Scenes from the Solar Power International Conference
One measure of the burgeoning interest in solar energy and the cleantech industry is the record turnout this week for Solar Power International 2008, which is being held at the San Diego Convention Center.
Organizers say more than 20,000 people are expected to register for what’s billed as “the largest solar energy industry event in the Americas”—a 25 percent increase over last year’s attendance—and the “full-conference registration” sold out yesterday for all events, workshops, and plenary sessions.The exhibit hall is bustling, with people crowding around exhibits and overflowing from sessions with such titles as “CPV 101: Intro to Technology, Policy & Markets” and “The Great Thin Film Debate: Winning the Hearts and Minds of System Installers and Investors.”
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who made a surprise appearance Monday evening, said the event has doubled in size since he last spoke at the 2006 conference in San Jose. The former actor proclaimed he is an enthusiastic supporter of solar power, saying, “It’s here. It’s now. There’s no stopping it!”
But the industry still has got a long way to go.
In the United States, solar power accounts for only about 1 percent of the energy supply, far less than the electricity generated for the national power grid by wind and geothermal power.
The solar industry nevertheless was re-energized just weeks ago when Congress included an estimated $18 billion in renewable-energy tax credits as part of its $700 billion economic stimulus package. The solar incentives in the legislation, which take effect over the next 90 days, provide a 30 percent tax credit for residential and commercial solar installations and cancel the existing $2,000 tax credit cap for residential projects.
Solar technologies also have gained enormous goodwill in terms of benefiting America’s energy independence and in reducing global warming.
As a result, a charged atmosphere of business prospecting—akin to Sutter’s Mill circa 1849—permeated many conference workshops and the exhibit hall, where more than 425 solar industry vendors are promoting their products and services.
Despite this year’s enormous sell-off on Wall Street, NASDAQ Executive Vice President John Jacobs told reporters that share prices for 12 publicly traded solar companies were up 157 percent so far this year. Shares of one company in the group, First Solar of Tempe, Ariz., have climbed 482 percent for the year, Jacobs said.
Perhaps as a result of such strong market performance, Jacobs says there is no lack of venture capital for startups focused in cleantech and renewable energy.
Investors also seemed to be plentiful at the conference, seemingly in defiance of the nation’s overall economic mood.
Green Core Capital, a San Diego investment firm, says it is “Greening the Global Economy” by providing financing and business support services for renewable energy and green technology startups.
Green Core’s flagship company appears to be Envision Solar, a full-service solar design and construction firm in San Diego that has been working with Kyocera to commercialize photovoltaic carport structures, including panels mounted atop “solar trees” for installation in large parking lots.
Kyocera, the Japanese manufacturing giant that maintains its U.S. headquarters in San Diego, also occupied a major exhibit at the conference, along with Applied Materials, Sharp, and other major solar products manufacturers.
“A lot of people are asking to be distributors for our solar panel modules,” said Kyocera marketing coordinator Julie Capeloto. “A lot of people here want to get into the industry.”
Traffic also was heavy at the exhibit booth for Enfinity, a Belgian firm that arranges project funding for large “utility-scale” solar power plants. Enfinity opened its first U.S. office in Sacramento less than eight months ago, says Mark Domine, an Enfinity project developer. Despite the global credit crisis, Domine says, “There still is very strong interest in the investment community in green projects.”