What Happens in Vegas? Solar Power International, That’s What

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Did the organizers of Solar Power International hold it in Vegas so the speakers could pepper their talks with gambling references? If you attended SPI’s opening session tonight, you might have come away with that impression.

But then, we didn’t mind hearing Nat Kreamer, President and CEO of Clean Power Finance, say, “Betting on solar is the best bet you can make in this town.” Or Rhone Resch, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), warn us, “Even if you don’t gamble, you are up to your neck in a high-stakes poker game, and it’s winner take all.” He was serious, emphasizing, “This isn’t the time to roll the dice on your future.”

Perhaps the celebratory atmosphere of Vegas, though, is what really makes it a fitting venue for this year’s SPI. Despite Resch’s urgent tone, there’s a lot to celebrate in solar these days. As Kreamer pointed out, a solar system is installed every 3 minutes in the U.S. — and we can now count over 6000 installations in all 50 states.

Julia Hamm, President and CEO of  Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA), detailed yet more reasons to celebrate, including some examples of utilities rising to the challenge of integrating more solar into the grid. Although some might not agree with her statement that so much solar coming into Hawaii’s grid made it “necessary” to halt it temporarily there, we can all agree that grid saturation from solar will need to be addressed.

How do we make the big changes needed? With a major challenge to the status quo. To that end, Hamm announced SEPA’s new initiative, the 51st State. She asked, What if we didn’t have conflicts between solar and utilities? What if we could start all over again, with a clean slate? That’s the idea behind the 51st State, a place with no predefined electricity market.

From the website: “There are no rules, no market designs, no policies, no subsidies for any type of energy resource. There is a grid to deliver electric power from a variety of sources, including solar. Most of all, there are customers. Your mission: Design an electricity market to meet customer desires for solar and other clean energy resources while ensuring the grid stays robust and reliable.”

Let’s hope this vision for the future can be realized. The future of solar, after all, is not free from threats. Resch made a major point of driving home the seriousness of policy issues facing solar. He reminded us that the loss of the production tax credit led to almost half of U.S. wind workers losing their jobs. Just one wind turbine was installed in the U.S. in the first half of 2013, he said, because of panic about the PTC.

Job #1, said Resch: “It’s absolutely imperative that we extend the 30% solar Investment Tax Credit past 2016.” To that end, SEIA is embarking on a “round-the-clock campaign” in support of said extension.

Urging us all to join SEIA if we haven’t, Resch also reminded us of the pressures on solar from the likes of the Koch brothers. SEIA, he said, will work on leveling the playing field — after all, fossil fuels get a big serving of subsidies too — and on rallying the American people. With elections coming up, it’s a good time to note that politicians do listen to major pressure from the people. Let’s ensure that pressure is applied.

And in the spirit of Vegas references, remember: What happens in Vegas stays on Twitter at #SPICon forever!