Intersolar North America has packed up and sunshine has returned to San Francisco. Greentech Media covered the show in detail with stories on SolFocus and CPV funding, Soitec's $100 million for CPV, disruptions in the inverter market, progress in Abound's CdTe PV, the environmental impact of PV, and a look at the thin film market. There were close to 20,000 attendees at the conference.
Stephen Smith of Solvida, a solar veteran, gave us a quick write-up of his impressions of the show.
The trade show seemed large and small at the same time. While there were three floors full of exhibits, I noticed lots of industry players missing from the fray.
Module giants like SunPower, Sharp Solar,
Kyocera, and First Solar (have they ever shown a booth at a U.S. trade show?) didn't have booths. I wasn't sure if I saw a single residential system integrator like GroSolar or Real Goods Solar, either. Inverter companies were present but with all of the new products on the market like those from Power-One and Emerson, I felt the diversity in manufacturers was lacking. That said, the meetings outside of the exhibits and the venue seemed extremely energetic and positive. I wasn't sure what was more intoxicating to the attendees: the kegs of beer flowing continuously after 1 p.m. each day or the promise of module prices below $1.20/watt for the second half of 2011. Probably a sensible combination of both.
Focus on BOS. The first floor northeast corner was the venue for the battle royale of racking manufacturers. Sunlink, Schletter, Panel Claw, and PV Installation were all within racking distance of each other. Unirac had a larger booth toward the front door. Newcomers to the solar-specific racking arena included Custom Roll Form and Cooper Industries. Racking manufacturers seem to be responding to the increased focus on BOS optimization by expanding their offerings where possible. Many of them offer a "one-stop shop" where they handle structural engineering and procurement of all items required from the ground up. Schletter made a concerted effort to convey this message, one almost as ardent as their efforts to keep the beer cold.
All of these manufacturers need to do a better job of conveying their system's differentiation in terms of installation efficiency and installation cost. These messages will be more obvious as an increasing number of large systems are installed.
Notably absent from the exhibit floor was Zep Solar, a local racking company. However, Zep's brand and unique rack product was an integral element at several module partner booths, including Canadian Solar and Trina Solar. Zep's ability to package their product with prominent and high-volume module companies seems to be paying dividends. President Mike Miskovsky stated that Zep inked several multi-megawatt deals while on the exhibition floor.
New market entrants. I didn't recognize at least 50 percent of the manufacturer brands with booths at the show. That was surprising for someone who reads as many industry trade publications as I do.
How industry players will filter new product and service offerings and how the players themselves will offer a differentiated message in the sea of competition will be the drama to watch over the next few years. I believe there are a few diamonds in the rough out there, but whether they will be able to scale remains to be seen.
The optimism that keeps our industry plugging away in the worst of economic times was ever-present and palpable.
Stephen Smith is the CEO and Principal of Solvida Energy Group and a 15-year veteran of the U.S. solar industry. Solvida's products and services help clients plan and build profitable large-scale PV projects. Stephen got started in the pioneer days of modern solar PV (the 1990s) and developed his chops building projects for PowerLight Corporation. Solvida is currently working on projects in India, Chile and the U.S. and is based in the SF Bay Area. Find out more at www.solvidaenergy.com.