By Suzanne Maxx
LOS ANGELES, California, October 19th 2010– Solar Power International (SPI) has realized its name, and begun to move at the level of critical mass, thanks to booming global industry and the ongoing efforts of the presenting organizations Solar Electric Power Association ( SEPA) and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) . The growing annual solar conference and expo took place for the first time in Los Angeles last week with over a thousand exhibitors and about 30,000 people, made up of stronger constituencies from China; India, Korea, Japan, Spain and Germany among countries from around the world. Despite the economic downturn rapid global market growth, SPI is beginning to prove what many people espoused in various languages and the conference echoed— Solar is anticipated to become the largest growing market in the world, and is a key energy source for our future.
The energy and excitement at SPI came from more than motivating speeches; the spectrum of the solar industry on the exhibition floor, and the CEO panel. Events from the Hollywood-style Solar Block Party, to Solar World’s fashion show engaged the industry. Biz Stone co-founder of Twitter drew parallels from his viral phenomena that collect trends to the solar industries’ capabilities, while the Bureau of Land Management finalized permitting to allow the first-ever utility-scale solar projects on federal land. A few game changers launched here; the first National Solar Jobs Census from The Solar Foundation, the U.S., Solar Market Insight™, and a new website (www.SolarWorksforAmerica.com) There were sessions that explained the rules of the new electricity game such as “Solar to the Smart Grid,” and a variety of topics throughout the conference —whether you followed on the track of policy, technology or finance; in person, or by “tweeting”.
The conference opened with game changing “State of the Industry” speeches from Presidents and CEOs: Julia Hamm (SEPA) and Rhone Resch (SEIA).
Rhone rallied the audience, “Solar energy is now the fastest growing energy source in the United States, during a recession with 10 percent unemployment. Solar is rocking!
He further captivated the audience with a powerful vision for the industry: “A vision where we increase the amount of solar we install in the U.S. by more than 20 times over last year’s record levels. A vision where all solar technologies come together and we install 10 gigawatts – that’s 10 billion watts – of clean solar power each and every year”.
To grasp this ambitious vision from a different perspective, it is enough solar to power 2 million new homes or shut down 10 polluting coal plants every year all by 2015.
With events like 10-10-10’s Day of Global Action with solar installations demonstrated, not just in the USA but around the world, this vision is finally becoming a realistic goal for the USA to join in on, and it helps when President Obama, decides to install both PV and solar thermal on the White House and announces it in time to go along with the people’s day of action and before the launch of the Solar Expo.
“It does take a team” said Julia Hamm. She stressed that the companies who collaborate and improvise will prevail. The impact of her words and leadership with concrete examples had great weight, and it wasn’t just because she was speaking for more than one’s future.
Julia Hamm made a powerful case by demonstrating solar power capacity was up and it is predicted to at least double next year. In the ten utilities with the most solar in their service territories, solar power capacity was up by 66 percent. These utilities were ahead due to collaboration on projects—team work that was inclusive of all parties in the solar industry, capitalizing on the synergy of projects like the one Julia described between Public Service Electric & Gas in New Jersey and Petra Solar that will result in smart grid enabled two hundred watt panels with micro inverters on 200,000 utility poles totaling 40MW in capacity. The equipment is provided by Petra Solar but owned and installed by the utility.
Another example Julia brought forward was how Southern California Edison, in partnership with multiple companies, completed the initial rooftop projects that are part of its 250MW utility owned rooftop program. SCE also began purchasing the output of the 21 MW PV plant developed by First Solar and owned by NRG Energy. More examples of these collaborative projects can be found in SEPA’s recently released Utility Solar Business Models Report.
Rhone’s vision for the industry is; “Where solar becomes America’s number one source of new installed energy each year – bigger than coal, bigger than natural gas, bigger than nuclear. We create 220,000 new solar jobs for our families and neighbors while supporting half a million more jobs in other industries We add over $30 billion in direct economic growth and hundreds of billions of dollars in other sectors of the economy -each year. This vision drives economic recovery, creates energy security, and of course, substantially cuts the pollution causing climate change”.
An international game changer was introduced by Rhone, “I was in Phoenix for the opening of Suntech’s new manufacturing facility. Who would have thought, a Chinese company opening up a manufacturing facility here in America”.
