Intersolar Europe 2015: Spirits Up, Stats Down

Intersolar Europe, billed at the world’s leading exhibition for the solar industry, is indeed big. But Intersolar Europe 2015, one of five Intersolar-branded gatherings around the globe each year, was not as large as the annual convergence to the German birthplace of the solar age used to be.

Intersolar, as always, took place in Munich, Germany, this time with a three-day conference from June 8 to 10, overlapped by a trade fair from June 10 to 12.

Despite the trade exhibition’s overwhelming size, filling six-and-a half halls at the huge trade fair complex at Messe Muenchen with exhibition booths ranging from closet-sized to the dimensions of a convenience store, Intersolar has yet to be an indication that solar has turned the business corner — at least in terms of stats. Comparing difficult-to-access annual post-show reports, the number of visitors and exhibitors has dropped steadily over the past four years (see chart).

Compared to 2011 — Intersolar’s statistical zenith — this year’s show was down by more than half to approximately 1,000 exhibitors and 38,000 visitors. And making the numbers even less impressive, for the second year running, the stats have beefed up by adding companies pushing Electrical Energy Storage (ees), holding the promise of a future of round-the-clock renewable energy power — and an enticement for governments to revitalize support.

Following the money…down: The numbers of exhibitors and visitors at Intersolar Europe have been getting smaller each year since 2011.

Comparing Intersolar Europe’s numbers to other global solar events is difficult. Intersolar North America, which next takes place in San Francisco in mid-July, is “co-located” with the Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI) exhibition, of which PV is only a part. The number of visitors at the 7th annual show in 2014 was nearly 17,500 with 530 solar exhibitors, roughly half the size of Intersolar Europe 2015.

A bit surprisingly, given the decent PV market in the U.S., the stats on visitors to the trade fair have been fairly flat since 2012 with a 30 percent decline in exhibitors, possibly due to consolidations. According to meager stats given in 2011, the number of visitors was about 19,000, or 8 percent higher than 2014. Based on a growth percentage comparison to 2010 there may have been as high as 730 exhibitions, just as the solar market growth was on the verge of shrinking. It is likely this year’s attendance will be good as buyers try to beat out the decimation of the 30 percent solar investment tax credit (ITC) at the end 2016. For the same reason, the 2016 event could be much smaller as the “end” will be in sight.

The only stats on April’s Intersolar China refer to attendance. The show promoters claim “upwards of 12,000 visitors” (arguably quite small given China’s huge population) came this year. However, the solar numbers are likely skewed since its PV Expo was under the umbrella of the Clean Energy Expo covering all renewables. Nonetheless, this is a huge increase from the inaugural Intersolar China in 2011 with just over 4,450 visitors, undoubtedly a reflection of how China’s role in both production and installations have mushroomed.

In Japan, the February 2015 PV Expo with 508 exhibitors appears to have been very well attended. But the nearly 72,000 visitors were also enticed by the World Smart Energy Week, of which PV Expo is just a part. Still, this is up from 2014 with 353 PV exhibitors and about 67,400 visitors. This increase mirrors Japan’s hot market — both residential and oddly, given the country’s size, utility-scale installations — as Japan struggles to replace the power from most of its nuclear plants scheduled for shutdown following the March 2011 Fukushima catastrophe.

As for Intersolar Europe 2015, although numbers were down, it still felt physically overwhelming — so much merchandise to check out, so many new or improved products to admire and so far to trek on the crisscrossing boulevards.

The event itself, as with most trade fairs, be they solar based or otherwise, was at turns all business (booths with glassed-in meeting rooms), carnival-like (death-defying BMX bike tricksters and selfie-ready human stuffed animals on the loose), end-of-the-day blowout parties (sometimes with competing DJs blaring from adjacent exhibits) and even surreal (a Chinese exhibitor — “What’s a solar module?” — promoting products online like pots and pans).

While difficult to quantify, a positive attitude was often expressed among randomly selected companies along the miles of aisles — the mantra was that the business of solar had reached its low point and was making a slow but steady recovery. If so, at least in Europe, it will probably never recapture the heady heydays of yet-to-materialize subsidy decimation and industry-damaging trade disputes. Still, SolarPower Europe, the late-May rebranded European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA), was citing its new study, forecasting a tripling of worldwide PV installed capacity to 550 GW by 2020. “We have already achieved a lot,” noted this year’s prominent invited speaker, the German Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, Sigmar Gabriel, “but we still have a lot of work ahead of us.”

And with consolidations and insolvencies continuing to tarnish solar’s one-time vibrant image in the press, next June’s Intersolar Europe 2016 may again find itself statistically challenged.

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William Hirshman, a former associate editor at the solar magazine PHOTON International, publishes PV and ME -- posing solar questions rarely asked -- at

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