It’s not surprising to see a lot of breathless posts on social media from industry groups putting on trade shows.
But if you are in the solar industry and you are in Vegas right now at #REPlus, I’m pretty sure you are literally trying to catch your breath. I’ve walked close to a marathon in the last two days. A conference that hit a record 27,000 people last year is at 41,000 last I heard.
The impact of the IRA, which is at least a trillion-dollar private investment vehicle is real. So here are five things I have taken away from this conference.
- Storage is the infant King – – Based on attendance at the educational sessions, people really care about batteries and long duration energy storage. I stopped in at a session run by Julia Souder, CEO of the Long Duration Energy Storage Association. Standing room only. Great conversation about the regulatory hurdles, the technological advancement, the need for a diversity of sources, and the need to scale. It took the Solar industry 50 years to gradually get itself organized, and solar is still an immature industry in my view. Storage is in its infancy, and it somehow now needs to be an adult in the marketplace. From a technology and logistical standpoint, can storage meet the vast demand that it is facing, starting now!
- Trade and U.S. Manufacturing matter a lot, but…Companies are undoubtedly making massive investments in U.S. manufacturing, and it’s clear to me that the dual impacts of the Auxin trade case and the IRA have led to close to $100 billion new clean manufacturing. The investment numbers offer a powerful talking point for the industry and the Biden administration, but there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that all this gets built. So economic development and jobs projections might be inflated. Check back in five years. On the other hand, solar always does exceed expectations. I’m concerned that over the next three to five years, as we build more module capacity, there won’t be enough non-China polysilicon, not to mention cells and wafers, to meet skyrocketing U.S. demand. We have to either work with China to ensure that the products they are sending us are free of forced labor and that they are trading in good faith, or we must develop other sources of these materials. Neither is easy to do.
- The industry is starting to invest in local siting issues – Companies are investments in local sting battles where they were reluctant to before. I’ve found that there are a lot of disparate and poorly coordinated campaigns to ingratiate clean energy in communities. Everything from foundations, to wealthy individuals, to philanthropic groups, to enviros, to local clean energy advocates, to individual wind companies, to individual solar companies, to government entities have been making earnest efforts to demonstrate that clean energy companies are also good neighbors. We need to get organized not just to site solar but the transmission that we will inevitably need.
- Mature industry’s are defined by companies, solar is not – Solar is still trying to find its rightful place in American culture. I thought Van Jones did a great job during RE+ of articulating clean energy’s role in a divided and hope-hungry America. I can see a day when half the homes and businesses in our country have solar energy on their roofs, their properties, or in their communities. It can be part of who we are; as much a part of our lives as the car we drive. For many people, the delivery of electricity will always be as opaque as it is today. Americans are never going to care about the NERCs, FERCs and ISOs of the world, vital though they may be. I personally think companies have to take communications more into their own hands and establish their own identity in order to establish an industry identity.
- The show – The energy here speaks for itself. There’s a ton of stuff to worry about one thing we don’t have to worry about is the commitment and vitality of the people in this industry. I’ve had great conversations with so many people here. People are optimistic and driven and in my experience incredibly kind. Kudos to SEIA, SEPA and Solar Energy Trade Shows for putting on an incredible show in the face of 50-% growth in one year..