By Phillip Shinoda
The entire one million square feet of the Dallas Convention Center was filled with equipment to produce power from the sun for the Solar Power International Expo 2011 that was held October 17 to 20th. This annual, industry event was held in Dallas this year. What a show it was with 24,000 attendees from 128 countries. Not only did it fill the Dallas Convention Center, but it also spilled outside the Center as well. For a non-industry civilian it was overwhelming.
Tom Stumpf of Gridpoint (www.gridpoint.com) in Dallas characterized the Expo as “comprehensive” in geography, product and scale. The vastness of the industry was apparent from the number of booths, the size of the booths and the well know names represented. Both PV (Photo Voltaic modules) and inverters were displayed in great abundance along with cables, tools, and many financing options. The scale was from small roof mounted inverters to inverters for utilities the size of a car. Below are several large booths at the show. Some large companies most people would not recognize and some that are well known brands.
Well known brand LG had a large booth to display its PV modules.
However, there were other large companies that consumer would not know like Hanwha Solar or never see like the utility sized inverter from Satcon
But, there were also many small booths, many of them small makers of PV from China looking for a U.S distributor. The number of PV makers and the number of companies represent the intense competition in the industry. In fact a coalition of seven U.S. based solar panel manufacturers filed a petition with the Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission alleging that China is using unfair trade practices like dumping. Dumping is the practice of selling goods under cost or with illegal subsidies from government to unfairly cut prices to sell more, gain market share, and destroy competition. According to Stumpf, it has also put pressure on the industry to lower costs overall to be competitive with other energy sources.
There were several interesting ideas. One of these ideas was co-production of both hot water and electricity from the same array by CoGenera Solar (www.cogenera.com) General Hydroponics, a customer of CoGenera, is quoted: “Now with the solar cogeneration array delivering both hot water and electricity, we expect a payback of less than five years.” Although not an entirely new concept, like other technology, payback will depend on the price of alternatives like natural gas for heating water.
New for Old
Some of the new technology is being applied to older industries. For example, Sopogy (www.sopogy.com) a maker of solar hot water systems is talking with Hudson-Rush a Dallas distributor to the oil and gas industry about selling their system to the natural gas industry. The hot water from the Sopogy system would heat triethylene glycol (TEG) that is used to take the moisture out of the gas before it is fed into the collector system. (Gary Pate of Sopogy with Rick Rush of Hudson Rush)
Old for New
Older technology is being used in the solar industry in some surprising ways. Stumpf notes that there is repurposing of old technologies to supply the solar industry. Here in North Texas may people have problems with their foundations. Pier Tech Systems (www.piertech.com) has adapted this technology to provide a support system for PV racking that does not involve setting poles in concrete. Rather, they drill piers into the ground to provide a secure base for the rack. Numerous other products like cables and connectors are used in the solar industry, so it is not just panel and inverter manufacturers, distributors and installer who are part of this growing industry.
Solar in Texas
Not widely publicized outside the industry there some impressive utility size solar projects in Texas. In November 2010 the largest solar farm in Texas, the 14 MW Blue Wing Solar Project, has officially started operations near San Antonio. The 113 acre site in San Antonia features 214,500 solar photovoltaic (PV) modules. The Blue Wing Solar Project is expected to produce more than 26.6 GWh of electricity per year.
Jim Duncan of North Texas Renewable Energy (www.ntrei.com) summed up his views on the Expo: " Solar Power International 2011 has brought worldwide recognition to Dallas and to Texas and has brought into focus the fact that we, as a very energy intensive industrialized nation, are lagging ever farther behind the rest of the world in making a serious effort to integrate solar power into our mainstream energy market. The prices for PV have dropped to unprecedented lows. Now is our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the US to take advantage of these low prices and to do our part to stimulate the struggling PV industry."
Photo Credits: Green Source DFW
Phillip Shinoda is editor of Green Source DFW and former Director of the Center for the Environment at Memnosyne. You can contact him at email@example.com