Clean Energy Week still trending

Australia's biggest clean energy conference has just wrapped up, so which new products and trends got tongues wagging?

This is an edited version of an article first published by Solar Business Services.

Clean Energy Week 2013 wrapped up on Friday night after three days of presentations, discussions and schmoozing at the expo. In case you didn’t make it, here’s my wrap up of the key things we learned and saw. Well done to the Clean Energy Council team for working really hard to make it happen.

Quote of the conference

Although I missed the presentation I heard a great quote about a major shift amongst consumers by LJ Hooker. The real estate company presented on a ‘liveability’ program and scoring system it has introduced for renters and buyers of homes it markets; which is a clever evolution of historic attempts to engage consumers on home sustainability.

In her presentation, sustainability manager Cecille Waldon was quoted as saying that a new trend has emerged driving the development of their program -“Home buyers are today, consistently asking to see power bills as a crucial part of the decision-making process when buying homes; energy consumption really matters.” If there was ever a sign that power costs (and the potential for solar) has arrived, it is this.

One delegate at one of our presentations asked an excellent question which stopped the panel in its tracks.

“Given the barriers and challenges to networks accepting increased solar, what is it going to take to change this situation?”

I was ready with a response for this one though and I responded with “Leadership.” When you look at states and countries where solar has succeeded and overcome challenges, they are unanimously places where there are powerful and committed leaders who solve problems and make stuff happen – think Germany and its FITs and more recently its storage program. Think Italy, which came from nowhere to a leading market or Japan and China that have surged to the top of the leaderboard.

Even here in Australia, we have evidence – FITs, the RET and the carbon price were put in place by leaders with a plan and in many case they happened at lightning speed. Their motivations may vary (and may even be misguided), but it is leaders who can affect the most change. A great quote I read the other day summed this up:“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

Best booth

Why does the best booth matter? Well for me, I think it demonstrates creativity in marketing. This can and should translate into useful help if you want a supplier who understands differentiation. It doesn’t have to cost a motza (although many do) but it should stand out, make you feel comfortable and teach you something. Even better, it should embody who you are and what you do. Picking a best booth is always highly subjective and there were a load of excellent ones, large and small, some who were clients and some who weren’t.

Graph for Clean Energy Week still trending

For me, I couldn’t help looking past Trina Solar. The solar panel maker created a parkland, which was simple, effective, open and slick. It was big but wasn’t the most expensive booth at the show. I liked how it was different and how it made me feel when I sat back on one of the park benches. Most importantly, it was that little bit different, clever use of a theme and integrated products and categories nicely.

Most talked about products

Storage, micro inverters and finance seemed to be the most popular discussions points.

Although a number of storage products were on display and I saw some great refinements and offers – even examples of some that were being deployed – I didn’t see anything that was game changing just yet, disappointingly.

Resonating what I saw in the US, the price is close but restricts sales to niche and early adopters for now, in my opinion. Many people I spoke to talked of the challenges of getting connected too, although much work is underway to resolve this and even Energex’s Mike Swanston talked about how they were looking forward to solutions that worked because they could see the benefits – citing “the new normal” that network businesses have to contend with.

It seemed like almost every booth had micro inverters on offer too. These little gadgets really are getting a head of steam down under with a swag of options available from an ever wider array of suppliers and it was great to see a bunch of international companies investing in industry support and the event by attending and presenting their wares.

In a hilarious example of how much interest there is in the space, I ducked over to see the team at SolarBridge who (uniquely) work exclusively with PV manufacturers, allowing their products to be factory assembled onto PV modules saving time and money. When I asked marketing manager Nancy Edwards how the show was for her, she spontaneously collapsed on her chair “I’m utterly exhausted Nigel; the pace of enquiries has just been endless – don’t you Aussies ever sleep?” she said.

On the topic of storage; I gave a presentation on the topic of emerging trends titled ‘Smart Smarter Meter’s’ which touched on the topic too.  

I described a personal journey using SolarLog’s monitoring device (I have one at home) – and how I just continued to be boggled by its capabilities far beyond logging – hence the title.  

I described the fact that devices like this one can take you through a  three-step journey – data, management and feedback loops, which will help drive the next generation of solar deployment by allowing users to manage loads and adjust behaviours, and utilities to get hi-resolution data, control and network management.  

I couldn’t help myself and took a huge swipe at the utilities who have failed to use smart meters for anything other than reducing their data collection cost, failing to empower consumers and leverage the power of these devices, while charging people like me a ridiculous sum for the privilege. Government also came in for criticism because they have failed to set specifications that count for consumers, instead just capitulating with utilities to help them profit.

I hope we see the day soon where consumers and solar owners are provided with freedom of choice – I for one would much prefer to spend the (mandatory) money on smart metering with SolarLog, because it empowers me, than pay for a smart meter that has been dumbed down to the point of utter uselessness. Gosh, I’m confused about whether I’m talking about our leaders or a device now!

The only have one criticism of SolarLog – the name is deceptive because this device does so much more than just logging.

This is an edited version of an article originally published by Solar Business Services.