The Chinese allocation of 34 Billion towards solar was at the core of the discussions during the CEO panel too, as it is an international game charger, especially because funds are available to companies from the USA.
Other take always from the CEO panel; Trina Solar grew by 180% to reach 1billion this year (find quote about leveling the playing field for global growth) First Solar is living into their name as#1 in export, Standard Solar is the fastest growing renewable energy company in the USA with a 100 million in revenue. Colorado has ambitious distributed generation goals going for 30% of their electricity produced by renewable sources by 2020. All CEO’s concurred that to reach SEIA’s goal, “cost”, has to be driven down. Policy has to be in place to incentivize the industry. Utiilities need a prescribed “decoupling” of sales and profitability tied to earnings incentives to sell less energy. Many agreed we would also need a National Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (RPS), aka Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), combined with extending the federal tax credit program, and US cash loan guarantees for the Solar industry.
The solar industry is reliant of government policy and subsidies, and one of the reasons we can even begin to get close to grid parity in the USA, is due to China.
State-controlled China Development Bank so far this year has extended $24 billion in loans to solar companies. Yingli, Trina Solar, Suntech, Solarfun Power Holdings Co. and others, according to data collected by Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance. China spent $34.6 billion on clean-fuel projects in 2009, almost double the $18.6 billion investment by the U.S. China installed 160 megawatts of solar capacity last year, a fourfold increase from a year earlier, and may almost double it again this year to 311 megawatts, according to the New Energy Finance research firm.
China’s manufacturers grabbed 43 per cent of the global photovoltaic-panel market in the last six years, pricing products as much as 20 per cent cheaper than European offerings, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Chinese firms shipped 3,300 megawatts of panels worth $6.6 billion last year, enough to power about 2.6 million U.S. homes.
At Rutgers University in New Jersey, 7,600 panels convert sunlight into electricity, saving some $200,000 in energy costs this year in the biggest solar-power experiment at a U.S. college. Yingli Green Energy Holding, China’s second-largest solar-panel maker, supplied the $10 million project. Yingli is one of several Chinese manufacturers that have slashed costs to reduce global prices for solar modules by about 50 per cent in two years. The drive made them more affordable for buyers from Rutgers to Wal-Mart Stores, the biggest U.S. retailer.
China is slashing the price, as the cost of solar energy toward what’s called grid parity, or renewable electricity is at the same prices charged for conventional power.
Sun power may become as cheap as the retail price of grid-delivered electricity in certain markets as early as 2013, according to a June 29 report by Pike Research, a Boulder, Colo., clean-energy consultant.
The European Photovoltaic Industry Association, a trade group, forecasts grid parity by 2010 in some southern parts of Italy, by 2012 in several regions of Spain, and 2015 in Germany.
“The true engine of economic growth will always be companies like Solyndra,” President Obama said in May. However these innovative start ups in the solar industry with new technology like Solyndra, Nanosolar and MiaSolé dreamed of transforming the economics of solar power, but they are now challenged to compete with China. The loan guarantees help get these companies off the ground, but with federal government loan guarantees expiring at the end of this year and no Energy Bill from congress yet, the solar industry in the USA is at a disadvantage. The Chinese companies offer low prices, quality products, cheaper labor, and financing, which could be a motivating factor -if the playing field can be leveled, Evergreen Solar, SunPower and Energy Conversion Device moved manufacturing to Asia. Although some companies like Canadian Solar, that currently does all its manufacturing in China and sells to customers in Europe and North America, will move 60% of the manufacturing back to Canada to be eligible for feed-in tariffs .
72 billion dollars was spent on fossil fuel subsidies in the USA , between 2002 and 2008 but only 12 billion went to the entire renewable energies sector altogether: solar, wind, except if you want to count the nearly 17 billion dollars that went to corn-based ethanol.
Rhone explained that special interests spent $500 million in lobbying and campaign contributions to defeat the clean energy and climate legislation in Congress. Using their resources, they were able to delay and ultimately kill any hope of a national RPS or cap and trade program, or energy bill.
