Casual meeting spaces were at a premium at this year's Intersolar, the four-day solar conference and trade show co-located with SemiCon West in San Francisco, CA. With estimated attendance at around 15,000, over 120,000 square feet of exhibit space, and three days of panels discussions and presentations, it seemed like the only thing missing was more places to have impromptu meetings. Many industry colleagues packed their days tight with conference sessions on market analysis and new products, pounding the carpet in the four floors of trade exhibits, and- of course- meetings.
With the pinch of a tight economy still overshadowing even the successful growth of the solar industry, many conference-goers noted the absence of top industry names, including a Greentech Media guest post overview of the conference by Steven Smith of solar project development firm Solvida Energy Group. Gigaom journalistic blogger Katie Fehrebacher rounded up top themes from the show in her "7 Trends that Will Dominate Intersolar" post. Photovoltaics International journalist Tom Cheyney takes on the R&D, production, and BOS chain exhibited at the show in his comprehensive PVTech post. All posts are great reads so I won't duplicate their efforts here.
What was noticeable about Intersolar this year was, as Smith pointed out, the elements that were missing. We have all heard plenty and seen the evidence of China's rise in the manufacturing space. The race-to-the-bottom in the price-per-watt module game is intensifying. The star of the microinverter is on the rise. Non-concentrating solar thermal technology is still not seeing the market uptick many had hoped on the back of the CSI Thermal Program. But what was missing, and perhaps the item that is most on the lips of solar companies, especially those in the design/build space?
Had the successful boutique financial solutions providers to the solar industry like SunRun or Sungevity exhibited at Intersolar, they would have surely been overrun by throngs of representing installers vying to pitch their company as a viable installation partner. Moreso, if traditional bank financiers such as US Bank Corp, CitiGroup, or any number of upstream lending institutions that have invested in the aforementioned firms exhibited at the event, they too would have been met with similar enthusiasm. The puzzle piece missing from the successful picture of many design/build solar firms is the financing piece, which when lacking often turns a "maybe" project into a "no." Major market opportunities await businesses that can create slick and easy-to-understand financial solutions packages to residential, small commercial, or large commercial solar providers. But a complicated road littered with a glut of tax codes, moderate but long return-on-investment cycles, and many other challenges lay ahead. The industry is starting to see headway in these areas, and many of the highest growth design/build companies in the last year attribute their success to the ability to extend in-house financing solutions to end users.
Intersolar hosted a number of enticing extra-curricular events. As with any conference, exclusive parties with open bars abounded, but nothing made a stir quite like the sold-out out first-year Solar Battle of the Bands, a fundraiser for the Norther California Solar Energy Society, that sold out in a matter of days after organizers and sponsors announced it. Several Bay Area solar companies formed bands to compete including SolarCity, Zep, QuickMount PV, Sungevity, and SunPower. With nearly 400 in attendance, the crowd celebrated the homegrown talent within the solar industry. Check out some great photos from the event. Don't miss it next year! It was THE networking party of Intersolar.
Looking for something a little lower-key? Tor Valenza (a.k.a. Solar Fred) and several others have hosted a "Tweet-up," a meetup for Twitter users, at each conference which has been slowly growing in size over the last few years. This event, a smaller, more casual get-together, has brought together marketing professionals, social media managers, and social-media-savvy industry professionals to continue to grow and interconnect the online solar professionals community.
Want to see more? Check out my Flickr photoset from Intersolar. See you at the next one!