Blog Post

5 Hot Topics To Watch For At Solar Power International

The solar industry will take over the Los Angeles Convention Center this week to showcase the latest technologies and discuss regulatory and project development and financing trends. Organizers of Solar Power International (SPI) expect to see roughly 25,000 attendees over three days. Here are five hot topics that you will no doubt hear about throughout the show:

1). Can’t Escape Politics: The honeymoon period with the President is over and there will be no domestic bliss without strong evidence that the country is better off now than two years ago. A lot of public money has been spent to boost solar energy generation and manufacturing. We will hear from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on federal efforts to boost the construction of large-scale solar energy projects, and he’ll likely cite the three California projects he signed off on only last week. Also taking the stage will be Republican political strategist Mary Matalin and her husband and counterpart, Democrat James Carville, who will give their take on the upcoming election and its impact on the solar industry.

2). U.S. Market Now and Later: The business of selling solar electric equipment and developing photovoltaic projects has been a fabulous one so far this year . . . in Europe. But what about the U.S.? The largest utility project, at 25 megawatts, was completed by SunPower in Florida a year ago., and state incentives continue to play a big role in promoting solar energy generation for homes and businesses. But solar manufacturers and installers know the financial aid won’t last forever and they need to think about adjusting their business practices for the days when lucrative rebates dry up. The Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research will provide a review of the U.S. market during SPI and discuss not only the markets for solar-panel systems but also solar water heaters and concentrating photovoltaic technologies.

3). Emergence of CPV: Concentrating solar photovoltaic technology, which uses mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto solar cells in order to reduce solar cell material costs, has garnered no small amount of attention from venture capitalists. But whether it can capture a substantial market has always been a subject of intense debate.

We saw the completion of the largest CPV plant (1 megawatt by SolFocus) in the U.S. this year. Amonix is due to build two projects of 14 megawatts total in Arizona. These deals are small in size but important for demonstrating the CPV’s benefits and disadvantages. And, like Amonix, Solaria, too, got a new CEO and lined up more private equity. Utilities and commercial customers now have a wider selection of technologies and vendors. You can learn about these competing technologies in one setting at the SPI – there will be several sessions that compare CPV with photovoltaic and concentrating solar thermal technologies.

4). Going Beyond Solar Electric: A lot of the industry’s efforts have gone into developing more efficient solar cells and selling them inside panels for electricity generation. But the use of solar thermal energy for water heating and space heating/cooling has actually made up the majority of the solar market in the U.S. With a lot of public incentives focused on energy efficiency, including the new rebate program from California for solar water heaters, more companies are rolling out new designs for solar thermal energy generation.

Some systems can generate electricity and heat water, such as the ones by PVT Solar and Cogenra. There will be a panel discussion at SPI on Thursday that focuses on the solar thermal market, as well as a second session, also on Thursday, on energy efficiency technologies that will feature speakers from Meritage Homes and General Motors.

5). Energy Boosters and Sleeker System Designs: Many developers of microinverters and other power electronics – components that track the power output of solar panels and optimize their production – have been making a lot of noise lately. SolarEdge Technologies just raised $25 million. Other players, such as Azuray Technologies, eIQ Energy and Solar Bridge all announced new products and customers over the past week. You can check out some of these power electronics on the show floor and see how they can integrate into solar panels, an approach that the manufacturers say can streamline wiring and other installation costs.

For more research check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):