Solar 2013 – bigger and better
27 May, 2013
The Melbourne convention centre hosted Solar2013 last week and if the mood was anything to go by, we are turning another corner in the Australian solar industry.
The show was bigger, brighter and busier and the flavour was distinctly more upbeat from the previous year. Everyone I spoke to was happy with the volume and quality of traffic and their was a great buzz in the air, albeit tempered by the fear of uncertainty.
For those of you who couldn’t make it down, here’s a quick review.
The big picture
Overall, there were some consistent themes and messages across the board. The first is that the remainder of the year is likely to be very challenging and I put a few bets down on where we would end up. Almost without exception, everyone is very nervous that we could see a significant contraction in the second half; but I personally remain bullish about the potential upside and the industry’s track record of pushing through dips in demand.
Secondly, it was the sense that the electricity industry is clearly feeling desperate – and hence are resorting to attacking solar once again, something we haven’t seen for some time now on such a scale. There are a number of factors at play including the pending election, regulatory review (which is underway) and the changes in the revenue, demand and profit forecasts which are emerging. Right now, they clearly want to block solar progress.
These themes can be combined with the foreign exchange variation and potential EU trade dispute to make a highly volatile coming year. Things could, as they have in recent years, turn out in favour of the local market despite the current uncertainty. But be warned; we haven’t had a big dip for a few years now, and its a natural part of the cycle so it could get very messy if things swing against us.
Expo and product mix
This year the show featured an interesting and slightly eclectic mix of companies ranging from the mega booth’s of the major solar manufacturers to the old faithfuls who diligently come along to every show and plug away at brand building and supporting the industry.
There were also a number of smaller booths featuring new comers to the event featuring everything from electrical industry memberships to solar hardware and a number of industry advocates such as the Solar Citizens group. As usual, getting around and chatting in detail to everyone with so many old friends and colleagues to talk to was tough!
It was a great mix that kept the conversations interesting and shed some new angles on the market for me; and I reckon no matter what your interest in the industry was you would have found something interesting and informative to see.
In terms of new products, AC Module’s and micro-inverters continue to stimulate lots of interest as a new product category and were well represented on a number of different booths. I had some quality debates about the pro’s and con’s of different configurations and products and just how much penetration was likely but everyone did agree that there is a big untapped space in the niche and that in the right application they have strong advantages.
Second only to micro-inverters, was the ever increasing interest and presence from companies with storage and grid support products; although battery manufacturers were surprisingly absent. Big boxes little boxes, gels and LiPo were represented but the key for those in the know is the control process; the combination of hardware, software and algorithms that keep the whole thing humming.
How ironic that after 21 years and starting with battery based solar systems, we are rapidly heading back there. Are we there yet? Nope. Are we edging ever closer and is there an emerging market who will buy? Yep.
Speakers and presenters
There was a great mix of presenters, run in concurrent sessions just adjacent to the main expo. The topics covered ran in three streams - Industry and Policy, Solar Installer and Designer Professional Development Training and Scientific and Research Stream so there was something for everyone.
My plan with conferences is always to try and learn as much as possible but try as I may, I always get stuck in the expo and struggle to get to all the presentation streams. I did see a few great ones though including the key note from the Greens Christine Milne and the general feeling from everyone I spoke to was there was a load of quality content.
The Installer PD sessions were also very popular pulling big crowds almost continuously throughout the two days and lots of people I spoke to were really impressed at the content.
In terms of educating yourself, although conferences are undoubtedly an imposition on time as I highlighted in my presentation, being educated, up to date and knowing what’s around the corner is arguably a necessary survival tactic in todays market.
I was also reminded of two vital presenting tips during the event. 1)Expect the unexpected and know your content; unfortunately due to a mix up my afternoon presentation appeared on the screen in my morning session which meant I had to find a way to get my intended message across in a different slide show context. 2) Podiums can be dangerous places too, as I demonstrated by falling off the side when I shuffled my chair just a little too close to the edge – nothing like a few laughs to start your show!
Thanks to the organisers, sponsors, presenters, supporters, booth teams and all the delegates old and new who made the event a great success