How do you get 20,000 jubilant people in the same place at once? Book Mick Jagger, or hold the return of the largest solar show in North America in three years (thank you, Covid), pass the Inflation Reduction Act (the new IRA), and tell the solar industry it just can’t grow any faster.
So, indeed, jubilant was the reigning tone of the opening ceremony of the newly-renamed RE+ (Renewable Energy+) show in Anaheim, CA, on Monday night.
The show this year is a bit of success in numbers, reckoned headliner Julia Hamm, outgoing President and CEO of the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) since 2004. Back in those days, when solar was still a fad for many, the Solar Power International show, as it was called then, attracted only 1,100 nerdish attendees.
This year, with 20,000 attendees swarming the show floor and meeting rooms, it is the biggest show yet. In those dimmer ages of solar, only 60 companies exhibited on the show floor; this year 800 companies are out in full force; many more might have attended had the show not sold out all of its floor space.
After 20 years at the helm of SEPA — and founding the first SPI trade show — Hamm is stepping down. She received not one, but two standing ovations for her arduous work for the solar industry. Even though the industry grew enormously during her stead at SEPA, she suggested that the industry has, up until recently, been in a position that might be compared with the “flat part of the hockey stick,” navigating through the glacial landscape of the U.S. utility industry.
Now, however, she reckons that we have successfully moved up the policy inertia axis to an “inflection point” of swinging a now-much-bigger stick toward a certain clean energy goal.
Bright-eyed comments followed from Abagail Hopper, the current president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), whom was no less than jubilant herself.
Predicting that solar and all its pluses — battery storage, EV charging, smart homes, green hydrogen, et cetera, et cetera, quasi ad infinitum from a technology standpoint — will soon be a $150 billion per year industry.
Leading the audience through a series of high-five cheers, Hopper recognized the Biden administration’s IRA as “the most transformative clean energy bill in the history of the United States.”
Thanks to the widely unexpected boost to solar from the IRA, Hopper suggested that solar will grow a modest 5x by 2030, then representing 30% of the total U.S. production of energy (from a mere 4% today), considering all sources.
That tumultuous growth is also expected to boost solar employment in this country from a few hundred thousand workers today to 1 million by the end of the decade. “Taking no for an answer was never an option for the solar industry,” she recalled, defiantly.
After leadership at SEIA for nearly six years, Hooper ended her appearance at the show with a Cheshire cat lament, saying: “What a nice problem to have: sky-rocketing growth,” she with a very, very broad grin. The show goes on.
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