Some reviews and comments I’ve seen so far have merely stated the obvious, that the show was much smaller this year. That is indeed a fact, and it was perhaps the first comment most people made over introductory handshakes. Another fact, as a wise man once told me, is that a trade show will always reflect the market. In the last few years the UK solar market was one of the biggest and most active in the world, and the show reflected that. Gigawatts were being deployed, and of course SEUK was abundant in suppliers of modules, inverters, balance of systems suppliers, developers, installers, financiers, consultants and lawyers. There was money in UK solar. Thanks to our dear ‘friends’ in government that isn’t the case at present. We have a flat solar market in the UK, and therefore a smaller show.
The guys at Solar Media obviously saw this coming, thus the change of name, to include Clean Energy Live, and the addition of I think over 40 energy storage, or related, stands. Many quite small. Therefore the UK market was reflected, a nascent energy storage market, and a flat solar market. So in the context of the above, I thought it was a very good show.
Due to other commitments I was only able to attend on the Tuesday and Wednesday. I rolled up early on the Tuesday and I was immediately surprised firstly by the presence of ‘ladies in tight dresses’, on the first stand as you walked in (I thought I’d gone through a time-warp), and secondly by how quickly I was able to make a ‘first sweep’ of the show. Of course one of the upsides of these shows is always the opportunity to catch up with clients, placed candidates, friends, fellow solar soldiers and new contacts. A caffeine overload is par for the course, along with the sharing of battle scars from time in the clean energy and solar sector.
SOLAR: It was good to catch up with Q-Cells, Jinko, SMA, Huawei, Zeversolar, Growatt, BayWa r.e, all with a good presence, and all committed to the UK market. The consensus was that they wanted to be there to show their commitment to the UK, despite it being tough times at present. We all know that solar will again rise in the UK, how can it not with the stunning reduction in module costs we are seeing on an almost daily basis at present. We won’t see the crazy heights of the past few years but the sector will grow again, and when it does people will remember those that stuck it out and stayed committed. Much like ourselves. There were some good talks for installers about diversification and selling commercial and residential PV in the current market. Though many peoples interest was elsewhere…….
ENERGY STORAGE: Sonnen and Tesla were headline acts, but Powervault, Moixa, Wattstor, Connected Energy and many others were making a stand for residential or commercial scale storage. Great products aside you can always rely on Sonnen for a pick me up energy drink, and Tesla for a cool car to look at. In fact there were a number of EVs and PHEVs, and EV infrastructure companies on show. The big interest though was around the Energy Storage theatre. It was pretty constantly packed, as was the Clean Energy theatre. People eager to hear about future energy markets, technology and business models. The UK remains a real bastion of innovation around finance for clean energy solutions. How Brexit may affect that is yet to be seen. Brexit was though a hot topic of conversation, not least around a packed theatre listening to Nina Skorupska, Chief Exec of the REA, fresh from a trip to Brussels with European trade associations. It was clear that many people though, despite warnings from me, and many more intelligent people, that energy storage would not be an instant panacea to the ills of the solar market, still had overly optimistic expectations. Sadly there aren’t enough jobs in storage for those laid off in the solar sector, yet. Nor is there sufficient business in storage to save a sagging solar company, yet. But as was evident from the talks; business models are improving, products are improving, and as with solar modules, battery prices at least, are tumbling. There is though still much work to be done. On Wednesday morning I chaired the Energy Storage Alliance meeting in the Energy Storage theatre. We came together to discuss the barriers to the sector, legislative and regulatory mainly, and what urgent messages we wanted to deliver to BEIS. We had lots of valid contributions from the floor, as well as REA policy analyst Frank Gordon. Of course there are many issues, and some differences in need from residential to utility scale, but an end to double charging, a proper regulatory definition, and to ‘get a bloody move on’ were the key messages of the day. A full white paper on the session will be produced and shared shortly.
POLITICS: On the day I was told by that good friend (sic) of the solar industry Amber Rudd that I must provide a list of all foreign workers in my company, we had a visit from Barroness Nevill-Rolfe, and a packed theatre to listen to what she had to say. In my humble opinion, as expected, she said nothing. A few scripted platitudes, a few name checks for British companies, some comforting soundbites about energy storage and innovation, and a kick in the proverbials for Solar (support for solar remains in line with falling costs), and a photo-op in the Tesla Model X. I genuinely hope that BEIS do really ‘get it’ as far as energy storage, demand side management, decentralised energy and indeed solar, but having been in the sector since 2007 forgive me if I’m a little skeptical. Especially in light of the recent go ahead for Hinckley Point(less), and today the news that local planning and opinion is to be trodden down in favour of fracking! I think we’ll leave the politics there!!
Congratulations to Sunamp and all of the award winners, thank you to everyone that shared a coffee and/or an opinion with me or my colleagues from Hyperion Executive Search, I genuinely thought it was a very good show. The interesting thing though, as is always the case, is where will be next year. Despite the majority of our assignments now being overseas, we actually like doing business on our doorstep, let’s all get behind and support the UK market, and it’s trade shows, and trade bodies. We all know we are going to win, it’s just how soon we can make it happen. Viva the clean energy revolution!