Intersolar 2008

Joining us on this week’s blog, is our guest writer Nathan Polland. CleantechBlog is proud to present Mr. Polland’s research from InterSolar 2008:

InterSolar 2008

I attended the Intersolar 2008 conference on July 14-16. While this was the first conference of its kind in the United States, Intersolar already has a huge presence in Germany, with 50,000 attendees at the last conference in Munich. The San Francisco Conference was part of Semicon West, a big semiconductor trade show. While the conference itself was not focused strictly on solar energy, I was and that is what I am writing about today.

The solar area took up the third floor of Moscone West. Representatives from over 200 different solar companies had booths. Of those, I targeted around 120 of which I talked to about 90 and was able to acquire useful information from 75 of them. As it would unrealistic to interview all 200+ people, I singled out the 120 whose fields of research seemed more exciting and the fact that they were PV companies (for the most part). Not everyone wanted to talk to an intern, but there were many friendly reps who offered me little gifts, such as a pen or ruler, and invited me into their booth to sit down with them. Boy, it’s always nice so sit down after walking around in dress shoes for hours! Many booths also had jars of hard candies! While I hungrily gazed upon the sweet treats, attempting to fight the temptation (and losing pitifully), I noticed a very interesting thing: when someone took a candy, they would tend to do it when the representative of the booth was not looking, even though the candies were meant for us, and yet everyone felt ashamed to take one (myself included). And I thought only kids go for candies!

This was my first conference, so before I started to talk to the companies, I took a little while to look around. The first thing that stuck me was the presence of Applied Materials. Not only did they have a huge booth on the third floor of Moscone West, but they also had their own floor in the Sony Metreon across the street, not to mention their ads everywhere. Besides this, there was also an army of Applied employees roaming the third floor of Moscone West looking for prey: Once a potential partnership or investment opportunity (or whatever they were looking for, I couldn’t tell you for sure) was found, a few other employees would swoop in and help finish off the representatives. But wait, there’s more; not only were there Applied employees everywhere, there always seemed to be a large mass of people congregating around the Applied booth (it wasn’t even a booth really, more like a small house) as well, making it quite a daunting task to enter the area and attempt to find someone there to answer my questions.

Beyond the presence of Applied Materials, the next thing that struck me was the disproportionate number of Germans. There seemed to be at least one at every booth.

I talked to about 75 companies. So what did I find out? Exactly what I expected: the solar industry is currently booming, with most companies growing by 50+%. There are also many new entrants to the solar world, which means a lot of smaller companies. As the boom in the industry is also a relatively recent occurrence, this means that most companies are still quite small, though there are many larger, older companies who have more recently invested in solar (like Applied Materials).

The first chart shows the number of companies per size category (small, medium and large):

The second shows the founding date of the companies:

And the last one shows the growth rate of companies:

Most companies are growing quite rapidly by head count, with many growing more than 50% a year. The lower growth companies (in the 0% to 10% range) tended to be the larger companies who have already established themselves and thus have a steadier but lower growth rate.

I compiled these graphs from the data I collected at the conference, if you would like to view the raw data, click here (pdf, xls). There is a lot about the solar energy industry that can be learned in a short time!

I attended the Intersolar 2008 Conference as part of my internship with Jane Capital Partners, where I am the ‘Solar Intern’ for 5 weeks. My project was to research and write about this conference. This internship was part of the Coro Exploring Leadership Program – a 10 month program that begins the summer before junior year of high school run by the Coro, a non-profit dedicated to teaching leadership skills and public service. If you would like to learn more about Coro, click here.

If you or anyone you know wishes to learn more about solar power, here are a few helpful articles I used in my research:

http://www.energy.gov/energysources/solar.htm
http://www.nrel.gov/learning/re_photovoltaics.html
http://www.nrel.gov/learning/re_solar.html
http://www.eia.doe.gov/kids/energyfacts/sources/renewable/solar.html
http://www.ases.org/aboutre/ed_resources.htm
http://www.fsec.ucf.edu/en/
http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/renewable_energy_basics/how-solar-energy-works.html
http://www.solarenergy.com/info_history.html
http://www1.eere.energy.gov/solar/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_energy
http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/tech/solarenergy
http://www.ises.org/
http://www.solarbuzz.com/Applications.htm

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