Solar Power International may be the best place in the country to be a solar installer. Hundreds of companies spent tens of thousands of dollars on booths, presentations, parties, and message crafting, all to get a consumer to use their product. The conference was an international product and service showcase, and installers were some of the most popular people there.
With all the opportunities for networking, learning, dealing, and partying, installers would have had an amazing time at SPI. So why were they noticeably absent?
While solar conferences provide a lot of value to installers, they are generally targeted and sold to upstream manufacturers. Normally, this is a smart business decision since the upstream players are the ones who have the resources to make big booths or be big sponsors. And for years it has worked fine – upstream companies have gladly invested large parts of their limited marketing budget to have a prominent presence at these conferences because they had a strong return on investment. But now, for a variety of reasons, many installers are no longer making attending SPI a priority, which diminishes the ROI for exhibiters.
Thankfully this can be fixed. By reaching out to installers and telling them about the real value of attending SPI, installer attendance can return to healthy levels. In fact, since the installer market has grown so much in the U.S. in the last few years, and there are more products than ever on the market, installer attendance should be able to break all previous records, and here’s why.
While the conference sessions were geared towards upstream manufacturers or international project developers, the exhibit hall was dedicated to installers. Check out this list of exhibitors. Everyone who has marketed, sold, or designed any product installers have used or could use was there. Not to mention, everyone who has written for an industry publication was there to hunt for a good story.
Installers at SPI likely got a lot of special attention because while most potential suppliers were present, only a handful of competitors were there, as well. Installers were able to learn about these new products, features, and services, and have in depth conversations with industry partners. Conferences are places where installers can talk directly with a wide variety of industry professionals, but only SPI can be a place where small and mid-sized installers spend quality time with higher-ups from racking, inverter, or module companies.
SPI in Orlando was a rare opportunity for installers to talk directly to the heads of many solar companies or product engineers and give feedback on each company. Was there a flawed or missed shipment? Unhappy with a product redesign? Don’t understand some new feature? SPI allows installers to directly ask the people involved. SPI also gave installers the chance to compare competitor’s products and sales strategy side by side.
If an installer is unsure about power optimizers vs. microinverters vs. imbedded microinverters vs. package optimizers and string inverter systems, SPI was the perfect place to participate in a lengthy battle with sales leads from different companies. Installers had the opportunity to watch the Tigo team give their presentation, then have a nice long chat with one of their sales reps. They could swing by the SolarEdge booth for a magic show and hear about their product differentiations. After this power optimizer love-fest installers had the option to stop in at the Enphase booth and see how their pitch stands up to the rest. Finally, installers could visit the SolarBridge booth and hear why their imbedded microinverter solution is the way to go. It is exciting to stop by a booth armed with questions and figures from a competitor.
These in-depth, in-person product comparison sessions are some of the best parts about SPI and installers can do that with rackers, trackers, module manufacturers, monitoring system providers, and installer tool providers. So while an installer won’t generate a lead at the conference, they can collect all this information, make their purchasing decisions, and save themselves from hours of hunting down facts on websites and webinars.
Solar conferences, like the solar industry, have a compelling story to be told. They can provide a strong ROI to all participants if they are packaged correctly. In the next 12 months until Solar Power International in Chicago the story can be told, attendance rates can stabilize, and the value it provides to the entire industry can grow. But it will only work if we keep SPI the best place to be an installer.