PHOTOS: Next-gen solar, robots and patriotic marketing

The inaugural solar conference, PV America West, took place in San Jose this week, during a strange time in the solar energy business. The news that caught everyone’s attention was the federal government’s decision, announced in the middle of the three-day trade show, to impose duties on silicon solar equipment from China. The decision came as a response to a complaint filed by solar panel maker SolarWorld and several other manufactures, and it deeply divided people in all segments of the industry, from materials makers to installers.
I was reminded of this tension when a SolarWorld executive asked me jokingly (or not) why the lanyard for my badge featured Suntech Power’s logo, and if I could be fair in my coverage if I was willing to wear that? As I looked around the conference, I saw a number of people sporting plain lanyards with no logos — I guess I should bring my own lanyard from now on.
Notwithstanding the controversy surrounding the trade dispute, the trade show offered an interesting look at prototype solar panels, robotic technology, marketing strategies and politics. Some solar companies highlighted how efficiently their solar cells and panels can convert sunlight into electricity. This marketing reflects the pressure manufacturers are under to boost those efficiency figures quickly because doing so cuts costs.
And given that where stuff is made carries a political overtone these days, it was not surprising to see companies such as Stion splashing the image of the American flag as the backdrop of its booth. On the other hand, Shinsung Solar Energy was proud to use “powered by Korea” as part of its slogan.
Here are some highlights from the trade show: