The solar industry has descended on the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco this week. Organizers of the third annual Intersolar North America Conference and Expo expect more than 20 thousand attendees to come discuss all things solar. Like the rest of the economy, this past year has not been kind to solar businesses, demand for products has declined and panels are sitting on shelves in Europe. The solar downturn has happened after a couple of years of explosive growth. It’s expected that the industry will pick back up as individual states, such as California, and some countries, continue working toward renewable energy goals.

California has set a goal for its utilities to get a third of their electricity from clean sources by 2020. But just to put that in perspective Germany, a world leader in solar production, hopes to reach 100-percent by the year 2050. And thanks to national government support, Germany might be on track to reach that goal. At the opening session of Intersolar today, Hans Josef Fell, who helped start a photovoltaic revolution in Germany and is a member of the German Parliament, says it is a national renewable commitment that has made a difference. Roof top solar in Germany, for example, covers nearly 20 percent of single family homes and, according to Fell, nearly 60-percent of multi-family homes and businesses have solar on the roof. During the current economic crisis, Fell says, renewable energy has been the biggest job driver in Germany.

Discussion of large scale solar growth opportunities took up a big chunk of the first day at Intersolar. Market analysts, utilities and developers joined on the dais to discuss ways to help big solar grow, especially in California. The take away here, the biggest obstacle is not finding land or overcoming a slow permitting process but updating transmission lines. A representative from Sunpower says interconnection with the grid and more capacity is essential for medium and large scale solar projects to move forward.

Tomorrow, Intersolar takes up urban renewable projects and the ins and outs of doing solar business in California.

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Andrea Kissack

Andrea Kissack (@andreakissack) is KQED's Senior Science Editor. Andrea was born in Los Angeles and discovered radio news through listening to her college radio station. With a curious mind and a love for telling stories, she set off for Tampa where she landed her first job as a reporter for Florida Public Radio. After three years reporting in an unbearably humid climate and a brief stint as a miscast opera reporter, Andrea returned to L.A. to work for public radio, then for television news and finally as a reporter for CBS radio. Andrea has been at KQED for over twelve years, working first as a producer for Forum, and then as the senior producer for The California Report. She is now KQED's Senior Science and Environment Editor and narrates the QUEST television program. Andrea says she feels lucky to cover emerging science and environmental trends in a place where geek is chic.

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