17 September 2012
Solar Power International 2012 closed last Thursday in Orlando, Florida, leaving us all better informed and with some new views on the solar industry in North America.
The keynote by President Bill Clinton was the buzz of the show, and his message of telling Americans what they do not know resonated with the attendees, many of whom are already doing just that. Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and the Vote Solar initiative, for example, released the report Solar Means Business: Top Commercial Solar Customers in the U.S., which includes familiar names such as Walmart, Costco, Kohl’s, IKEA, Macy’s. As of the middle of this year, businesses, non-profits and governments across the US deployed more than 2300MW of solar. The report states that this number is growing fast, with an average of one non-residential PV system coming on line every 72 minutes in the US.
Economic development and job creation is another story that needs to be told. While much negative attention has focused on jobs going to China, tariffs imposed on Chinese imports, etc., Chinese manufacturer Suntech built a module manufacturing plant in Goodyear Arizona because, as Suntech’s President, John Lefebvre said, they’re “bullish on the market.”
And speaking of the Chinese solar tariffs, a number of companies reported absolutely no change in business as a result of the 31% antidumping tariff. Tony Clifford, CEO of Standard Solar said that it’s unfortunate that “some of the best thinking in the industry is going toward fighting the trade case.”
‘Fossil fuel electrical generation suppresses state and US economic development.’
The true cost of energy is another story where solar and renewables come out on top, after factoring in the “extranalities,” which are all the extra costs associated with energy production, including the cost of healthcare. Lee Peterson, Senior Manager of the Reznick Group, an accounting firm that offers accounting, tax and business advisory services, said that coal is not the lowest cost because of the healthcare costs, environmental pollution, destruction caused by land use, etc. Peterson cited a study done last year by the Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment, which state that coal has a higher gross damage per kilowatt than any other source. He summed it up, saying that “fossil fuel electrical generation suppresses state and US economic development.”
Other topics at the show included new approaches that cut costs. Hydro, for example, is an aluminium extrusion company that uses recycled material. Allan Bennett, Vice President Solar Market Development said that aluminium mounting systems are less carbon intensive and easier to handle than steel. SPG, a manufacturer of single axis tracking systems, is cutting costs by pre-mounting the (pre-panelising), so that the trackers can quickly be set up on site, thereby reducing labour and freight costs.
Integration and cooperation
Renewable energy is not only the smart way to go but that it’s the only way to go.
Partnerships and financing options were also much talked about. Canadian Solar announced a financial solutions program aimed at the mid-level market. Alan King, Canadian Solar’s USA General Manager said that “a lot of customers in this market frankly don’t have enough money to finance projects themselves.” What the company is offering is essentially construction financing for new or existing customers, offering up to 180-day payment terms. King also said the company is seeking partners both upstream and downstream in what they’re calling Virtual Vertical Integration.
The industry is moving closer to operating in a non-incentivized world. It will only get there, however, by implementing cost-cutting measures, cooperating through partnerships, and by broadcasting the message to utilities, policy makers, tax payers and voters that renewable energy is not only the smart way to go but that it’s the only way to go.
Written by Anne Fischer, Managing Editor, Solar Novus Today