ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Convincing consumers and the government to investment in solar, widening product offerings and finding the right partners are some of the tips from executives who gathered at Solar Power International on Thursday to discuss their strategies for growth.

The title was "How to Survive the Solar Shakeout," but the discussion among executives from FAFCO, groSolar, Sharp, SunPower and Suntech Power also touched on challenges faced by the solar industry as a whole.

The challenges, mainly, deal with how to make a compelling case for solar in the minds of consumers and political leaders.

During a speech at the conference earlier this week, Rhone Resch, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, appealed to his trade group members to pony up in order to fight competing interests from coal and oil industries (see What Solar Industry Wants in a Climate Change Bill).

Resch mentioned that the oil and gas industries are spending over $100 million on lobbying, public relations and advertising efforts this year, while the solar industry isn't spending a dime.

The panel discussion on Thursday picked up the same theme, but focused on what companies can do to win a greater public support. 

"I would like to see more leadership by example, more solar on government buildings," said Ron Kenedi, vice president of Sharp's Solar Energy Solutions Group. "Solar is its best billboard. The industry also needs to promote solar through school systems."

Tom Werner, CEO of SunPower, noted that the coal industry gets far more government incentives than the solar industry. He said there is no question that solar electricity will be as cheap as coal, and getting there involves not only better products but also to convince utilities that solar makes economic sense.

"I'm not worried about how to fight big coal, but we need to turn coal miners into solar miners," he said.

Jeff Wolfe, CEO of groSolar, an installer, said overcoming public perception that solar is out of reach financial remains tough, despite a growing number of financing options.

Pushing the government to create more incentives for promoting solar among consumers is critical. But simply touting solar for its environmental benefits may not be enough.

"There is nothing like the proof in the jobs that convince the politicians to do more," Wolfe said