The first, obvious story from the Intersolar North America conference, held last month in San Francisco, is one of overall optimism and growth.
Following the show's conclusion, organizers reported that approximately 20,000 verified visitors and 845 exhibitors from 30 countries participated – reflecting the solar market's ever-increasing size. Exhibitor space grew to 170,000 net square feet – 30% more than in 2010 – a fact no doubt noticed by any attendees who were stuck walking the halls in uncomfortable shoes.
With a cloudy forecast for some key European solar markets, a great deal of this optimism is linked to expectations for the U.S. solar market. During a series of meetings during the conference, I informally questioned several industry executives on whether a veritable solar boom in the U.S. had begun or was imminent.
Of course, these folks might be biased, but everyone from conductive paste suppliers to module manufacturers to micro-inverter providers confirmed that yes, that much-anticipated boom was either here or on its way.
Similarly, the cover story of the first edition of our Intersolar North America Show Daily, authored by IMS Research's Sam Wilkinson, provided solid data points and logical conclusions that also portended strong growth for the U.S. solar market.Â
While reassuring – and maybe even exciting – this news is probably not surprising to anyone following the industry. The other story from Intersolar is considerably more under the radar, though also important.
Standards for PV manufacturing and products repeatedly came up – unprompted – in conversation during my meetings. An executive from a major manufacturer of mounting products, for instance, emphatically predicted that the formalization of reliability standards and guarantees in his product segment will soon divide the market into winners and losers.
Meanwhile, further upstream, industry association SEMI announced during Intersolar that it had published a new standard to specify silicon feedstock for PV ingots and wafers.
‘SEMI PV17 specifies the feedstock materials to be used for growing silicon ingots, creating a well-defined reference in a growing market by reducing many individual specifications to the four categories defined in the standard,’ the organization explained in a news release. ‘It also defines the terms used, which will minimize misunderstandings between supplier and user. The standard also will help to reduce variations of material quality.’
Problems that can be eased by standards are not unique to mounting products or silicon feedstock. Over the coming months, we can expect to see a great deal of similar discussion take place across the entire supply chain.Â
This Sun Dial column was originally published in the August 2011 issue of Solar Industry.
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