(English version of Globes article, published in print today.)
The first week of September is a busy week for most. Kids go back to school, parents back to work, and pretty much everybody struggles to adjust back to routine. These past 2 years, I have added another “to do” to my list for that first week of September – the European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference. As most people will say, the conference brings to together the “who’s who” of the PV solar industry, which means it’s not to be missed.
As the airplane flies from Madrid to Valencia, you can certainly understand why the conference was held in Spain; Dotting the scenery, you can see solar farms, side-by-side with roads, towns and orange groves.
The solar electricity market is booming. The industry is growing faster than predicted, over 50% each year, with over 9,200 MW (almost enough to power all of Israel) having been installed at the end of 2007. Competition among manufacturers increases, with new, undifferentiated players, many from China, visible throughout the exhibition floor. In parallel, government initiatives increasingly support the development of solar electricity throughout the world, expanding to new countries including Australia, Greece, India, South Korea, United Arab Emirates and even here in Israel (even though we are not yet able to reap it’s benefits).
What we are seeing today is a preview to the transformation and expansion expected to occur over the coming decades. One of the main arguments heard from critics of solar electricity is that its costs are not yet competitive with those of conventional power sources. The entire industry is talking about megawatts and how many dollars to produce them. Manufacturers seek ways to increase efficiency for PV modules, in parallel to reducing the amount of raw materials required and made production lines faster with higher uniformity. However, improvement of existing technologies is not the only factor that will drive down production costs. Enter the opportunity for innovation.
This years’ conference (the 23rd in number), drew 30,000 delegates and 600 exhibitors from over 80 countries, Israel included. However, compared with much of my past conference experience (e.g. RSA security show), Hebrew was rarely spoken. I was questioned by quite a few about this point, as Israeli’s are well-known for their imagination and innovation. It is no big secret that alternative energy is strategic for Israel as a country, and we have plenty of sunshine, yet we are far from the solar powerhouse that one would expect.
Allow me to quote Thomas Friedman(famed columnist from the NY Times) from his Sep. 3rd OpEd “… renewable energy technologies - what I call “E.T.” - are going to constitute the next great global industry. They will rival and probably surpass “I.T.” - information technology. The country that spawns the most E.T. companies will enjoy more economic power, strategic advantage and rising standards of living.”
One thing is certain, the solar industry is closing the gap towards achieving grid parity (the point at which photovoltaic electricity is equal to or cheaper than conventional grid power), some say by 2010-2012. It is our collective responsibility to make sure that Israel takes a leading role in making this happen.