Vice President Joe Biden delivers the keynote at Solar Power International this year and shares a photo of his alma mater’s visionary Solar One House project
Just a few weeks ago the solar industry’s largest event — Solar Power International or “SPI” as it's known to regulars — took place in Anaheim, featuring over 2,000 solar and renewable energy organizations. We noticed several distinct themes running through the event this year.
- There’s a lot of buzz around energy storage. Wow! The scheduled sessions on energy storage were some of the most heavily attended at SPI this year, to the extent that event staff members turned people away at the door due to capacity issues. To a packed house, SunEdison’s Tom Leyden spoke about the areas in which energy storage is adding value right now, specifically how storing solar and wind power can help energy providers “fill in the gaps” in supply. A few days later, SunEdison’s Advanced Solutions General Manager, Tim Derrick, spoke about storage as well, reminding the audience that it’s early days for this sector but also highlighting several ways that storage is starting to drive value for customers.
- Diversity is being discussed in entirely new ways. At one of the storage discussions, a panelist looked around the room and quipped, "We need more women in the solar industry. Sorry, guys.” Later, a sold-out Professional Women in Solar panel featured Leslie Labruto from the Clinton Foundation as well as SunEdison’s own Tamara Mullins, who laid out the business case for building a more diverse solar workforce such a data that shows target audiences are reached more effectively. Another SPI event aimed to help the industry understand how to build a diverse workforce, such as using bias interrupters like the elimination of gender-identifying information on resumes.
- Interest in community solar is growing. Community solar certainly isn’t a new idea, but as towns all over the world become more aware of the benefits of solar energy, it felt like the discussion around community solar had grown at SPI this year as well. Rather than installing individual solar systems on homes and businesses, community solar means a larger system is built, and then people in the community can own or lease a part of the system. It’s great because it lets communities take on more energy independence, tends to be highly cost effective, and allows folks who rent their homes or who don’t have a good roof for solar to access the benefits of renewables.
- Utilities are a part of the picture. Utility companies and renewable energy are sometimes depicted as competitors, but as SPI revealed this year, a more sophisticated understanding is long overdue. Utilities are starting to look at bringing new energy sources into their portfolios, which means a more nuanced, mixed picture of energy is starting to emerge all over the U.S. and world. At the opening general session, Duke Energy’s Greg Wolf observed "Solar and renewables are going to be a significant part of energy generation.