“After 150 years of subsidies it’s time to level the playing field – it’s time to cut their subsidies and shift support to solar and other renewable energy technologies”. Rhone explained, “Every year, the toxic fossil industries receive $550 billion in subsidies worldwide, a trillion dollars every 22 months. From tax credits to price supports, to access to millions of acres of lands given away to drilling, the fossil fuel industry is grotesquely over subsidized at the expense of the renewable energy industries.”
Collaborations for solar renewable energy partnerships with solar companies, utilities, and government together creating new business models is unprecedented territory for the USA.
One highlight during the conference were seeing history in the making when Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signed off on the first large-scale solar project ever to be approved for construction on public lands in Nevada. In the past two weeks the first four solar projects were approved on U.S. public lands -green lighted. Salazar says he is committed to changing the permitting game for renewable energy: “Frankly – (I) wasn’t prepared for the growing interest from the private sector in capturing renewable energy resources on public lands and oceans. Permit applications for wind, solar, and geothermal were languishing. The permitting processes were hazy. And there wasn’t enough coordination among permitting agencies to move projects forward.” He explained, “As the department that oversees one-fifth of the nation’s land and 1.7 billion acres of Outer Continental Shelf, the Department of the Interior has a major role to play in the transformation of our nation’s energy future. We oversee sunny deserts in the southwest, windy open spaces across the Rockies and the West, and the breezy expanses of the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf. The renewable energy potential on America’s public lands and oceans is staggering. But to capture that potential, the Department of the Interior – in the past two years – has had to change how we do business.” He shared the details of the new fast track process and what was established for the Solar Industry in the US on public land “The Solar PEIS identifies more than 20 million acres across 6 western states – including 24 solar energy study areas – that may be appropriate for solar development. We expect to have a draft of the Solar PEIS available for public review by the end of this year”. He encouraged the innovative entrepreneurial spirit, that is one of the greatest riches of the USA. He declared, “You are the engine for the ideas that will help our nation transition to a renewable energy economy. Somewhere in this room is the next bright idea. Somewhere in this room is the person who will push the boundaries of knowledge and possibilities for solar power. President Obama reminds us that: “Today’s frontiers can’t be found on a map. They’re being explored in our classrooms and our laboratories, in our start-ups and our factories.” His speech inspired a standing ovation from the audience at the Nokia theatre.
Julia Hamm shared “According to Greentech Media approximately twenty percent of residential systems installed in California during the second quarter of 2010 utilized the SolarCity or SunRun type business model. As an investor, Pacific Gas and Electric can take advantage of the federal tax credits and will receive the lease or PPA revenues from projects installed by these companies”
Two areas of opportunity where more collaboration would have a positive end result for everyone’s solar energy goals: is smart grid and energy storage
Julia dove into a few of the regulatory issues like revenue erosion, which is a legitimate concern for many utilities. “Utilities usually make money by selling more electricity, so why would a utility choose to encourage its customers to generate their own electricity and thus buy less energy, unless there is a clear value proposition for the utility?
Decoupling, is a mechanism that has been implemented for electric utilities in a handful of states, is one option that presents a partial solution. While decoupling can take multiple forms, essentially it means that the way a utility makes its profits is separated from how much electricity it sells. This removes the incentive for the utility to sell as many kilowatt hours to customers as possible and thus eliminates the barrier for utilities to encourage customers to install solar on their homes and businesses.
The most productive path towards changing the reality of revenue erosion is for the solar and utility industries to collaborate to identify win/win business models that create the necessary value proposition for utilities and to help educate regulators about policy changes that could create an incentive rather than a disincentive for utilities to implement solar programs and projects. As former Chrysler Corporation executive Thomas Stallkamp said, “The secret is to gang up on the problem, rather than each other.”
With the smart grid emergent and state to state policy dramatically different around the country there are many tactics to reach grid parity, and there was the opportunity to learn about many of these policy “game changers” through various workshops and sessions that covered the gambit from Feed In Tariffs (FIT) as recently adopted by Hawaii, to Renewable Energy Standards (RES) and other ways to incentivize renewable energy Distributed Generation (DG). “Solar and the Smart Grid,” a topic of one of the sessions speaker Sam Jaffe of IDC Energy Insights, further explored-distributed energy strategies and energy storage. He explained that when one interconnects PV with grid, and EV’s get plugged into the Smart Grid, “Making the (electrical) grid, by-directional with a flexible load, and with a flexible generating stack, which creates a virtual power plant for distributed supply and demand.” He explained, “Demand Response” is where the utility actually calls up large consumers and they literally shut down or turn off power, to prevent potential damage to the grid, like a black out). The smart grid will provide the option for both the consumer and the utility to interact in real time with applications on the computer and mobile device so they all can benefit from in communications using technology to make choices about energy use.
