Solar Power International 2010

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In his opening remarks at Solar Power International 2010, Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) President and CEO Rhone Resch was upbeat. “It’s going to be a great week,” he predicted, “building on one of the best weeks solar has ever had.” Over the previous week, the Bureau of Land Management reported that permitting was finalized on 1,200 MW of utility-scale solar projects, which would be the first solar power plants ever built on public lands; Suntech Power, a prominent Chinese module company, celebrated the opening of its first US manufacturing facility, located in Goodyear, Arizona; and a high-profile neighbor in Washington, DC—none other than President Barack Obama—announced that PV and solar thermal would be installed on the People’s House, the White House.

That these milestones were announced in the week leading up to the largest business-to-business solar energy conference in the US is no accident. In the 6 years since the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) first partnered with SEIA to put on an annual conference, the Solar Power International Conference and Expo (SPI) has become the preeminent solar industry event in North America. SPI 2010, which was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center October 12–14, drew 23,300 industry attendees from 111 countries and required more than 1 million square feet to accommodate 1,122 exhibitors from across the solar value chain.

By comparison, Solar Power 2004, which was held at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero in San Francisco, exceeded expectations when it drew 1,150 registered attendees and filled 80 8-by-10–foot booths with 60 exhibitors. This is fantastic growth over just a few years, as seen in Table 1. Nevertheless, event organizers, who had hoped to draw between 27,000 and 30,000 people to SPI 2010, were undoubtedly disappointed that conference attendance fell for the first time ever, in spite of—or perhaps because of—the generally robust market conditions.

With this drop in attendance in mind, I hope to do more in this article than just recap conference highlights, notable product releases and technology trends from SPI 2010. I also want to encourage you to plan ahead for next year’s conference. SPI 2011, which will be held outside of California for the first time in 6 years, is scheduled for October 18–20 at the Dallas Convention Center. If Rhone Resch’s Team Solar is going to give Big Texas Oil a run for its money, we will need all hands on deck in Dallas.

Because the scope of SPI is so large, SolarPro magazine had a full team of technical editors on hand in Los Angeles. As in years past, we strategically divided our time to see and experience as much as possible, regrouping afterwards to compare notes. This year we went one step further, polling conference attendees from around the country, especially staff at integration, installation and engineering firms. We reached out after the dust had settled to see what people took away from SPI 2010. This effort proved extremely useful in identifying unifying themes from the conference experience, as well as highlights from the expo floor. These conversations also revealed strategies that companies and attendees use successfully to make the event as productive as possible.

2010 CONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS

The SPI 2010 expo floor alone was more ground than any one person could effectively cover in 3 days. Counting the 2.5 hours that the exhibit halls were open on Public Night, the South, West and Kentia Halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center were open for a total of 26.5 hours over 3 days. This means that attendees had, at most, 1,590 minutes in which to visit 1,122 exhibitors—an average of 1 minute and 25 seconds per exhibitor. Having the exhibits spread across three sprawling halls presented an additional challenge. Nevertheless, the headiness of previous years remained. As Randy Sadewic, general manager at Positive Energy, an installation firm headquartered in Santa Fe, New Mexico, notes, “The intensity of this show was very high—lots of activity, excitement and buzz.”

The conference schedule included three general sessions; four unique tracks of educational sessions covering policy, markets, finance and technology; six interactive “solar idea swaps,” including sessions on fire safety and changes in the 2011 NEC; an opening reception and a solar power block party. Keynote speakers at the general sessions that opened each day’s activities featured SEIA’s Rhone Resch, Julia Hamm of SEPA, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and political commentators Mary Matalin and James Carville. There were more conference sessions than hours in the day, making for difficult choices. Unlike the events taking place on the expo floor, however, every conference session is audiotaped by event organizers. These recordings, along with the presenter’s slides, are made available to Full Conference registrants online after the event, which is a valuable resource for attendees.

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