Institute for Environmental Security
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Long Beach Solar Power Conference
28 September 2007
The 2007 Solar Power Conference, held in Long Beach, California on September 24 to 27, was attended by more than 12,000 people, a turn-out that dramatically illustrates the growing interest in solar energy in the US and worldwide. Produced as a business-to-business event, the conference included numerous workshops and an ?Expo? featuring industrial booths and displays. Our IES liaison officer in California, Andrew Vincent Alder, visited the Expo, spoke to many conference participants and reported some of the conference?s highlights.
The entire event, workshops and Expo, dealt almost exclusively with the photovoltaic (PV) side of the solar-power industry. However, one of the industrial exhibitors present in Long Beach, Schott of Germany, does have a significant role in Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), and two of the conference workshops were specifically directed at CSP-related issues. CSP is a ?thermal? electric power system that uses tracking mirrors to direct and focus sunlight to heat water, thereby creating steam that propels an electricity-generating turbine. Deployed only on an industrial scale, CSP requires significant direct sun exposure but can efficiently produce large amounts of ?clean? electric power.
On the other hand, PV systems passively absorb available sunlight, whether direct or diffused by cloud cover, and convert that energy into useable electric power. PV is relatively inexpensive and can be readily adapted either for larger scale energy production or for individual commercial and residential applications. However, current PV technology remains largely inefficient, able to convert less than twenty percent of absorbed sunlight into electricity. Research into improving PV cell design and efficiency is constant, however, and there is little question that conversion efficiency will continue to increase.
The Long Beach event confirmed that solar energy in the US could well be on the cusp of a significant market expansion, but that it is impeded by a lack of governmental support. On the state level California has already introduced a significant program of financial incentives in the form of rebates to help defray the costs of commercial and residential PV installations. Inspiration on this critical issue comes from Europe where, through government support and promotion, Germany is now the world leader in terms of PV research and in the deployment of PV systems for residential and commercial applications.