Paul Detering: Solar Stays Hot in San Diego, Despite Market Meltdown

detering150.jpgDetering is CEO of Tioga Energy. He is a veteran entrepreneur with 20 years experience in clean technology.
Right now I’m in San Diego, which has become the Mecca of Solar, literally overnight. Solar Power International 2008 has drawn thousands of people from around the world to talk shop and deals. And where I feel like I am living The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
There is tremendous excitement and enthusiasm here in San Diego’s convention center and Gaslamp district.¬† My breakfast meetings start early (7AM) and the days are filled with meetings about very real opportunities and projects. ¬†¬†Finding a quiet corner to meet is impossible.¬† Occasionally, I meet in one of the private meeting rooms hosted by some of the big players attending the conference. But usually it is in one of the many large “meeting rooms” on the upper level.¬†
These rooms are great.  They typically have 5 to 10 tables and are well stocked with water, sodas and ice where 3 or 4 meetings are underway simultaneously in multiple languages РGerman, Spanish, Japanese, English Рthe Solar World right before my eyes. Very exciting.  
At the conference day’s end, its thousands of solar enthusiasts spill out of the convention center and cross the street. Some people are so eager to get to the Gaslamp District and continue making their solar connections, that they attempt jaywalking. A crossing guard, looking out for our safety, has been kindly, but firmly, threatening people with tickets to keep us in line.¬†

The Gaslamp District is San Diego’s historical heart along the water, bustling with shops and restaurants. Here the solar industry discussions carry late into the night over fine food and drinks at the many parties lining the streets. The excitement in the air is electric (renewable of course) from the estimated 20,000 people in attendance. That is up from 6,000 in 2006 and 9,000 in 2007. Clearly, solar is on a roll in America.
So these are my Dr. Jekyll days. As you well know, it’s in the dark where Mr. Hyde emerges. About half way through the day yesterday, I was riding the escalator up to the meeting rooms and the banker I was meeting with told me the Dow was down 730 points! Wow! I had not checked the WSJ service on my blackberry all day.
What a roller coaster. Flying down to San Diego on Monday, the Dow was up 940, Tuesday was relatively normal and now another 730 point drop. I think everyone at the conference is optimistic, as I certainly am, about solar energy’s long-term future. But Wall Street is not helping us right now. We are fundamentally changing the power industry in this country and building a better, more sustainable, and decentralized energy future. However, in the short term we must navigate some difficult and choppy waters.
At the end of the day, we depend on our customers, be they residential homeowners installing solar panels on their roofs and large commercial entities looking for less expensive green electrons, to utilities looking to fulfill state renewable portfolio standards and diversify away from fossil fuels. In these uncertain times every customer, understandably, is proceeding more cautiously. To top it off, this fundamental, low carbon economy switch needs a lot of money and that means the banking industry’s participation is important. Unfortunately, they are rather preoccupied at the moment.
Everyone I talk to in the banking industry agrees that their highest priority, once the global banking industry returns to some level of normalcy, is the clean tech industry and specifically new renewable energy. They know it’s the one sector of the global economy with the strongest potential for growth. So while I am feel like I’m living the Jekyll and Hyde story, here in San Diego, the condition of Mr. Hyde will not prevail.
Stay tuned for more updates from my Tioga colleagues at Solar Power International 2008:
* Business ramp up from ITC Extension
* Crisis on Wall Street impacts to Solar Main Street.
* The Best of the Tech
* C-Sweet: Solar Power’s social scene
* The ongoing quest for grid parity
* SP08 in review

This is the first post of Paul Detering, whose will be posting as part of a Tioga Energy Roundtable on solar power topics from Tioga’s top people. Stay tuned for periodic insight on the latest trends in solar energy, the solar industry and solar financing strategies.

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