It should be a requirement that everyone in solar should attend an industry-wide conference once in their lives. Like a natural ecosystem or the grid itself, the solar industry is a vast and utterly interconnected machine. There are no silos and there can’t be, due to the basic nature of both electrical power and human society itself.

Working in one or two companies gives you a limited view as to how the whole solar show all fits together, and since the media and communications components of the solar industry are so massively under-resourced, everyone regardless of job function is inevitably put in an educational position.

As a panelist at the only session specifically devoted to communications so wisely said: “All companies are media companies.” Yes – there was only one session at SPI devoted solely to communications, which when taking into account the massive amounts of information exchanged at such an event, isn’t all that surprising. But anything not specifically addressed usually remains ignored.

low income access to community solar
Poster by Vote Solar’s Marta Tomic and Melanie Santiago-Mosier, JD: “True clean energy equity means that the benefits of solar are accessible to everyone, regardless of whether solar is installed on your roof or around the corner. So far, only 15 states and the District of Columbia have legislatively enabled community solar programs, and of these, only a few states have developed community programs and policies that provide tangible benefits for low-income households and promote their participation. This poster identifies the key barriers to developing viable community solar programs for low-income communities that stand the most to gain:

Much of the heavy lifting in the communications department was done by the Poster Gallery, and if you didn’t get to go to the conference, this is the thing to check out. It’s all on an online Poster Gallery now, in all its glory… You have to register for a free Eventscribe account, but the information is priceless, from Commercial and Industrial topics to Policy, Storage, Finance, Residential, Smart Grid, and Technical Abstracts.

As every salesperson knows, the minute you open your mouth about your job at a dinner party, you’re asked about baseball impacts on panels, why you can’t hook up your car battery instead of buying a fancy Powerwall, or my favorite question of the week (worthy of a post of its own): if utilities are buying more renewable energy these days, why aren’t electricity rates going down? Great question there!

It’s no longer acceptable that Americans learn everything they will ever learn about clean energy from Bill Nye in fourth-grade science, and then immediately forget it. Fossil fuel companies are not stopping the direct mail onslaught anytime soon, which leads me to my first memorable number:

  • $33 trillion. This is the amount of money that fossil fuel companies stand to lose from stranded assets over the next 25 years if global society acts on climate change, according to an Barclays energy analyst. This was one of the focal points of the keynote given by CEO Dan Gregory of microgrid specialists Pos-En, a Star Wars-themed presentation that stood out for its spirit. (His son, a psychology major, suggested the theme.) I have included his slides below – not just amusing, they also bring up many intriguing themes, like the promise of expanded direct current applications. (Some say this is inevitable, and I doubt anyone in Florida or the Caribbean is ruling out any options.) The solar industry finds itself in the awkward and unique position of being both a late-stage capitalist industry and the group of people ushering in the Golden Age of renewable energy, which not only requires technological innovation but courageous social decision-making at a time when American democracy is essentially non-functional. It’s not like America is the only country to play a role in this, but we still have incredible advantages of wealth, a legacy of investing in higher education, and a commitment to technological innovation. If there were a time for an engineer’s battle cry, it would be now.SPI_Keynote_V2
  • The Technical Symposium! This was the first one at Solar Power International (after five years of lobbying by researchers) and I tell you, it was amazing. Researchers from at least eight universities and some of the most innovative companies in the business were there. I will have to do another blog post just on this. Maybe in two years we will have communications and messaging charrettes too…. Something to think about.
  • The 51st State Project. The Smart Energy Power Alliance is the cosponsor with SEIA of Solar Power International and is the entity charged with the monumental task of interfacing between utilities and energy clean tech during a period of grid modernization. They are addressing this charge with aplomb and creativity, as evinced by the 51st State Project, an initiative which aims to rearrange and re-envision utility function for a theoretical open-book state. Check it out at this link.

There was just too much for a 600-word post but these are my initial thoughts. Happy to talk to anyone about these initiatives and I hope that everyone does indeed get a chance to attend an SPI event, or the American Solar Energy Society conference in Colorado next month.