FOR THOSE OF us who came to the solar industry from electronics, it is hard not to draw comparisons between their respective trade shows. Especially as this year, the world's top solar shows are as big as some of the leading electronics shows, filling numerous halls in some very big venues. I should point out that last year, I would not have thought of comparing the two sectors' events. The year before that, many solar shows were almost insignificant; three years ago, a solar event would typically have filled a single hall in an average exhibition center. Visiting Taiwan two years ago, I walked an entire exhibition in 15 minutes. But that's all changing, and rapidly. In fact, the speed at which these events are growing is like nothing else we've ever seen, and that holds true wherever you are in the world.
By dint of the fact that Germany is still the largest and best established photovoltaic marketplace, Europe still hosts the world's largest events, such as the big shows in Germany, and the annual EUPVSEC, held in Valencia on alternate years. Some major shows in the US, particularly on the West Coast, are also growing quickly. And as China grows exponentially as a solar market, Shanghai, too, with its proximity to the main solar manufacturing areas, and for its excellent access, is proving to be a massive and fast-growing success. That said, it is, like all the Asian events, smaller than its European counterparts, presumably because there are so very many to choose from. If you were so inclined, you could visit a different solar show in China almost every week.
That the solar industry is global can be seen from the fact that wherever you go--Europe, Asia, the US--the shows are all pretty much the same, apart from their size. And it's striking that they are so all-encompassing. Everybody's there, from the companies making the big smelting furnaces that melt silicon and grow it into ingots, through cell manufacturing equipment people like us, the panel manufacturing and assembly equipment suppliers, the firms that make the fixtures that you bolt to your roof to house the panels, the panel installation equipment suppliers themselves, right through to the guys who provide the ladders and cherry-pickers for getting the whole shooting match up onto your roof.
And that's before you go to the non-PV-specific shows. The events promoting solar in general add in the dimension of thermal solar and all the equipment, consumables and issues involved in...