SPI Day 1: Attendees searching for solutions

Blogging from this week’s Solar Power International show in sunny Los Angeles, eIQ’s Oliver Janssen reports high-quality attendee traffic seeking full-fledged solutions, not products. He also relates the tale of a MW-scale system designer for whom specific supply constraints wreaked havoc.

by Oliver Janssen, CEO, eIQ Energy

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 –  Day One of Solar Power International was hot, literally and figuratively, as LA basked under sunny skies and the show floor had an air of purpose and excitement. Booth personnel reported high-quality traffic, although the new LA Convention Center venue does spread out the vendors across a few halls, which does change the atmosphere a bit. I spent most of day one in the West Hall.

There definitely seems to be a trend towards buyers wanting more fully fledged solutions, as opposed to products. This ties in with my BOS comments of the other day — solar is becoming a big, serious business with lots of money on the table and mission-critical investment and tax timelines. In this environment, it’s good to eliminate variables and potential glitches.

One example: I met with an EPC designer who had completed design of a megawatt-scale system, only to discover at the last minute that the specified solar panels were in short supply, and not enough were available for the project. Under intense time pressure, he had to scrap the original plans and do a complete redesign, largely because of the constraints of the string architecture. By the same token, designers and installers seem to be enthusiastic about new options in distributed electronics, including bundles that are pre-tested and certified to work together.

In a way, what we’re seeing is a maturation of the array project process. In the past, an installer who could successfully integrate products from six or seven vendors was adding value. But as time goes by, that sort of effort should be handled further upstream, so that installers can worry less about matching product numbers and more about just getting the project done on time.

One nice aspect of this year’s show: lots of refreshments. Beer, cocktails, and even ice cream are readily available, depending on what booths you visit. And the SPI Block Party provided an excellent venue for networking and hearing what people are thinking about.

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