This article was originally published on Solar Power World | 10/07/2019
The solar industry is growing up — especially here in North America. The United States has now achieved more than two million solar installations, and Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables projects that number will double by 2023. As the solar and energy storage markets continue to mature, it’s important for the industry’s top events to follow key trends and grow with it.
In March of this year, Diversified Communications, a global producer of major business-to-business trade shows, acquired Intersolar North America (ISNA) to enter the ever-growing solar and energy storage markets. ISNA’s strong reputation and commitment to renewable energy was a natural fit with Diversified Communications’ enthusiasm for solar (demonstrated by its 1.5-MW solar farm in Brunswick, Maine).
After eight fast years managing top industry events in automation software and renewables, I’ve observed several key patterns of maturing industries and how their top events keep up. These trends have a lot to tell us about the trajectory of the solar and energy storage industries, as well as the increasingly integrated e-mobility technologies — such as electric vehicles, hydrogen and more — that intersect them.
As prices come down across the board on equipment — from panels to inverters to O&M software — companies in solar and energy storage will have to continue to innovate or move on to more profitable areas and sell existing portfolios.
Wood Mackenzie released a report stating the total revenue for the Top 5 PV inverter vendors experienced a year-over-year decline of 10% in 2018. To combat price pressure, many inverter companies are incorporating new technology like internet of things (IoT) platforms into their core products and overall growth strategy. Others are leaving the inverter industry entirely to focus on more profitable businesses.
Trade shows provide an opportunity for industry players to, quite literally, converge. As industries mature and consolidation occurs, event organizers must be agile to stay competitive. They must continue to source new strategic partners to bolster their show and provide on-going innovation, looking to exhibitors for new content. Event organizers should focus on providing high-quality educational programming and developing creative opportunities to showcase products and services to help connect attendees and exhibitors. A good example is ISNA’s push for its February 2020 event: A new quality-driven contractor installation competition live on the exhibition floor.
Patterns in other maturing industries tell us that solar and storage companies will continue to innovate to differentiate, stay relevant and accelerate the industry. Companies are finding new ways to streamline production with automation, optimize technologies with artificial intelligence, leverage new software to strengthen installation processes and use blockchain to solve critical challenges that come with a rapidly-transforming electric grid.
The increase in solar deployment has already created opportunities for energy storage to solve peak production challenges; as a result, we’re seeing storage make its way into company strategies for long-term growth. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly rare to find a solar developer that isn’t including storage in its list of services.
Similarly, with a transforming grid and the movement toward mass electrification also comes mass integration of grid-connected devices. In addition to energy storage, solar companies are looking for ways to expand into the electric vehicle space and are designing services that integrate with EV technology and infrastructure.
Trade shows need to reflect these industry shifts in their educational programming and exhibit space. For example, ISNA 2020 will have increased conference programming around e-mobility technologies, with topics focused on energy storage, EVs, hydrogen, IoT, software and more. There is also a dedicated space on the ISNA 2020 exhibition hall for emerging solar, energy storage and e-mobility startup companies. Competitive pricing enables companies without a large event budget to showcase their products and services to generate brand awareness and connect with the industry leaders and professional business partners that matter most.
Like other industries, bringing solar, storage and associated technologies into the mainstream is driven largely by increased corporate adoption. Stakeholders are now demanding that corporations take sustainable planning seriously; as a result, corporate entities such as Apple, Facebook and Google are setting and meeting serious renewable energy procurement goals. Mainstream financiers are also looking to get involved at even earlier stages of the project development cycle. Trade shows must be aware of these expanding attendee markets and develop marketing programs that bring this audience to exhibitors — something that Diversified Communications accomplishes due to its event experience and on-going innovation.
Increasingly, the residential market is finding ways to bring consumer solar and energy storage adoption into the mainstream. With pushes from policies such as California’s SB 100 and support from a budding solar insurance market, consumers are not only becoming more savvy about the technology, but enjoying more choices than ever before.
Accelerating adoption also means a growing solar and energy storage workforce. Despite small dips over the last few years, the Solar Foundation continues to show long-term growth, naming the solar industry one of the fastest-growing job sectors in the United States. Now more than ever, it’s important for the rising solar and storage workforce — with support and opportunities from organizations like IREC and WRISE — to develop skills and stay up-to-date on the newest technologies.
ISNA is responding to this trend by partnering in San Diego with organizations like the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). New in 2020, eligible PV professionals have the opportunity to take NABCEP-approved continuing education classes and earn up to nine Continuing Education Units (CEUs) that they can use toward Board Certification and recertification requirements.
Observing patterns in other maturing industries helps explain what we can expect to see in solar and energy storage over the next five to 10 years.
Backed by Diversified Communications’ 70 years of trade show and event knowledge, ISNA’s 2020 show strives to support and accelerate solar and storage market growth by:
We hope you’ll join us at Intersolar North America this February in San Diego!