If you were to ask a sampling of attendees and exhibitors about the recent annual industry event (as I did), you would get a wide range of opinions on the state of Intersolar North America. Some lamented the show’s shrinking expo floors and conference agenda, others said they had a heap of good leads to follow up on. Many companies with limited budgets have opted to spend their dollars on the bigger Solar Power International (AKA SPI, part of North America Smart Energy Week) taking place in Anaheim in September. A mere two months and change between the two big shows presents logistical and scheduling challenges for many companies, and the trend seems to favor SPI.
Yet most of those I spoke with believe there is still considerable value inherent in the global Intersolar brand’s U.S. effort, and believe there is enough room for two major shows in the industry. Intersolar North America has the advantage of taking place in the same venue, during the same timeframe, year after year, and benefits from the large concentration of companies in the sector located in or near the San Francisco Bay Area. It also includes more upstream PV production tool and materials companies than SPI, thanks in part to its co-location with SEMICON West. Although the inclusion of the Electrical Energy Storage (EES) show-within-a-show has also helped a bit, Intersolar’s organizers have their work cut out for them if they hope to maintain and boost the relevancy of the event.
The show floor continued to offer a strong representation of the solar and storage value chain. As usual, there was a mix of companies with strong brand messaging and booth design, as well as those that can’t seem to break out of their minor-league marketing mire. Seriously folks: clean, direct, and eye-catching works better than dense, cliché and copy-heavy every time. Some booths looked more like poster session presentations than professional-grade trade show stands. Recurring themes in the exhibit halls included PERC, bifacial, half-cut cells and other PV module innovations, a growing number of solar-plus-storage combos posing as microgrid offerings, simpler, more modular rooftop mounting approaches, and a growing trend toward the almighty algorithm and software-enabled smart energy solutions.
Moscone West’s expo halls faced a major distraction on Tuesday and Wednesday, when the FIFA World Cup 2018 semifinal games kicked off. Terrasmart took advantage of the situation by putting the games up on a quadrangle of flat screen TVs, attracting hundreds of attendees to their booth. I didn’t have a chance to ask them how much additional business their fan-friendly move may have brought in, but it certainly didn’t hurt the brand recognition of the ground-mount racking, design, engineering, manufacturing, and installation company.
I had a chance to attend a few conference sessions, including the invigorating opening keynote by Tony Seba, “Clean Disruption: Why Conventional Energy and Transportation Will Be Obsolete in 2030.” Pointing out how new markets are often created by destroying existing markets (case in point: the rapid transition from horses to automobiles in the early 20th century), Seba presented a compelling case for a technological disruption happening now. The convergence of electric vehicles, smart autonomous vehicles, on-demand transportation (hello Uber and Lyft), and increasingly ubiquitous and economically competitive solar “generation on demand” (the combo of solar and storage) has created what he calls “transportation as a service,” or TaaS. His talk included way too much to unwrap here but suffice it to say that Seba believes we are on the verge of an era of cheap mobility for all, powered by renewables. So, think twice about buying that next new car.
Of course, all work and no play would not be in keeping with the spirit(s) of Intersolar. Receptions, parties and other schmooze fests abounded. Relocated to the historic Warfield Theater, the Solar Battle of the Bands continues to be the hottest ticket, with Sunpower’s hard-rockin’ DC/AC band nabbing top honors this year. Kiterocket client NEXTracker signed on as lead sponsor, and company CEO Dan “Shug” Shugar checked another item off his bucket list as his band, Groovity, laid it down as the house band for the event, with many solar industry guest artists jamming with his quintet. Kiterocket’s own Intersolar After Party (cohosted by pv magazine USA) and the annual Intersolar Tweetup happy hour preceding it, brought hundreds of the solar/storage/cleantech tribe to our newly rebranded Kiterocket Experience (ex-Impress Lounge) overlooking the lush Yerba Buena Gardens.
For more coverage of Intersolar North America, I recommend this selection of posts from the trade publications and websites: pv magazine USA, Solar Wakeup, Greentech Media, Solar Power World and Solar Builder, plus Intersolar’s own wrap-up press release. Also check out our #IntersolarNA Tweets from the show via the @KiterocketRenew handle as well as my own Tweets via @cheynman and @solarcurator.
See you in September at Solar Power International 2018!