Blogs, Solar, Storage

What do we do when it’s all done?

There’s something sad about seeing the booths come down.

The displays disassembled, wires spilling onto the floor, all the things so many have been eager to see all week being packed up and hidden away for another time. People rushing to get out the door.

The conference crowd thinning all day Thursday, too, and smaller to start with than the day before. No multitudes at Solar Power International once Bill Clinton gave the keynote address and the masses poured off to their respective happy hours and a final reception, leaving just us solar addicts and the general public to prowl the floor on Thursday and linger for the last workshops.

There’s a letdown after it’s all done. We’ve heard the speeches, traded business cards hundreds of times, shaken hands and promised to get in touch, get information to each other. Now we’re on the road, in the air, negotiating airports, highways, strange exits and a last motel room or two on the way home. Relaxing for the first time in days, just sitting, closing our eyes and letting go a little bit.

What do we do when it’s all done? Oh, sure, we’ll get that information to and from each other. I’ll start chasing down that special jumper cable we need to finish that job in Brentwood, and refresh my memory on the array layout for that job in Old Hickory so we can get the rails up on Tuesday. There will be conference calls and meetings, the ASES solar tour, the TSEA workshops, the TEC Sustainable Summit. And more installations in between.

We’ve all got our own work details to tend to, to slide back into. But what about SPI?

We all came to Solar Power International for myriad reasons, but the big one we all share was to double down on this young solar industry, to gather up a little more inspiration to lean into the sunshine and pull that heavy load of the past along behind us. We’ll especially need that extra strength in the next couple of months as the election season heats up and threatens to singe our young industry.

Will we have stored enough energy from a few days at Solar Power Inspirational? Will we remember the pride Bill Clinton gave us when he reminded us we’re in the future business, that he saw the future in us? Will these “best of times” Rhone Resch sketched for us float us through the “worst of times” he also described? Do we have the energy to boost our young industry to the exponential growth scenario Julia Hamm put out there, just beyond our grasp so we’d have to reach for it?

I’m feeling the post conference letdown Friday morning. Seeing the booths in the exhibition hall being torn apart yesterday afternoon, I felt a moment of panic – wait, I’ve got more questions to get answered by this wonderful collection of experts, more new products to see, not yet found that big deal to close, that insight that makes it all make sense.

Some of those booths we saw this year won’t be there next year. We already saw fewer panel manufacturers this year, and even though I saw some new brands this week I’d never heard of before, I bet we see fewer next year, that we’ll never hear from again.

And I bet many of us will be in different jobs when SPI 2013 rolls around. It amazed me this year, just in the last few months but again in the last few weeks and days, to witness the musical chairs game my solar distributor reps have been playing. A few have disappeared altogether but quite a few more have been changing hats and brands. Michael was here but now he’s there, like Kyle and Doug, too, though I don’t know where he is now, or Carlos, or Hans, and Marty has been several places in the meantime. And that’s just the reps – the tech support guys have been moving around, too. I imagine I’d be saying the same thing if I traveled in upper management circles.

That could represent opportunity knocking, or a lack of sales, corporate restructuring, maybe all three. It’s certainly the uncertainty of an industry still bubbling in the cauldron and occasionally in turmoil. Maybe that’s where this sense of daunting dread comes from.

Or maybe it’s because we turned on the television last night, and saw the Middle East melting before our eyes again. That alone can bring a sense of dread, multiplied in the thought that so many external factors determine our success in the solar business, too, regardless of how hard we work, how good our plan is.

Large corporations like those with the big booths at SPI, the young hopefuls with the small booths and a new idea or a new version of old products, even tiny little mom&pop companies like our Sundog padding the aisles, we all have not only our own struggles but the large and multiple forces of the outside world to contend with. Can we?

The Middle East has been a sore spot for so long, it’s hard to remember that Arabs, Jews and Christians have lived there peacefully for most of history, negotiating community in so many ways but mostly between individuals, within the confines of a larger box that also defines the playing field. That’s the way we’ll have to do it, too.

Go through that stack of business cards, get that information, remake that contact into future business. Leave behind, climb beyond that sense of dread, and press on.

Everyone I talked to at SPI was in a good mood. Sure, some were being friendly because it helps with selling. But it helps with explaining and persuading, too. And I think most of us were in a good mood because we like what we’re doing, want to do more of it, and want other people to do it, too.

The future is inevitable, but not its details. That’s what we make. We have a weekend to enjoy, and then, come Monday morning, we start making the future again. If it ain’t pretty today, we’ll just have to make it that way.

So let’s have fun, then get back to work and have some more.

(Follow the progress of Sundog Solar Energy on The Sundog Blog as it returns from Solar Power International 2012 to its workaday world in Nashville, Tennessee, to see how its little company’s growth reflects the rest of the solar industry. To read other Sundog Blogs, including the inaugural blog launching for SPI and visiting SPI last week, go to SundogBlog.SundogSolarEnergy.com)