As has been the practice for the past several years at Solar Power International, the “solar tribe” got together for a “tweet-up” - a social gathering of folks who tweet about solar power issues. Organized this year by @SolarFred (Tor Valenza), @PVAddict (Heather Andrews) and @GoGreenSolar (Deep Patel), the event was held at a nearby bar on Wednesday night.
Always a great opportunity to meet people in the flesh whom you’ve only known previously 140 characters at a time, this year the folks at Renewable Energy World came by to interview some of the participants about the influence of social media on their businesses. We took the opportunity to plug this blog - and to renew our perpetual plea for more comments!
Here’s the video for your amusement, I come on about halfway through (and without much voice in a very loud room!)
Solar Power International 2011 took place in Dallas last week and it was a very interesting show. While it is hard to reduce a three-day event to a single blog post, it is entirely fitting to provide a brief recap on what we saw, and more importantly, our take on what it all means.
We have not seen any actual attendance figures for the show but to us it seemed smaller and less attended than last year in Los Angeles. To be sure, given our other obligations we did not have as much time to walk the floor as we did last year, but the show seemed more contained than before. Moreover, the crowds seemed significantly smaller. Last year in LA it was not uncommon to be in a crowd of people nearly as tight as an infamous LA freeway traffic jam. There was little or none of that in Dallas from what we could see.
Still, the show was sufficiently large that there were undoubtedly cool things that we missed so please let us know your thoughts in the comments (not so subtle hint!).
The biggest change in the show this year compared to the five we had attended previously was how often people brought up financial stability (or lack thereof) as a selling point. Now in this post-Solyndra world that no doubt makes some sense, but it was jarring to hear it brought up so frequently. For example, one distributor touted the leanness of their operation compared to their bloated and struggling competitor. That competitor assured me, sua sponte, that they had been recapitalized and were now stable and moreover, their production guarantees were actually provided not by them, but by a third-party financial institution. One panel manufacturer critiqued another by saying that they were bleeding money while that competitor suggested that solar was simply the flavor of the week at the competition and that they would not have staying power in solar.
And so on.
While we had heard financial critiques of start-ups in the past - and it is always a fair question to ask where a start-up is getting its money and whether it can generate sufficient revenues to survive - this was the first time that we had heard such critiques applied to well-established players. It was both interesting - certainly we have not spent much time analyzing 10K’s in deciding which products and suppliers to use - and a bit distressing. Here’s hoping that next year everyone is doing so well that the financial matters are moot.
The most interesting development at the show this year was the introduction of Korean electronics giant, LG Electronics, into the U.S. solar panel market. From a technology standpoint, their panels - both mono and polycrystalline - appear to land somewhere between Sanyo and Suntech. The fit and finish appeared to be very good and the specs are appealing with a 0~+3% production tolerance and a module efficiency ranging from 13.7 to 16.2%. One of their products, the Mono X (which comes in 250, 255 and 260 Watt variations) also claims to be the first solar panel to be “Carbonfree Certified.”
More significantly, the LG panels possess something that neither Sanyo nor Suntech has: an enormous brand-presence with American consumers. Indeed, given the success of LG in the U.S. consumer electronics marketplace in recent years, it would be surprising to find a potential client who doesn’t already have one or more LG products in their home. “Life’s Good,” indeed.
As fellow blogger and solar tribe leader, Tor Valenza a/k/a Solar Fred, has commented more than once, branding - and more importantly, brand recognition - in the solar industry is what we are all trying to achieve but so far no one really has. Now that LG is weighing in and in a big way, can it be long before we see that LG Super Bowl ad featuring solar panels? (Hey, LG, feel free to go with that idea and you don’t even have to pay me!)
The other big development that we saw was the introduction of a clever, non-lease financing mechanism coming from one of our distributors, Focused Energy. While leasing programs can appear attractive - we’ve all seen the “go solar with no money down” ads - they have limitations for commercial customers including forfeiting the ability to advertise that your company is solar powered. Yet cash-flow concerns can impose a significant impediment to potential clients. While the bulk of those early out-of-pocket costs get recouped fairly quickly thanks to the utility rebate and the federal tax credit, commercial clients must still pony-up the full freight to get the project rolling.
That is where Focused is stepping in to help out. Their program will allow the commercial client to assign to Focused the rebate and federal tax credit (in the form of the 1603 grant) and immediately reduce that amount from their initial purchase price. We are excited by this program and we will post in greater detail when we have had a chance to review the fine print.
Finally, we would be entirely remiss without a word or two of thanks to our sponsor, the great folks over at Enphase Energy. Going into the event we wrote about how our presence was being subsidized by Enphase and we have also reported on the very spirited competition in which we participated and which became the talk of the show.
