My Review of Solar Power International 2009

SPI image68 My Review of Solar Power International 2009

I attended Solar Power 2009 Conference inAnneheim, CA last week. It was a hugh show (for solar) over 23,000attendees, up nearly 3x in 3 years. While the attendence numbersgenerated some buzz, the overwhelming sentiment was relief thatthe worst of the financial crisis is over, and assuming that the 3rdquarter is indicative, the solar industry is back on its feet andmoving forward again.

Actually the Exhibit hall is getting alittle too big–I spent my entire first day wandering the exhibitfloor. I suppose I have only myself to blame…

They had acouple excellent speakers in Ed Begley Jr, (morning 1) and Robert F.Kennedy Jr, (morning 2). They were definately the highlights of theconference for me. Favorite factoid: total direct US solar subisidy= $1Billion/yr, total direct US fossil fuel subsidy = $70 billion/yr. Whileit was nice to have some high profile politicos like the US Secretaryof Labor (Hilda Solis) and the Govenor of New Mexico (Bill Richardson)address the conference, they didn’t make any news.

The CEOpanels (morning 2 & 3) were underwhelming, I think this was partlythe fault of the panel moderators pushing their own agendas. The firstmoderator (german) was fixated on a national Feed-In-Tariff, and askedthe panel about 5 different times how to institute a FIT in the US. [Iam all for FITs, provided you get the pricing right--which probably isaround $0.20/kwh, significantly below Germany's rate.] On the otherhand I can’t imagine one rate that would work everywhere from Maine toCalifornia, and Texas to Minnesota.

A more interesting argument coming from Akeena Solar’s CEO (notin this CEO panel) is a solar manifesto–to reduce to zero pages–thepaperwork required to install solar systems under ~10kw. I particularlylike his analogy that it takes over 100pages of paperwork to install acouple kilowatt system in CA but no paperwork required to buy and use a1,600 watt hairdryer (or an AC unit for that matter). I have arguedbefore that there is no problem for me to turn on or off everyappliance in my house whenever I want, but somehow "the grid" can’thandle the intermittency of solar panels. (seems like a red herring tome)

The second moderator came in with some extreme (unnamed)analyst interpretation of the global solar market like a) only 1/2 ofthe panels made this year will be installed this year and b) in sevenyears there will only be 5 solar companies (??) –can you say strawman? And is solar too dependant on subsidies? (as if solar is the onlyenergy industry that recieves subsidies); another question Does thesolar industry need to take a page from the coal technology’s "CleanCoal"? Answer–spot on–: we dont need to mislead the public!!!

Infact over the past 15 months, the wholesale cost of panels havedeclined over 40%, and incentives for solar have increased in manycountries (especially the US 30% tax credit). The net result: in the USthe end user cost of solar has fallen by 50% in the past 1.5 years.