This emergent concept that changes perspective on our homes and vehicles is the opportunity to arbitrage energy with the developing smart grid, for profit. To generate energy from your solar roof, or solar parking structure– sell it at peak demand to the utility and buy it, off peak. The various opportunities to commoditize energy were explored during panels, “breakout sessions” and among the exhibitors that were all part of the solar supply chain. Even your own energy generated from the movement of your body with various exercise devices like a little clip on your body solar device from Schneider Electric that calculates your energy output with every step you take, translates it to miles and counts the calories you burn. There were also human powered electrical sports equipment like a bike actually stores energy you make from excising and riding called KElectric Bike.
The quest for energy storage, referred to by some as “The Quest for the Holy Grail” and all angles of batteries and policy were exhibited and discussed. Regardless of the energy generated from solar, wind, tidal or energy produced by your own body the key conversation remained: how to capture it efficiently, to store the energy produced and then transmit at a time of choice. . Just having conversations with the variety of experts from various regions around the country and the world, brought in a vast perspective, a variety of opportunities were presented on how to change the way we play the energy game in society. The electric infrastructure and industry of tomorrow is likely to look very different from what it looks like today and storage and transmission are on the minds of many.
• The U.S. Solar Market Insight™ was released at the conference opening. SEIA expanded their market research and teamed up with Green Tech Media Research (GTM Research) to work together on this new report with data and an analysis of the U.S. solar market – all technologies and market segments with the latest news on the solar market- highlights include: –The U.S. solar electric market is growing by over 100 percent this year, exceeding 1 gigawatt. In the PV industry, all segments are having record years. Back in June, utility-scale installations already surpassed 2009 totals – and residential and commercial installations continue to grow at a 40-50 percent rate.
• America is also quickly becoming the largest CSP market in the world. Roughly 80 megawatts are expected to come online in 2010 – that’s 10 times more than last year. And we have over 23 gigawatts under development – enough to power 4.6 million homes.
• Solar water heating jumped from 2.6 million square feet installed in 2009 to more than 3 million in 2010 – a 16 percent growth rate and in the first half of 2010, U.S. manufacturers produced more than a third of the world’s polysilicon supply, over 500 megawatts of cells and over 500 megawatts of modules.
Three of the five energy businesses on FORTUNE 100’s list of Fastest Growing Companies are solar manufacturers: First Solar, Trina Solar and SunPower, as worded in Solar World’s campaign, with Larry Hagman ,who is said to own the largest private solar installation in the USA; “Shine Baby, Shine!”
If all the policy, workshops, meets and technology was too much to absorb there were great parties that educated as well as entertained. Solar World held two industry transforming events. “Fantastic,” exclaimed Catia, from San Paulo Brazil, during the exhibition packed run way fashion show. “Solar is the Next Black” campaign was inspired by a tour of Solar World’s Factory where designer and Project Run way winner Seth Aaron’s clothing line was a hit. “Love the models,” she continued with enthusiasm. Becky Campbell of SEPA said, “Great way to get technology out there”.
The Petersen Museum was rented out for the night with an incredible vehicles exhibit featuring solar world’s race car. With the electric vehicle (EV)’s and solar chargers and parking the hot topics of the moment there was a lot of eye candy for a historical perspective of how far we have come with science and technology in a short period of time and the view of the circling dynamic of trends before they took hold, especially seeing the first electric vehicle in the 1800’s. There you see how far we have come with science and technology.In the heart of downtown LA SPI held two events a lovely opening cocktail party, and a huge outdoor Block Party at LA Live, replete with a Hollywood style red carpet, for all to experience as they entered, making each person feel special with the illusion of celebrity, media flashing cameras as you entered and celebrity impersonators on hand to have your picture taken with “BrAngelina” and more. The variety of global food from Wolfgang Puck and Katsuya had something for everybody, and the DJ was so good, I had to go grab my roller-skates from the car to take advantage of the wide space with no one dancing until they caught the energy and enthusiasm! It would have been a novelty to have a potable energy floor like the discos in London.
