Every year, Intersolar North America takes places in San Francisco, which always provides the perfect backdrop for a show that wants to discuss and show the solar industry’s path forward globally. We in America obviously recognize the leadership position San Francisco has taken in solar here, but as we were reminded during the opening session of Intersolar last night, the state of California would rank as the fifth or sixth largest nation in the world in terms of GDP. So, the impact of San Francisco’s solar adoption within this leading state echoes across the globe – and really, that was the common thread among all of the speakers in the opening session: Solar technology fights the biggest of macro, global issues on the most micro of levels – a somewhat obvious but salient thesis.
Previous years in the Intersolar’s history were much more about possibilities for a fledgling industry – how to drive down costs and influence stakeholders. The goals now are less about industry survival and more about planet survival – the industry is here, and is booming, so now how can we disrupt old notions and remake modern infrastructure (and the world), with this technology, into something better?
Some notes and stray observations from the opening session that nip at that question:
- Keynote speaker Lynn Jurich, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of Sunrun Inc., was nearly speechless when trying to describe her excitement about solar + storage, so she turned to a quote from Barclays Research:
- “In the 100 year history of the electric utility industry, there’s never been a truly cost competitive substitute for grid power; we believe that solar plus storage could reconfigure the organization and regulation of the power business over the coming decade.”
- Jurich shared stats that showed just how absurd the traditional utility model can seem when compared to the micro, nimble, modular DER strategy. For one, infrastructure investments are tripling while consumption is staying the same.
Second: Who can build a gigawatt faster? As Jurich pointed out, one 1,000 MW combined cycle gas plant will take about four years to come together after the location is all picked out and ready to go. 142,857 distributed 7 kW solar arrays will be coming online within just four months.
- (Oh, and why are rates going up again?)
- 39 percent of the U.S. energy load could be served by rooftop solar at its current efficient.
- Getting back to San Francisco setting the example: Solar in California is proving to not just be the vanity project of the rich. Far from it: 66 percent of rooftop arrays are in low to moderate income areas in the state, according to Bernadette Del Chiaro, Executive Director, California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA).
- Joshua Arce, Founder, Brightline Defense, went past just the purely economic case and delivered, for me, the most compelling reasons why solar energy needs to be supported, not just by investors but by government subsidies and intervention – it is just better for a country’s citizens. He brought up the very real adverse effects of environmental racism on communities in the wrong ZIP code. He brought up how influential energy independence can be for the less fortunate. And he also urged the solar industry to recognize the need to tie the value of labor into its mission statement, so when it is spreading jobs across the country, it is doing so with collectively bargained workers, further driving the prosperity of the country. Those in the fossil fuel industry have always done this and are grabbing the loyalty of some workers that would likely embrace a switch in professions otherwise.
- Some of that could sound like a lot to ask, but this industry is rather uniquely positioned to think big and accomplish all of these goals, one small 7 kW system at a time. At least that’s the song I’m singing after all of yesterday’s great speakers. See you on the show floor.