Published on July 12th, 2014 | by Robyn Purchia0
Solar Snapshot With Intersolar CEO Markus Elsässer
July 12th, 2014 by Robyn Purchia
This week, San Francisco hosted the 2014 Intersolar North America event. Since its establishment in 2008, the exhibition + conference has developed into the premier platform for the solar industry in North America. In total, 576 exhibitors and 17,881 trade visitors participated in 2013, and the conference featured more than 50 sessions with over 200 speakers and 1,600 conference attendees.
I had a chance to sit down with Markus Elsässer, the founder and CEO of Intersolar, to discuss some hot topics and get his insights on the state of the global solar industry.
RP: What are some of the developments in the solar industry that you’re excited about this year?
ME: What I’ve seen the past one or two years is the more renewables are added to the grid, especially solar and wind, you need to make sure that the grid is able to integrate those sources of energy. Until 2011 we were mainly dominated by discussions about capacity conditions and efficiency of cells and models — bringing costs down. And now it’s shifted to a discussion about the balance of systems and how to integrate those PV systems into the residential and commercial sectors, the utility landscape, and the grid.
And also a big topic was, and we addressed this at the conference and in the workshops, was how we can reduce soft costs, especially here in the US. Because the cost of cells and models have really gone down in the last few years, the focus has shifted to the balance of systems segment where we can still reduce the costs and especially the soft costs, which are not related with hardware. These are costs associated with permitting, financing, installation costs, and things like this.
RP: What do you think some of the challenges integration and reducing soft costs face here in North America?
ME: There are a lot of regulations in place which should probably be modified or replaced. As a manufacturer, or even as a project developer, you have to deal with a lot of local regulations and permitting processes and this should be harmonized. This is one of the main factors that really keeps the costs at a very high level compared to, for example, Germany. A system costs more here in than in Germany and this has made it difficult with the soft costs.
RP: What do you think is the fastest growing sector?
ME: The fastest growing sector is now the energy storage sector. At our show in Europe that we just did three weeks ago, the exhibitor portion dedicated to storage solutions is now at 23 percent. We had 250 companies showing storage solutions, 250 out of 1,100 or so, and four years ago we only had 15 or so. This reflects this trend that the industry is now dealing with the energy storage topic. And we’re not only talking about residential storage, we’re talking about commercial storage, community storage, and also utilities-scale. In my opinion, the market is really set to explode in the next years.
RP: What are some of the things people are talking about at the conference this year?
ME: We’ve seen that storage is one of the hottest topics with very good attendance at the conference and good worships. But the other thing is financing. This is interesting because in Europe there wasn’t much attention to financing issues. In the US you didn’t have the feed-in tariff, which is quite an easy way to finance a system. All the banks knew that for 20 to 25 years you had a guaranteed feed-in rate, so the investment was very clear and very safe. But in the US you had to develop a lot of different financing models and there are now several models that are very interesting and very successful. And now Europe has to introduce those business models because the feed-in tariffs were cut several times and you have to find new ways for financing. Now we look at these models in the US and see what we can adopt in Germany and Europe.
RP: What do you hope we see more of at the North American Intersolar Conference next year?
ME: I think the market will grow again next year — the overall solar market in the US and here in California at the center of the solar market. I’m pretty optimistic about that, so I think it lays the foundation for a successful show. When the market is growing there are a lot of new topics because you have to have the workforce you need to install those systems, you have to reduce the costs, and this will bring up the market again.
Photo Credit: International Trade News