Another year, another Intersolar. Intersolar North America 2016 is now behind us — the panels, the booths, the friends old and new, the parties. The “most-attended solar exhibition in the United States,” with its 18,000 attendees and 550 companies represented, didn’t disappoint.
Now we stop, take a breath, and pause for a moment to reflect on what stood out to us at Intersolar this year.
Full disclosure: I didn’t walk every inch of the exhibition floor. Nonetheless, between what I did see there, what others reported back, and various panels I attended, a few key threads emerged for me.
Solar is a pillar of our economy and is here to stay
More than one person commented to me that the exhibition seemed smaller than before, or more focused on storage, or more crowded. But there’s more to it than the questions of whether Intersolar has grown or shrunk.
The energy at the conference was strong. Maybe that’s because despite the battles that solar has faced and will continue to face, solar is here to stay. As PV Magazine noted, the mood at the opening ceremony was combative. But solar has gained a strong foothold in the U.S., one that’s not so easily shaken. Lynn Jurich, CEO of that most combative company Sunrun, highlighted this with her comment, “You’re not going to stop consumers from wanting this.”
Bernadette del Chiaro, Executive Director of CALSEIA (California Solar Energy Industries Association), emphasized that in solar, we’re “Inherently disruptors of the status quo.” But the status quo is changing, as she pointed to with her comment that “the greatest growth of the residential sector is in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.”
California Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León continued the theme. The opening ceremony honored him with an Intersolar Champion of Change Award, one of several environmental awards he has deservedly received this year. De León pointed out that clean energy is “no longer a plaything of the wealthy. It’s a pillar of our economy and is here to stay.” He added, “We’re showing that one of the world’s largest economies can thrive while aggressively de-carbonizing.” He also noted that California will get to 50% renewable way before the 2030 goal, calling it a “quiet revolution.”
Net metering is being challenged
I know, duh. We’re all familiar with the challenges to net metering around the country. While California managed to keep net metering intact, other states like Hawaii and Nevada have not fared so well.
In a session on net metering, Kelly Crandall of EQ Research noted some trends happening around the country:
- With the year only halfway over, 40 rate cases have already been filed in 2016.
- Demand charges are being added for residential customers.
- Excess generation may be valued at wholesale in some states.
- Grid access charges are being considered for DG customers.
Keyes, Fox & Wiedman co-founder Kevin Fox posed the question, What do non-participating ratepayers really want? His answer: Ratepayers are citizens, and despite multi-million-dollar campaigns against net metering, our citizens support solar. In a survey of 32,000 U.S. residential utility customers, 75% of non-participating ratepayer respondents who were educated on the issues considered a fair rate for net metering to be either the retail electricity rate or higher. This and other studies bode well for strong support of net metering, the only policy, he said, that really facilitates rooftop solar in the U.S. today.
John Berdner of Enphase had a somewhat different take. He believes that net metering is not sustainable for utilities in the long term. The industry, he said, should move toward a DER tariff based not only on energy delivery (as in net metering) but on the provision of grid services beneficial to the grid operator.
Whatever your point of view, there’s no doubt that the net metering battles are far from over.
Community solar isn’t taking off as it should
Why haven’t we found a way to get solar to the 75% of people who can’t put it on their own roof? The sad thing is, we have. It’s called community solar, and as a former condo resident, I’ve been following it eagerly for years.
But while there’s been a lot of talk, community solar hasn’t taken off as it should. California’s long-awaited program was so poorly designed that some are saying no one will “show up to the party.”
Why is this happening? As Andrea Romano of Navigant Research noted at a panel on shared solar, everyone loves the idea. But it’s facing the hurdles of bureaucracy, plus the inability of small projects to take advantage of economies of scale. The demand is there, she said.
Erica McConnell of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) pointed out that we need to focus on customers when designing community solar programs. A program may be perfectly designed but not understandable for customers, who need to see a path to participate.
But as Paul Spencer of Clean Energy Collective noted, “the one thing that’s uniform about community solar is that it’s not uniform.” And it’s been tough to balance utility, power, and customer interests.
Another hurdle for community solar is simply that it’s not the low-hanging fruit. The residential solar market, while leaving out a good 75% of the population, is still somewhat untapped. So community solar is competing with that.
There may be no one right way to do community solar. But I hope enough right ways can be found to move it forward. It’s not a nice-to-have. Community solar is necessary not only to scale solar but to involve everyone — not just large companies and utilities — in the clean energy revolution.
Booth babes — wait, what?
In case you thought the Recom debacle at Intersolar a few years ago had led to a change in the booth babe culture, think again. Why aren’t some solar companies getting the message? I don’t know the answer, but I was surprised, to say the least, to walk by models scantily clad in bunny outfits and Bavarian dirndl costumes. One woman colleague told me she had a business meeting at one of the booths in question and was unable to concentrate. Another tweeted this:
The outrage wasn’t, thankfully, limited to women:
So, solar industry, are we finally going to do something about the booth babe situation?
We should encourage conference organizers to let exhibiting companies know this is not appreciated in our industry. Some professional conferences have implemented guidelines about booth attire; the solar industry should be able to do the same.
Let’s get #BeyondBoothBabes. This is not the way to encourage young women to enter the solar industry, or to make those of us already in solar feel welcome.
UPDATE 7/16: A couple days ago, Talesun issued an apology about their booth babes; see my response here.
Check in next week for Part II of our Intersolar coverage.