Intersolar North America kicks off on a rousing note

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The North American chapter of the Intersolar trade show opened its doors on Tuesday in San Francisco, with California Governor Jerry Brown giving a rousing address at the opening ceremony and receiving a standing ovation.

In an off-the-cuff address, Brown said that the solar industry is playing a crucial role in the fight against climate change and that industry participants must not only grow the number of solar installations, but also market the idea of solar to the wider public.

While the Asiana Airlines plane crash at the San Francisco International Airport threw many Intersolar North America attendees’ schedules into disarray, the opening ceremony of the exhibition attracted a big crowd.

Organizers of the conference and three-day trade show put together a lively and inspirational panel of speakers for the opening yesterday evening. Along with Governor Brown, San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) director Dan Arvizu and newly minted executive director of CALSEIA Bernadette Del Chiaro all spoke at the event, which was hosted by Fraunhofer Institute director Eicke Weber.

Attendees at the opening event burst into spontaneous applause at various points throughout the addresses and in particular at the conclusion of Governor Brown’s 20-minute speech, when he committed too winding back obstacles to an increase in solar installation in the state, exclaiming: "the sun is shining brightly in the state of California."

Brown spoke of the progress that had been made in California in terms of installed photovoltaic capacity, but noted that there was still a great deal to be done if the challenge presented by climate change was to be met. "California is in the lead, but that doesn’t mean we’ve arrived at the goal."

Brown noted that there is now over 2 GW of installed photovoltaic capacity in the state. The governor made his comments on the same day that NPD Solarbuzz reported that 1.8 GW had been installed nationally in the U.S. in 2013, reaching a cumulative capacity of 10 GW.

Noting that globally 100 GW of photovoltaic has now been installed, NREL director Arvizu described the growth of renewable energy industry as being both rapid and unstoppable. "The genie is out of the bottle and it’s not going back," Arvizu said in his presentation.

He added that one of the obstacles facing the mass expansion of the photovoltaic industry in North America was access to large scale capital. Drawing on research from NREL, Arvizu described how technologies face two "valleys of death" on their path to large scale realization. The first such valley is in the early stages of technology development, in which angel and venture capital investors can generally take up the slack. The second such hurdle – or "death valley" – is in the commercialization of renewable technologies, where large institutional investors will have to get involved, according to Arvizu. In this stage, trillions of dollars are required, not billions, the NREL executive said.

Arvizu also addressed grid integration issues as another challenge facing the solar industry in North America. Pointing to ongoing research being carried out by NREL, Arvizu said that a high penetration of renewable energy in the U.S. is clearly possible. Pointing to the distributed generation advantage that solar possesses, he argued that old school electricity models of centralized generation and large distribution needs to transition to a more distributed model. "This model would unleash innovation and encourage investment," said Arvizu.

Addressing the Californian photovoltaic market, CALSEIA’s Del Chiaro highlighted the legislative support that solar has enjoyed in the state and how that support is likely to continue. Pointing to the leadership of Governor Brown and the pro-solar former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Del Chiaro also noted that an initiative to legislate for zero emission homes in California by 2020 will also drive photovoltaic demand in the state in the future. "Solar needs imaginative and bold people who are willing to do the work and these people are in this room."

The Intersolar North America conference and trade show concludes on Thursday.