As great as all that was, on a more significant level, this was a chance to have unprecedented access to the Enphase decision makers, from CEO Paul Nahi, to Product Manager Magnus Asbo, to Marketing folks like Christine Bennett and Noelani Price. Think about it - how often does an installer get asked by the CEO and Product Manager of a product you use everyday, “What are the things you like the least about our product?" That’s easy - hardly ever! But we were able to provide exactly that type of feedback this past week in Dallas. Of course, it remains to be seen whether any of our feedback ends up in their product, but it surely does feel good to be asked.
Given that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - something Enphase already knows quite a bit about given the influx of other companies, including SMA, into the micro-inverter space - we would not be surprised to see more manufacturers inviting installers to participate with them at future shows. We surely hope that happens as it can only be good for the industry, but Enphase has set the bar really high.
So those are our thoughts; if you were at the show we would love to hear about your insights and observations in the comments.
UPDATE: The Great Enphase Install-O-Rama wrapped up on Thursday in fine fashion - ultimately showcasing two installer Top Guns who prove that the future of our industry is on a sound footing.
Overall winner Adam Rossi - a/k/a “The Solar Ninja” - was one of the six installers invited to SPI by the folks at Enphase. Adam, who runs Adam Solar Resources in Bridgeville, PA, is everything you might want in a solar installer - he’s smart, he’s devoted to the industry, and he has more than a bit of that competitive spirit that can help you push through tough times. He was also blindingly fast, turning in a crazy quick time of just 1:34!
But scarcely to be outdone was Adam’s chief rival, sixteen-year-old Dusty Psaila from Hawaii. Dusty stepped out of the audience to compete and he has been installing solar with his dad for two years. Judging by his enthusiasm for the competition and for the solar exhibit overall, he will undoubtedly be a major force in the Hawaiian solar industry in the years to come.
It was a real pleasure to spend some time with these great young people and we wish them the best of success in their future careers.
Go get ‘em, guys!
Today was the first day of the Solar Power International Exhibits here in Dallas and that could only mean one thing – it was time for the great Enphase Install-O-Rama! Featuring your humble reporter going head-to-head with the toughest competition SPI could provide. For this first go, that was none other than Mark Santos, Director of Business Development at Premier Power out of El Dorado Hills in NoCal.
Suffice it to say that Mark is a very fast study. Some might even say too fast, but we won’t quibble about such things. However, wisdom and experience defeats youth and treachery – at least for awhile and I’ve got the proof, check this out:
To be fair - eventually, after repeatedly going to school on (and being schooled by) me, Mark broke through on the last match-up to take the overall morning lead - and he did it in fine fashion, beating my previous best by more than 10 seconds.
Ah, but the competition is just beginning and there are more match-ups to come (including with some very - shall we say, self-confident? competitors). So we shall see how this all turns out!
I can say, that for never having touched an M215 until yesterday, the system really is quite easy to use. Nice job, Enphase! Now on to Gilly’s!!!
Solar Power International 2011 starts next week in Dallas and we will be there, thanks to our friends at Enphase Energy. If you are going to be there as well, we hope you will stop by the Enphase booth and say hi!
Here’s how this came about - as readers of this blog probably know, we have attended the Solar Power conference every year since entering the business back in 2006. However, this year the show has moved out of California - a certainly reasonable decision given the size of solar markets in other states - but given the added expense, we were sadly resigned to giving it a pass. Then, out of the blue, we were contacted by the folks at Enphase who invited us to participate with them in demonstrating how quick and easy their new M215 line is to install. So, along with five other installers from around the country, we will be spending time at the Enphase booth - #1331 - on Tuesday and Thursday morning helping to spread the word about the value of Enphase micro-inverters.
(Full disclosure: this is the first time that Run on Sun has received any stipend or other consideration from Enphase and everything we have ever written about them and their products was done without any inducement of any kind. The stipend in this case is to merely cover our expenses in attending the conference.)
As always, we are really looking forward to attending the show as it is a great way for us to see what innovative products are coming (it was the 2008 show that introduced us to Enphase), touch base with all of our suppliers (who will all be there) and generally get recharged from the collective energy exuded by thousands of other believers in the value of renewable energy in general and solar power in particular. It should be a wonderful show - and will hopefully help to generate some positive press about the solar industry at a time when it desperately needs it.
So if you are attending the show, feel free to reach out via the SPI online social app or just come by the Enphase booth - #1331 on the main floor - on Tuesday or Thursday morning. I’ll be the good-looking guy with the beard, sporting Run on Sun livery! Hope to see you in Dallas!