SPI 2012: US market growth amongst political pain

As support for renewable energies, including photovoltaics, remains a highly politicized topic in the shadow of a looming Presidential election, predictions for the U.S. market at SPI remain cautiously optimistic. While pv magazine can report that initial traffic does appear down on last year, a speech by former President Bill Clinton may attract bigger crowds tomorrow. Clinton, who has shown support for photovoltaics in the past, may take aim at the Republican Party’s outspoken and strident criticism of support for renewable energy.

The Orange County Convention Center, which is hosting this year’s SPI, is the second biggest of its kind in the U.S. and also sports one of the country’s largest rooftop photovoltaic installations, with a capacity of 1 MW.

The SPI opened with a Q&A session with Rhone Resch, president of the U.S. Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), where he cautioned that a hostile political environment could slow the growth of photovoltaics. Resch spoke of the ongoing negative publicity in the wake of Solyndra’s failure and how consumer awareness, as to the advantages of photovoltaics, is low in many states – including the SPI host state of Florida.

At the Q&A, Resch spoke of the declining project pipeline for large utility-scale installations, and warned that administrative or political impediments may slow down growth in the residential sector. The SEIA president indicated that solar leasing is a major trend in the U.S. in the residential segment, although pointed to impediments to "third party financing" of photovoltaics in some states.

In a sign of continuing consolidation in photovoltaics, the expected number of visitors and exhibitors at SPI 2012 are down on last year. The show closes on Thursday.