Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Giant solar conference fires up in Anaheim

If big, impressive-sounding numbers are any indication, the solar power industry is booming – even as the nation’s economy struggles to shake off recession.

Some very big numbers indeed are being tossed around by the organizers of Solar Power International 2009, billed as ”America’s largest solar event,” which begins Tuesday at the Anaheim Convention Center.

More than 20,000 people from 90 countries are expected to attend the three-day conference, and 925 companies will exhibit their wares, more than doubling last year’s 425.

“The solar industry as a whole is definitely starting to see an uptick,” said Lyndon Rive, chief executive officer of SolarCity, a solar power-system leasing company with offices in Orange County. “We hit a speed bump at the end of last year, beginning of this year.”

That was because most solar power systems are financed, he said; when little financing was available, it delayed the industry’s growth. Now, he says, financing is starting to flow again.

Stimulus funding, including tax grants for businesses that install solar systems, also is helping drive the solar industry’s ascent, he said.

In addition to networking, Rive will deliver a speech on how to make the United States the leading solar market; right now, that title is typically held by Germany.

The U.S. market, in fact, is gaining increasing international attention, said Julia Hamm, conference chairwoman.

“The solar marketplace is very global in nature,” Hamm said. “There are a huge number of players in Europe, Asia, all over the world. Right now they’re all seeing the U.S. as the hottest new solar market. We have a very high percentage of attendees who want to get a foot in the door, and be able to do business in the U.S.”

Some big names are expected at the conference this year: U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, activist Robert Kennedy Jr. and actor and activist Ed Begley Jr. will deliver keynote speeches.

And while the conference is mostly “business to business” — exhibitors showing off their latest solar innovations, roundtable discussions among CEOs — the conference also offers a “public night” on Wednesday, when everyone is invited to prowl the cavernous, 203,000-square-foot exhibition space.

Among the exhibits: a booth on a solar thermal power plant in Spain that manages to generate solar electricity — even at night; a solar-system retrofit that boosted energy output from solar panels at an affordable housing project in Oakland by 22 percent; and the smallest-ever industrial robot, designed for solar component manufacturing.

The yearly event is put on by the Solar Electric Power Association and the Solar Energy Industries Assocation.

(Article courtesy of OCRegister.com)

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