Whereby Julia and Rhone shared common grounds and alignment in the Opening feeding off one another, the Closing Key Notes worked off of the alchemy of the politically opposition from married couple Mary Matalin (Republican) and James Carville (Democrat). The polarity of their politics like a magnet attracted the common power of the importance of Solar, and they both stood behind solar energy in various ways and this transcended their bi-partisan difference. Unfortunately political forecasting about parties in general which both indulged in here, was not popular among the solar industry, however most agreed policy is a critical game changer for the industry.
The solar LED lights from SolarOne Tech were new technology that has great potential. Solar LED packs of both III-V GaAs solar chip and LED chip in a Lamp or SMD. By utilizing its shape to concentrate, the conversion efficiency of solar cell is raised up and the power is transferred from sunlight to supply LED. It is featured with compact size, simplified structure, high efficiency and illumination, and can be used for various applications.
I t was very exciting to see a full scale set up with BMW’s fully electric MiniE charging to a solar car port, with a clipper creek fast charger. The opportunities for potable solar storage systems had my imagination running wild with possible uses in various regions of the world.
GroSolar stole the show for most innovative booth design with a booth that had two floors. It gave a very private roof top feeling– that over looked the expo floor where business could take place in a peaceful environment, with the crowds left below.
Swiss scientist Michael Grätzel’s innovative solar cell uses a process akin to photosynthesis to generate electricity – even inside buildings – to power mobile devices and wireless keyboards, way to go!
Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa shared his 2020 vision for LA with SPI; to get to 10% Solar with a feed in tariff, and to draw 20% of the electricity from renewable energy, to get 7500 retrofits done and generate 1200 megawatts of power from solar all by 2020. He shared, “LA has out an RFP for clean tech manufacturing with a site of 22 acres”.
Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, explains Twitter can collect data trans-globally in real time, the actions could influence policy. The “Aha” moment of Twitter came for Biz when he realized that people could move together as one, in real time,” therefore addressing disasters or anything that needs rapid response and Twitter could serve humanity. Twitter might influence policy…
Rhone’s summary of the solar policy situation now: Cash grants will expire in 2010 with the grant cancelation. The USA needs a tax bill before the end of the year for the solar industry. The Solar Bill of Rights needs to be woven into new policy to be passed by Congress. Utilities’ financing projects need to see the IRR and know they are making safe investments with little risk, or have a tax equity appetite for continued growth. DOE loans need to be refilled, and money paid back that was taken out of funds allocated to loan financing for the solar industry.
At the CEO panel and press conference it was conclusive that policy will be the driver of the future. There is an expressed need for global policy taking shape to better serve the solar industry after the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol, and with the Copenhagen Accord. Globally, a Cap & Trade market structure with carbon off sets and global policy adoption was suggested, to get to grid parody for renewable energy. All concurred that we need the ratification of a global agreement for our environment and energy that is enforceable. However some of the USA CEO’s stressed it needs to start at the state level and then the national level, before we can address the international level. DOE Loan Guarantee Program helps, but only for big projects. CEOs discussed financing remains an obstacle to growth, and what is needed is a solid, sustainable domestic funding sources that provides low interest loans quickly to the solar industry for all markets and all technologies.
To change the game, we have to, “Level the playing field,” words echoed throughout the conference in various contexts, besides in Rhone’s. One is with USA’s government subsidies that supporting renewable energy sectors as they have done for Oil, Gas, Coal and Nuclear. In addition to government support the USA bank & financing sector doing the equivalent of what the Chinese government has done to generated extremely large loans for renewable energy and technology.
Cindy Stanley, Director of Operations, at The Centre for Building Performance in Texas described SPI10 as; “Doing better than the United Nations, it’s the UN of the future, seeing every company from different countries here in one space, while the whole world is watching, and all are getting along. I have three kids, and my wish is that SPI is an example of their future.