expo, although there was anabundance of solar inverter and controller companies, as well as otherelements of the supply chain.

This application-oriented conference included a wide array ofpresentations on critical issues facing the solar industry such as: PV market economic status, code training for installers, shade mitigation, policy advocacy, residential and commercial financing,backup power sources, and solar system pre-screen modeling andperformance monitoring. Interesting concepts were raised during theevent such as the need for battery power backup on residential solarsystems tied to the local grid. Typically, backup power is onlynecessary during a power outage, and the cost is not warranted unlessthe homeis located in geographic area frequently affected by inclement weatheror power grid failure due to demand surges. What’s more, in many cases,the battery life is shorter than the panels themselves.

However, in the case of utility-scale solar powerplants, unfortunately, there is significantly less emphasis on batterypower storage across the industry, especially in preparation for whensolar becomes a much higher percentage of a utility’s overall energy portfolio.Many of the battery suppliers exhibiting at the event are conductingresearch and development on optimal materials for these applicationsand one in particular, Exide Battery, was awarded stimulus funding forthis key area of study. In contrast to electric hybrid vehicle batterytechnology, the performance metrics are quite different and thebatteries for plants will be required to last longer than theirexpected 10-15 year lifetime. Major infrastructure projects such aspower plants are required to last 35-50 years, in general, so replacingbattery backup power systems every 10 years is not desirable.

In terms of commercial solar monitoring systems, Draker Laboratoriesshowcased a number of innovative solutions for evaluating performanceof a renewable energy system. Of course, after implementing a new solarsystem for a building, one cannot simply walk away and expecteverything to be functioning optimally over time without anymaintenance. This company provides high-performance hardware monitoringand software-as-a-service data management systems for commercial-scalerenewable energy systems including: solar PV, wind, solar thermal andhybrid power. Their Sentalis (TM) product line is an end-to-end (sourceto grid) solution that includes: field instrumentation, remote datacollection, data hosting, and a web-based user interface, encompassingperformance trends, energy production statistics, carbon emissionsoffsets, alarms and a raw data viewer. As more companies or government buildings enact new LEED standards, this product will be extremely handy for energy facility managers.

With respect to financial analysis of the investment commercial andresidential solar power offers to the customer, OnGrid Solardemonstrated its product portfolio through its exhibition and severalclasses during the AEE Solar Dealer Conference. This company sells aninnovative software package to solar installers and distributors, whichcalculates the combined benefit from incentives such as: rebates, tax credits, depreciation, solar renewable energy credits, feed-in tariffs,etc. while also thoroughly evaluating the rate of return and yield of asolar system compared to conventional investments like stocks andbonds. This software can be updating regularly to include energy ratesand new incentive programs for selected regions of the country. It isvery useful for installers in establishing the business case and aproposal for a customer to go green.

In any case, the AEE Solar Dealer Conference offered solar patrons theopportunity to learn more about new products and services in theindustry. Amidst the enthusiasm for growth in 2010, it was essentially a consensus that if the U.S. enacted pending Congressional legislation for solar such as the Solar Manufacturing Jobs Act, Solar Technology Roadmap Act, Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, all elements of the supply chain would really thrive.

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