Sunday, November 01, 2009

Solar Power International 2009

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

Actually the Exhibit hall is getting a little too big--I spent my entire first day wandering the exhibit floor. I suppose I have only myself to blame...

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

The CEO panels (morning 2 & 3) were underwhelming, I think this was partly the fault of the panel moderators pushing their own agendas. The first moderator (german) was fixated on a national Feed-In-Tariff, and asked the panel about 5 different times how to institute a FIT in the US. [I am all for FITs, provided you get the pricing right--which probably is around $0.20/kwh, significantly below Germany's rate.] On the other hand I can't imagine one rate that would work everywhere from Maine to California, and Texas to Minnesota.

A more interesting argument coming from Akeena Solar's CEO (not in this CEO panel) is a solar manifesto--to reduce to zero pages--the paperwork required to install solar systems under ~10kw. I particularly like his analogy that it takes over 100pages of paperwork to install a couple kilowatt system in CA but no paperwork required to buy and use a 1,600 watt hairdryer (or an AC unit for that matter). I have argued before that there is no problem for me to turn on or off every appliance in my house whenever I want, but somehow "the grid" can't handle the intermittency of solar panels. (seems like a red herring to me)

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

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


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