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SPI’s Smart Energy Week charts the future of grid resilience and reliability

In just over two weeks, approximately 20,000 energy sector professionals will descend upon the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas for the biggest combined solar plus energy storage plus microgrid plus hydrogen fuel cell trade show in the United States. Like the industry it represents, Solar Power International (SPI) is expanding its scope and reach to encompass the rapid and exciting growth of energy innovation across the country.

Checking out new technology at Solar Power International 2016. (Source: Solar Energy Trade Shows)

Welcome to North America Smart Energy Week, where you will find, in addition to SPI, three other co-located events: Energy Storage International, the Smart Energy Microgrid Marketplace and Hydrogen + Fuel Cells NORTH AMERICA.

So why this expansion, and why now? The Department of Energy’s recent grid report — while limited in its view of energy reliability and resilience — provides some timely context. The cutting-edge technologies, businesses and clean tech startups soon to fill the trade show exhibition hall constitute a virtual roadmap to the more likely future of reliable, resilient, clean electric power in the U.S.

The demand for smart energy — a key driver in the energy transition — continues to grow, here and around the world. According to the Smart Electric Power Alliance’s (SEPA) annual Utility Solar Market Snapshot, utilities across the U.S. interconnected 9.4 gigawatts (GW AC) of solar between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2016. This means that about 28 percent of the cumulative 33.6 GW of solar in the U.S. were installed last year alone.

And here are some other equally impressive figures — year-over-year growth in the utility-scale solar market continues to outpace both the residential and non-residential sectors. Utility-supply capacity — which includes all projects a utility owns or has contracts for, as well as merchant plants  — grew 84 percent from 2015 to 2016, while residential grew 11 percent and non-residential 20 percent.

Meanwhile, studies show a range of distributed energy resources (DERs) on the verge of major market expansion. This year, for the first time, SEPA’s Utility Survey also tracked the emergence of the small, but fast-growing energy storage market. A total of 47 utilities reported interconnecting 207 megawatts, 237 megawatt-hours last year, while many are considering or planning to roll out new storage and solar-plus-storage projects and programs in the near future.

Thus, Energy Storage International debuts this year as a full-fledged conference,with its own education track — and 150 energy storage exhibitors. We’ve also expanded last year’s popular microgrid demonstration into its own Smart Energy Microgrid Marketplace. Once again, a live microgrid will be powering some of the marketplace’s booths; and engineering teams will demonstrate the system’s resilience and reliability capabilities.

With demand-side management an increasingly hot topic in the industry, electric vehicles and smart home technologies will also have a visible presence at SPI.

A number of data sources show U.S. sales of electric vehicles jumped 37 percent in 2016, with many organizations already upping their forecasts for future sales. The overlap between the EV and solar markets is well documented — customers who own one are likely to own the other.

Hydrogen + Fuel Cells NORTH AMERICA, occupying a separate section of the tradeshow, will feature hydrogen-powered electric vehicles from Toyota, Hyundai and Honda. If the fuel-cell connection with SPI seems a stretch, keep in mind that solar energy is a key power source for the manufacturing of hydrogen in the U.S., and fuel cells are also used for storage.

As with EVs, market growth is predicted for smart thermostats, energy management systems and other “smart home” gadgets — from smart plugs to Amazon Echo and Google Home.

Hands-on demos of smart home technologies will also be occurring on the tradeshow floor.

At SEPA, we see smart energy as a complex ecosystem that includes not only technologies, but a range of policies and stakeholders, including utilities and customers. No single technology will provide a perfect solution for achieving a clean energy future. That is why, in 2016, we expanded our mission from its original focus on solar to include other DERs, such as storage, demand response and electric vehicles.

Our recent merger with SGIP — bringing with it a new focus on interoperability and technical standards — shows our ongoing commitment to grow with the industry and stay actively engaged with our increasingly diverse membership. Yet another result of the synergies generated by the merger is our new Technical Symposium, bringing together top scientists and academics to present peer-reviewed analytical work about their research and development in solar, smart energy and storage.

The expansion of SPI, with its inclusion of other key technologies and markets, also reflects the forward direction of our industry — distributed and interconnected, innovative and collaborative.

The message has never been clearer. As an industry committed to clean, affordable, reliable and resilient power, we move forward together.

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