As a newcomer to SPI (Solar Power International), I can admit that I’m truly overwhelmed. It’s a good thing they offer a First-Time Attendee Orientation, which I attended yesterday afternoon to get the lay of the land. An original estimate was that SPI would draw 18,000 people but the organizers think attendance may achieve a record 20,000.
This was obvious when I entered the main hall for the Opening General Session. Let me first share a few gee whiz factoids that were scrolling on screen before that session:
- The U.S.A. has 47 GW of installed solar nationwide now.
- 39% of new energy capacity in the USA last year was solar (the most of any energy source)
- Mandalay Bay, the venue for SPI 2017, has 8.3 MMW of solar.
I’m always keen to listen in the opening session for themes that I think may echo throughout a multi-day event like this. Here are a few things I think may resonate:
- Moving beyond the antiquated notion of “baseload” generation – instead what we need is “flexible, resilient, reliable” power.
- The Suniva trade case. Abigail Ross Harper, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), asserted that all of the jobs represented in the room are at risk. We will have an entire session devoted to this topic today.
- Diversity in the solar industry. The Solar Foundation released a report (2017 U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study). Apparently women represented a full half of the new solar jobs created last year. That’s good news, but I’m sure we’ll learn about other aspects of that report throughout SPI.
- Disruption. Our keynote speaker (Rory McDonald) from Harvard Business School, opened our eyes to “competing and innovating in a disruptive environment.” Solar has been and will continue to be a disruptive force in the energy sector.
The co-hosts (SEIA and SEPA) also introduced other topics like the Orange Button and the 51st State Initiative. We may also hear more about the recent DOE grid study (apparently SEIA had an opportunity to meet with the staff/authors to offer a “pre-buttal”). These are also things I think we may hear more about over the coming days.
So when I say I’m a bit overwhelmed, it’s not just about the capacity crowd. There’s a lot going on in the solar arena. We’ll gather as much as we can and keep you posted on the key outcomes.