Every year, we say it's a critical one for solar. In an industry changing so fast, each year brings new milestones and challenges.
So how about 10 critical years in a row? That's a lot to process.
It's been 10 years since our first GTM Solar Summit in 2007. The solar landscape has shifted dramatically since then. As we prepare for our 10th Solar Summit on May 17 — with a bonus solar software summit on May 16 — it's time to reflect on the immense changes we've seen.
We caught up with Scott Clavenna, the co-founder and CEO of Greentech Media, to find out what he’s discovered since the first summit a decade ago.
Nicole Wachtel: What is the biggest change you’ve noticed from the launch of Solar Summit in 2007 to the upcoming one in two weeks?
Scott Clavenna: The size of the community around solar dwarfs what it was in 2007.
Our first event, here in Boston, was just around 100 people — mostly manufacturers, investors, researchers, and a few of the first innovative finance companies looking to capitalize on the opportunity around commercial and utility-scale solar. It clearly felt like a club, and there was an interesting mix of an old guard who had been at it since the Carter administration and a bunch of newcomers seeing all sorts of opportunities to innovate and raise capital. We were in the midst of a wave of IPOs in solar (SunPower, Trina, First Solar, JA Solar, LDK, ReneSola, Yingli, etc.)
At the time, were quite focused on solar as a technology-driven market, and spent a lot of time assessing and talking about disruptive technologies and their impact on solar economics and growth. We launched GTM Research with a thin film solar market report (Cheap roll-to-roll solar manufacturing was on its way!), and followed that with others on CSP and CPV.
Coming to our conferences and testing the findings of this research with our panelists and audience helped us all better understand how the market would eventually evolve. It has now become more of a true energy market with all the dynamic interplays of policy, technological innovation, manufacturing process innovation, global trade, and a cascade of macroeconomic events that constantly shift the ground underneath its feet.
Nicole Wachtel: The industry has seen some challenges so far this year. Why do you think it is a crucial time to be involved in the solar sector?
Scott Clavenna: In my opinion, solar remains the renewable energy technology with the broadest potential for impact across the whole electricity sector; yet it is also the most difficult to forecast and requires the greatest depth of research to understand. This year is no exception.
There are more multi-gigawatt solar markets around the world than ever before, and each one of them faces unique challenges that, in many cases, mean the difference between growth and stagnation. We like to run our events with conversations between an analyst who’s put in the time studying these markets and industry participants who are living in the day-to-day realities. We’ve seen it deliver real value to attendees for 10 years now.
Stepping back from all the existential threats out there, this is still such a vibrant market that continues to inspire innovation. We have a whole day on solar software solutions again this year, and sessions on solar-plus-storage, advanced inverter technologies, balance-of-systems, and solutions to speed installation or improve financing.
Nicole Wachtel: Looking back, what would you have done differently at that first event?
Scott Clavenna: Jumped in with even more force. We limited the event to one day, and tried to cover everything — global market growth, venture capital and IPOs, project finance and technology trends, all in 8 hours.
There was anxiousness around holding a first conference, but by the end of the day we knew we were on to something. There was a real hunger for market analysis from groups that weren’t solar advocates — that was our big differentiator back then.
We came to this market with the cold eye of a market analyst or economist. We were not there to cheerlead or advocate for policies. People respect that, even when you tell them what they don’t want to hear (like when we said PV would win out over CSP in the long run, which was not so obvious at the time).
Nicole Wachtel: If you had to choose, who has been your favorite guest to make an appearance?
Scott Clavenna: Bill Walton! His enthusiasm for solar was incredible. He had an impressive grasp of the details around solar technology, policy, and value that made for a great conversation.
Nicole Wachtel: What are you most excited for at this year’s big event?
Scott Clavenna: This may not qualify as “excited” but I am very interested to hear discussions about the pending trade case in the U.S. and how panelists and guests view the potential impact. I’m always interested in China as a major force in the renewable energy market. And finally, I’m now quite interested to hear from Mark Widmar, since First Solar is in a unique position relative to the potential trade case in the U.S.
Join GTM for the 10th Annual Solar Summit & 2nd Annual S3 Solar Software Summit in Arizona May 16-18. We’ve got the biggest names in the solar industry confirmed to attend and speak. And we've got a packed agenda of topics including solar software, energy storage, finance, community solar, corporate procurement, balance of systems, and much more. Check out the event site here.