The annual Solar2015 conference is done and dusted for another year.

This year the event successfully choreographed three events into one and everyone I spoke to loved it.

I read some interesting social media debate recently which considered the value of attending such events and there is no doubt it’s an investment in time, money and energy no matter what your participation level is. Here’s the simple version though – business is about relationships and conferences give you an opportunity to build them. Whether that means getting time with suppliers or customers, cutting new deals of finding new options there is huge value in compressing that into a couple of days. All our local conferences have also carefully structured their content to provide really strong educational benefits so if you want to learn about standards, best practice, new products or how to build your business I can tell you, we have some of the best events in the world.

There is a lot less “pizazz and hype” and a lot more “genuine value” in Australian conferences and it’s a credit to those involved.

Everyone has their own strategy on how to get value but my plan is to book as many short meetings as I can, check out the latest product offerings and get little snapshots of what’s happening in the market from the broadest range of views I can.

Out of interest, the week before Solar2015 there was also another event also called Solar2015 run by an organization I won’t even bother naming. You’ll all be delighted to know that  event was an utter and complete flop. Attendance was almost non existent and it ultimately featured lighting products far more than solar.  I genuinely hope the organisers and those responsible for promoting it get what they deserve for what was a complete sham of an event and whose only hope was false and misleading advertising. They fraudulently claimed it had sponsors who were not involved. They referred to companies that wanted nothing to do with it, inferred last years speakers would be there and they tried to win business by acting with premeditated, outright deception. Our industry and conference circuit has no place for such events of companies and I hope it’s the last we see of them.

Here are my highlights of the real Solar2015 conference for you:

Conference and Expo

The traditional expo hall was compact but refreshingly, featured a really high quality group of exhibitors. For those exhibiting or visiting it meant you had less booths to visit and more time to spend getting into detailed conversations; a nice formula for getting real business done.

There were three conference streams to attend; Policy and Industry, Professional Development and Energy Storage. The quality of speakers and topics was by all accounts on the money but the real proof was the numbers – the halls were packed out in almost every session and the numbers were some of the biggest I have seen in ages; more than 500 in a room I reckon.I sat in on a few sessions and also presented several including “Electric Vehicles to Grid”.

Although this was a bit of a plug for my obsession with Zero motorcycles, I started by highlighting the the storage market opportunities, forecasts, segments some modelling tools we have been working on and even made a few world first announcements about some exciting new stuff we are doing. If you are interested, I broadcast part of it live via Periscope which you can see here and the slides will be available to delegates on the Solar2015 web site in the coming days.

We also chaired a Panel session on “Optimising battery storage for the new energy economy” featuring four really diverse and informed experts on the topic. This was a really interesting session which several people told me was the best they had seen and gave a wide range of views on how the market was shaping up and where we are positioned. In case you missed it, session sponsor Enphase recorded it on video and will have an edited version available soon too.

The biggest thing that came out of this for me and seems to be universally accepted is that Australia is ground zero for storage – we have one of the best, underlying, organic and thus far unsubsidized markets for storage in the world and that is good news. We are seeing the world’s latest and best products flooding in, are a pilot location for new technologies and have the attention of the world.

Networking and key events

I was also involved in a couple of key events which are another example of how to learn and have fun at the same time.

The team from Enphase Energy held a great networking event on Wednesday night and I got to conduct an interview with founder Ragu Belur as we warmed up. Of course, I drilled him on where their AC Battery is at following their initial announcement in October. Ragu providing some great insights on what they have done with market feedback, why they believe they have a unique and compelling integrated solution, the price expectations and importantly where they are following “the T” word – Tesla’s announcement. Suffice to say his answer was subtle but the smile on his face a great signal. I’m very fortunate to be a guinea pig on this new product as one of the first batch of global beta test sites and can’t wait to start testing it.

We also MC’d for Classic Funding Group who held an invitation only event for some of the big hitters in solar finance. The “Secrets of Solar Finance Superhero’s” was a fun networking event where Classic Funding Group shared the secrets they have learned to making solar finance work in Australia and was a chance to meet some of the country’s most successful solar retailers who use finance to grow their business opportunities and strengthen their competitive position.

Most thought provoking things I heard

  • Whilst the “the T word” was on everyone’s lips, the reality is we already have a range of fully integrated products available and more coming
  • Solar finance offers are maturing rapidly and while PPA’s get a lot of attention there are twice as many storage systems being installed as PPA’s already
  • Several utilities are rapidly changing the strategies, offers and position in the solar and energy markets. They can see they have to act and this will drive competitive innovation across the wider market.
  • The market is broadly and recently very tight; its tough out there and few are experiencing growth right now. The hope is that the “T word” hype will die down soon and the RET issue will be resolved – and the result will be the market will switch back on.
  • Selling storage is complicated stuff and clearly, we are going to have some ups and downs as the market launches into life. Safety, standardisation and transparency are going to be key themes.

There was a single, poignant and profound moment for me in the whole event though which summed up the big picture issues.

I was chatting with several important industry folks and talking about the bizarre behaviour and attitude of our Government to solar. During this conversation we talked about getting solar back on track and “changing the message” from negative to positive. We talked about how it would be great to get back to the point where we would see solar facilities opening, big announcements being made and getting the Prime Minister to attend such events as an esteemed guest of this huge growth industry, like we used to only a few years ago.

That’s when it really struck me how profoundly anti solar our Prime Minister is.

Not a single person in the renewable industry would consider inviting our Prime Minister or his senior ministers to such an event, for a fleeting second. It’s that bad.

I can remember countless events over the last 20 years where Prime Ministers and senior Government staff would queue up to go to solar launch’s and we have ended up about as far from there as you could imagine. The community loves it, businesses love, utilities are building business models around it and it’s clearly the future according to the rest of the world. Despite this senior Ministers, our Prime Minister and his advisors are playing puerile political games at the expense of one of the largest employment sectors in the country. It is now so ugly, so blatant and so transparent that they will go down in the history books as “the Government who tried to destroy an industry, and nearly succeeded”.

Last week’s latest broken promise on the RET that two yearly reviews are back on the table and that burning native forests are suddenly a solution to our renewable energy targets is an unfathomably shallow way to drive a political wedge and to continue try to slow the future down.

I’ve got news for you. You cant. We’re coming. The State’s can see it too. And now we have low cost energy storage.

We’re the solution, not the problem.

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