SPI 2011 Gets An Assist From Magic

Solar is getting big and it’s promising to get bigger. Texas, as we all know, invented big. So as far as Solar Power International is concerned, it’s a match made in solar tradeshow heaven. And they have the numbers to prove it.

The continent’s biggest solar gathering for the first time moves out of California and heads to Texas, where it will set up shop inside the cavernous Dallas Convention Center on Oct. 17-20. There will be 1,200 companies, 800,000 square feet of exhibit space, and organizers hope a new record attendance of more than 25,000.

To many, though, the most awe-inspiring figure may be 6 feet, 9 inches. That’s the height of hands-down the most famous attendee of the show. Basketball Hall of Famer and world recognized business entrepreneur Magic Johnson will launch the show with a keynote address Monday, Oct. 17.

It doesn’t appear that Magic has any particular holdings in the solar world. But he has a story to tell, and if the solar industry is listening, it just might prove to be poignant. Magic seemingly came out of nowhere and landed on the national stage in 1979 (a few months before Jimmy Carter installed solar panels, if you’re desperately searching for parallels). He was, like we say all to often in the solar business, a game-changer. He also met with some turbulence, but he showed a willingness to change direction, and ultimately, he became a force that is helping people live better and more sustainable lives. Starting to see the similarities?

Magic has done most of this through his business dealings and his foundation, which focus heavily on urban development. The solar industry, while not quite at rookie status, is also not anywhere near its prime. I’m interested to hear what he has to say as the solar industry steps onto its biggest stage in North America. Luckily, Magic has always known how to fill a room.

Out of the Cradle

While Magic’s appearance shows solar has hit the mainstream, so does the show’s move outside of California. The money and the support have for a long time been concentrated in the west. Texas, though, may represent the types of places where solar can be used as a launching pad. We all know the state has abundant sunshine, but it also has open space, comparatively cheap land and a growing number of municipalities (San Antonio and Austin come to mind) that see solar as a solution.

In addition to the new venue, there are other highlights and changes for this year’s event:

— A new outdoor space will include 30 to 40 exhibitors.
— On Monday the 17th there will be a tour of a solar parking installation the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, about a 10-minute drive from the convention center.
— In addition to conference programs, there will be solar swaps, which are smaller interactive gatherings in which groups are encouraged to discuss challenges and offer solutions to predetermined topics.
— There’s an opportunity to reserve a meeting room where suppliers and customers can engage in business discussions.
— As always, RenewableEnergyWorld.com will have an Event Broadcast booth on the tradeshow floor where we’ll conduct video interviews on pressing topics for the solar industry.
— The general session will close Thursday with an address by Marcus Buckingham, a New York Times bestselling author and motivational speaker.
— And, of course, the annual SPI block party will be that Tuesday evening.

For more conference details visit the SPI website.

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Steve Leone has been a journalist for more than 15 years and has worked for news organizations in Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire, Virginia and California.

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