Exclusive: Solar Energy Seeks Mainstream in Vegas

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) is host to the world this week for all things home building, and several solar industry companies here are feeling out their next evolutionary step – going mainstream.

Las Vegas, Nevada – January 24, 2003 [SolarAccess.com] There are ten solar companies here – needles in a haystack of more than 1,000 exhibitors crammed into the Las Vegas Convention Center. And while each company expects to meet new potential customers, it is clear that these companies are exploring new marketing territory, uncharted as to what lies ahead, or just exactly how to get there. But give them credit. When a company steps away from the comfort and familiarity of its own industry trade show events – where it was a dominant player-exhibitor – into a whole new venue where Evergreen or AstroPower is clearly not a familiar builders’ brand, it is a big step from many perspectives: budget, marketing, product development, and personnel. My perceptions among the solar exhibitors here include everything from sinking feelings of “what am I doing here” to a rising enthusiasm of “this is a whole new, exciting ballgame.” Bill Kanzer of Evergreen Solar thinks PV has hit mainstream. “It used to be that PV was just for the “green” market, and at this show builders, architects, and developers are getting into the act,” he explained from Evergreen’s booth sandwich #8319 South pavilion. “PV is now becoming another building product as we make it more attractive and cost effective.” Just how mainstream? Sharp Solar is here, right alongside Sharp Corporation’s HDTVs and its new mother of all microwaves. Sharp Solar panels are mounted high above the show’s floor on an eye-grabbing, pizza-serving two-story booth in the South pavilion. An island unto itself, it was clearly the most dominant display among the solar exhibitors. And along with Sharp’s familiar Brand name, it seemed to draw a certain confidence and comfort from its “OK-send-me-some-of-that-literature” visitors. AstroPower and Evergreen Solar were also in the South pavilion, but scattered more randomly among row after row of other building product exhibitors. However, both companies echoed each others’ “its been busy” mantra. The North pavilion offered a more concentrated view of solar exhibitors. UniSolar (aka Bekaert ECD), Solar Depot, and BP Solar anchored Row 600 and backed up to Kyocera, Xantrex, Duke Solar, and Schott Applied Power in Row 500. The convenience factor was an obvious benefit from visitor comments I overheard often during my two-day stay. The Solar Energy Industry Association’s representative, Peter Lowenthal, was aisle-side gathering support for solar-only focused display area at NAHB 2004 that would band together solar companies to create a higher, “raise all the boats” industry profile. Evergreen’s Kanzer, who headed to the North pavilion to visit the competition, was quick to second Lowenthal’s idea, and they both headed off in search of the 2004 trade show office. In search of the savvy solar company’s magic marketing bullet, this will not be the only market-specific trade show challenge that these and other solar companies will attend this year. The solar and Renewable Energy industry companies on the whole now realize that they must reach outside the heavily preached-to-converted audience in their own industry and build a new base of experience in markets heretofore given only cursory thought and little attention. In the coming months and years, inroads will be explored and targeted in medical, educational, hospitality, traffic, security and other niches. As solar companies become more successful, marketing solar will have turned another corner. Mainstream…almost. Markets to test…many. Success…absolutely.
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