By Brian Mahar
Last week I attended the Edison Foundation’s Powering the People 2.0 conference to see AREVA Solar’s Bill Conlon speak about energy innovation. While I was there to listen in about solar energy’s benefits for electric utilities, I couldn’t help but notice a lack of solar in general. I heard a similar theme from an associate who attended The Wall Street Journal’s ECO:nomics conference in Santa Barbara last week.
One reason could be all the negative vibes around solar due to the Solyndra political theater. But I’ll throw out a second reason: solar is already part of the mainstream energy conversation. Solar’s no longer the new kid at school everyone’s talking about; it’s an established part of our energy economy. According to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association, the U.S. solar market’s total value surpassed $8.4 billion in 2011.
From my perspective at Powering the People, that honor belongs to energy management. I saw and heard lots about smart meters, smart grid and demand response technologies. It’s no surprise that electric utilities are grasping on to these technologies. Reducing wasted energy lowers electric bills (which means happy customers) and increases grid reliability (more happy customers).
Likewise, the capital expenditures for energy management can be minimal compared to a solar panel or wind turbine. When I spoke to a representative from my local utility, Pepco, she showed me a small device that can be snapped into a thermostat to keep my A/C using energy more efficiently. Likewise, she showed me software that allowed her to turn on and off the EV charging station that was charging EEI president Tom Kuhn’s Chevy Volt outside the Newseum.
Pepco’s efforts and that of other utilities to promote technologies that allow us as energy consumers to use energy in a smarter way will play a big role in driving the clean energy economy. And while I’m excited to learn more about the new kid, that doesn’t mean we should start ignoring solar – especially when we need to stand up for it against the bullies of the established energy sector.