Dropping prices, the need for storage, smarter monitoring, cutting costs, FiTs or no FiTs, the need for forecasting, varying permitting requirements, the need for more innovation. We heard all this and more last week at Intersolar North America 2012. Most importantly what we saw and heard is that the industry is becoming more realistic.
When asked what the greatest challenge of the past year was, executives throughout the industry, including Pieter Vandewalle, Senior Director of Marketing at KLA-Tencor, said it was dropping prices. Derrick Botha, Motech’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing said that the precipitous drop brought prices to “unprofitable levels”. Christopher Beitel, Vice President of Business Development and Marketing at Silevo noted that as a result of the rapid drop in prices, there are “added pressures for economies of business". Many, however, maintain the couched-yet-hopeful-reality that prices are now where they should be and that the industry may now proceed with somewhat more stability.
Smart is as smart does
“Smart” being a leading buzzword heard throughout the trade show, Solar Novus Today discussed smart inverters with Enecsys. Not only do they increase safety, but the important data provided opens up new service models on the operations and maintenance (O&M) side of the industry. Tigo Energy is another company with a smart product: SmartModules is a module-level MPPT optimizer for residential, commercial as well as utility-scale installations. SunLink showed us smart grounding and wire management on its new racking systems. They didn’t use the word “smart,” but we did.
Dollar per kW
As prices have possibly dropped to where they should be, Andrew Duggan, COO of One Roof Energy, pointed out the distinction between price and cost, and noted that now the focus is on cutting costs wherever possible. One of the obvious places is in all the balance of system (BOS) components, which is likely the reason why that area of the exhibit hall was the most active and engaging. A less obvious place to cut costs is right at the beginning of the supply chain with materials. We spoke with Greg Bausch, Solar Product and Marketing Manager at Dow Corning, Hemlock Semiconductor Group, who said that polysilicon’s contribution to the total system cost has been declining for some time and he estimated that it’s probably currently about 15% or less than the total module cost. He added that what’s more significant is the dollar per kilowatt per time, and that it’s good news that the number of grams of silicon per watt peak deployed is getting lower and lower. And then there’s manufacturing, where the latest technologies such as electro-depositional placement, in-line metrology and process control are employed in state-of-the-art facilities such as SoloPower and others.
Where FiT spells opportunity
In a conference session on global markets, the talk turned to the much-debated feed-in-tariff. In discussing Japan’s recently launched FiT Brooks Herring, Executive Officer, Vice President, Brand and Communications of Solar Frontier, said that the new FiT offers opportunities. And with the Japanese belief in buying local, the Japanese CIS thin-film manufacturer is well positioned to take advantage of those new opportunities.
Fun on a cool San Francisco night
At an exhibition and conference that drew 22,000 visitors from 80 countries to see 800 exhibitors, there was never a shortage of must-do events. The Solar Novus Today editor’s award for most fun after-hours networking event was the Solar Battle of the Bands, which sold out to 1200 lucky ticket holders. The event featured live performances from employees of SolarCity, SMA, Sungevity, Tioga Energy, and Zep Solar, with the audience chossing Zep as the winner. Rumour has it that this may become an annual event, so keep up the good work and we will see you next year.