San Francisco, you wear solar panels on your sleeve. Named the greenest city in North America, your mayor, Ed Lee, was happy to enumerate the reasons at the start of Intersolar last week. He says you recycle the majority of your trash and construct LEED-certified buildings. You offer renewable energy incentives and ban plastic shopping bags. And, as if you wanted to personally accentuate the point, I found the building across the street from my hotel fitted with a rooftop solar array.
It’s no wonder, then, that you host Intersolar. New to Solar Power World, it was my first such event, and I was rather green in the more “inexperienced” sense of the word. But I, too, now walk with solar panels on my sleeve. I witnessed 22,000 people walk the showroom floors of Moscone Center, in the heart of your city, believing in the possibility of photovoltaics. It made me think: How can 22,000 people be wrong? I started dreaming of cities in which every window is a solar panel, every roof is an array. At Intersolar, I was caught in the industry’s forward momentum.
After Mayor Lee concluded, he introduced Dieter Salomon, the mayor of Frieburg, Germany. Much like your own mayor, he rightfully boasted about Frieburg’s commitment to renewables and green thinking. The city employs 12,000 people in the environmental and solar fields alone. Salomon opened my mind to the possibility of cities powered 100% by renewables (more on that here). It’s a possibility, he says, with the right composition of energy sources: A 1:1:1 ratio of solar, wind and other renewable energy sources, such as biomass. He says a future like that begins in cities like San Francisco, but it’s contingent on global collaboration. “In school, you can’t copy off your neighbors,” Salomon says. “But we’re cities, and we can.”
Big ideas abound at tradeshows, but a hint of anxious air swept the showroom floor, too. A concern voiced by vendors is the trade relationship between China and the United States. One vice president noted that solar is a small part of massive trade between the countries. We are at the whim of powerful forces, she said. Still, hope is not lost for anyone, and companies are moving ahead with their efforts to create the most impressive products to date – technology that will bring my daydreams to life, I hope.
My editor, Frank Andorka, touts the necessity of a unified voice in the American solar industry. He says domestic solar needs to hash out its differences behind closed doors and come to the global table in force. Yet, this is a burgeoning market. Every day brings new ideas and developments. We arrange ourselves in competition: Is the future AC or DC? Is it Chinese or American? Are we more 70s rock or 90s ska?
Well, at least that last question has been answered. The tradeshow’s nighttime highlight was the Solar Battle of the Bands – bands comprised of solar industry pros from receptionists to presidents. Organized by Session Solar and Quick Mount PV, the networking event rocked 1,200 tradeshow attendees into the wee hours of Thursday morning at The Mezzanine. The battle was in some ways indicative of the state of American solar – young, enthusiastic and competitive. In the end, one group – Zep, the Band, from Zep Solar – was named victor. The group closed its set with a rousing performance of the B-52′s “Rock Lobster.” But here’s a truth that was voiced on stage more than once: All five bands were totally rockin’, and their talented musicians were totally savin’ the world with solar – even if they destroyed my eardrums.