Solar Power International 2008 in Review

spi.jpgSolar Energy experienced huge growth in 2008 and that was clearly reflected in the attendance at Solar Power International 2008. The number of manufactures, installers, and investors in attendance doubled from 2007, to 20,000. This rise in attendance and growth in the solar power industry was coupled with a high level of optimism, despite current turmoil in our financial markets. From the outside, people were being told to beware the looming, global economic distress, but the walls of Solar Power International acted like a fortress and generally shielded the Solar Power populous from thoughts economic weariness weighing so heavily on the average America.
As trade shows go, this was one of the best I’ve experienced. The parties were great, stocked with more free food and drink than one could wish for. The historical waterfront Gaslamp district was fabulous and the conference hall was comfortable and relaxing. Not a single person came to the Tioga Energy booth and asked what a PPA is, revealing a more educated industry than in prior years. This high market acceptance means future interactions between clients and investors may go smoother and faster, and there just might be more of them.

Being an international show, I always expect to hear multiple languages throughout the conference, but one thing is for sure, the Germans are coming. The German solar Industry is strong and I think its been quietly waiting for the solar power market in the US to be ripe for the picking. Now, with the recent passage of the ITC tax credits for solar energy, US companies could find themselves vulnerable to German competition.
Some more 2008 Takeaways:
· Average commercial PV project sizes continue upward Рmany, many 1-3MW projects in addition to the sub-megawatts (not to mention small utility and utility scale PV growth)
· New products announced last year to great fanfare are close to delivery and/or in low-volume production stages now Рthink micro-inverters, new CSP, thin film (e.g. CIGS) beyond the existing big names
¬∑ Big upstream players (cells/modules) are reaching further downstream, some testing the waters (sorry, it’s all NDA), some diving in head first (e.g. Suntech)
· Module supply is loosening, but still questionable versus growing demand. Spot pricing may show much higher volatility than past.
· The suits are here
¬∑ Double-decker booths are in! (Ah…to have Sharp’s marketing budget… that’s the life)
Looking Forward:
¬∑ In many Europeans’ eyes, we are a fledgling industry, ripe for cost reduction, standardization (product, incentives, process, etc.) and large-scale deployment rolled out six-sigma style. It’s going to be interesting.
· The big supply constraint for 2009 C&I PV may be financing. Caveat Emptor.
¬∑ The utilities are on the way… think of the deafening, equipment sucking sound otherwise known as Spain… are the utilities, utilizing the ITC, to become the “Spain” of North America?
¬∑ Fancy trackers, intricate CSP devices… do we really need all that complicated stuff to make cheap electrons?
By the way, did I mention the Germans are coming? You also might want to know the Spaniards are sitting across the aisle in first class, enjoying the exchange rate.
Great show, great week, huge opportunities. See you next year!

– Preston Roper, EVP Corporate Development & Operations, Tioga Energy

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