With unprecedented growth, solar is now considered mainstream. So where do we go from here? General session panelists at the Solar Power International Convention were asked what’s next for solar, with many looking forward to integration with storage, demand response, and energy efficiency.
Though panelists answered the question with eloquence and enthusiasm, the emergence of exciting new companies and projects that came out over the days of the conference gave perhaps an even more vibrant and illustrative answer to the question.
Here’s a recap of some of the big events of the SPI Convention, including companies new on the scene, well-deserved awards, and exciting events.
Companies to Watch
KR Solar Technologies
Hailing from Woodstock, Georgia, KR Solar Technologies has made its market debut with the KR Solar Sphere dual-axis tracker. They have a patent on their rotating panel table, which accommodates anywhere from four to 12 panels. They’re going after both the residential and commercial markets.
Krinner Solar is breaking into the solar scene in Tempe, Arizona, boasting a one-of-a-kind contour-following single axis tracker. They’re in the middle of getting US certified, but have already had successful installations in South Africa.
The Slovakian company Solargis made a splash at SPI Con when it announced that it will begin to custom-fit its global insolation mapping services to tracker manufacturers. Solargis plans to adapt the parameters of each model into a new design--all this in addition to the prospecting, monitoring, and forecasting services it already provides for fixed-mount arrays.
The SEPA Solar Power Player Awards
The SEPA Solar Power Player Awards, presented by the Smart Electric Power Alliance, recognize electric utilities, their industry partners and individuals for creating programs embodying the innovation and collaboration that drive smart utility solar growth and expand consumer access to distributed energy technologies. Basically, they’re the Energy Emmys. This year’s SEPA awards went to some well-deserving recipients. Here’s the scoop:
Investor-Owned Utility of the Year: Pepco
Based in Washington, D.C., Pepco was given this award because of all the utility’s work in developing tools that can increase the amount of solar power connected to the system. Pepco’s interconnection process for both customers and installers has been impressively streamlined, and they already have over 26,000 solar systems online, with 2,000 more residential interconnection applications coming in every month. Pepco is now testing new software apps aimed at mapping and modeling solar, so the utility can figure out how much solar can safely be connected to specific circuits (also known as hosting capacity.)
“To continue increasing the amount of solar-generated electricity that is fed into the grid, it is crucial that tools to increase hosting capacity and grid management of solar be researched and developed,” - Paula Mints, Chief Market Research Analyst for SPV Market Research.
Public Power Utility of the Year: Village of Minster, Ohio
You may have never heard of the Village of Minster, Ohio, before now, but it deserves this place in the spotlight. Earlier this year, the village of 2,850 brought a solar-plus-storage project online with 4.2 megawatts of solar and 7 megawatts of storage. That’s right, the Village of Minster is the very first public power authority to pull this off, and reps from cities all over the country are stopping by to study its model.
“The Village of Minster has overcome government and market barriers to establish complex relationships with stakeholders to make this project economically feasible for its customers,” said awards judge Paul Belnick, Vice President of Integrated Grid at New York Power Authority. “By adding the storage to solar, Minster has been able to increase the value of the solar array to its customers through revenue stacking...and demonstrate its forward-thinking leadership.”
Electric Cooperative of the Year: Green Power EMC
Green Power EMC took the lead in helping 38 other electric co-ops across Georgia implement comprehensive solar strategies, upping solar capacity from 7.5 MW to 240 MW. Woah. By banding together, these Georgia co-ops increased their scale and lowered their cost, making it possible to pull of this incredible solar capacity growth. Talk about a smart move.
“The coordination of so many co-ops was very impressive. This had a larger scale of actually getting solar done and in the ground, and offers customers a lot of flexibility in how they approach solar.” -Alison Kling, Senior Specialist, Distributed Generation at Con Edison of New York.
Innovative Partner of the Year: Clean Energy Collective
The CEC, hailing from Colorado, took community solar to the next level. They developed a platform and toolkit that provides utilities with a turnkey option for starting community solar programs. The CEC aligned their approach with utility business models, making it super effective to all of their customers, while maintaining a great relationship with grid-tied customers. They’re now amping up their project to work with utility partners in 12 different states, with over 100 solar projects underway. That’s 177 MW of solar capacity. Slow clap.
“Replicability is the key issue here,” said John Frick, Vice President of Government Relations at the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina. “The difficulty of making a complex arrangement like community solar turnkey for so many is quite a feat and will surely be transformative throughout the industry.”
Solar Champion: Dora Nakafiji, Director of Renewable Energy Planning at Hawaiian Electric Company
Dora is truly an underrated energy hero. She recently lead the development and deployment of data-driven tools that Hawaiian Electric now uses to maintain grid reliability. Why is grid reliability such a big issue in Hawaii? Because they’re currently working to integrate a ton of solar into the grid.By 2045, they hope that they’ll be running on 100 percent renewable energy. Dora Nakafuji has worked tirelessly for six years to secure more than $30 million in grant funding, and is known for her innovative, highly-collaborative approach.
“Dora has consistently been at the forefront of Hawaiian Electric’s renewable and solar integration programs, and has been a driving force for finding technical solutions for Hawaii’s aggressive renewable target,” said Carmine Tilghman, Senior Director of Energy Supply at Tucson Electric. “Having had the pleasure of meeting and working with her through technical groups, I can attest to Dora’s leadership, innovative vision and passion for her work.”
SPIs Big Events and Announcements
The SunShot Initiative:
During the convention, the Energy Department made a big announcement: They’re forking over up to $107 million for new project to support clean energy innovation through solar technology. This is coming under the EERE SunShot Initiative, and includes 40 projects to improve photovoltaic performance, reliability, and manufacturability. The Department hopes that these projects will bring solar technology and market penetration to the next level by driving down the cost of utility-scale solar.
"Since 2008, the commitments made by the Department of Energy have contributed to solar PV's deployment growing 30-fold and overall costs falling more than 60%," said Under Secretary for Science and Energy Franklin Orr. "Continuing to invest in solar technologies will help to drive down costs even further for American consumers and ensure that the U.S. maintains global leadership in this century's clean energy economy."
The Women in Solar Luncheon:
This year’s Women in Solar luncheon was organized by volunteers to bring together and encourage the women working in the solar industry. The goal of the event was to provide a place for women to exchange ideas, gain thought leadership, and honor the contribution of women to the solar industry. Women from around the country and across the spectrum of the solar industry gathered in one room to create an impressive concentration of intelligence, experience, and leadership.
Run with the Sun 5K:
SPI Con’s annual 5k was a huge success this year, bringing out the athletic and competitive side of this year’s attendees. Participants were up with the sun at 6AM on Tuesday morning to hit the Las Vegas Country Club. Yuri Horwitz of Sol Systems obliterated the competition and took home the men’s title, while Emma Kosciak from Citizen’s Energy Corporation won the women’s competition.
What's next for solar? After all of the speakers, presentations, events, all 17,000 attendees agreed that the future of solar is bright. Missed out? Save the date for the next Solar Power International Convention on September 10-13 2017 in Las Vegas.