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Solar Power International kicks off in Los Angeles

October 12, 2010 |  7:15 pm

Solar The solar industry is going through a growth spurt, but don’t call it a giant quite yet.

That seems to be the takeaway at Solar Power International, the conference taking over the Los Angeles Convention Center this week.

The exhibition floors are jammed with machinery that dwarfs the salespeople nearby. Models of shingled roofs draped in flexible photovoltaic panels share space with backpacks featuring attached solar modules. Solar-powered air conditioners? They’re here too.

About 27,000 people are expected to pass through between Tuesday and Thursday, checking out roughly 1,100 booths. That’s a far cry from the first convention several years ago, when just 100 exhibitors got a mere 1,000 visitors.

Now, the solar industry is aiming for a point where it’ll install 10 gigawatts a year -– a goal it’s hoping to reach within five years. The Solar Energy Industries Assn., which is co-sponsoring the show with the Solar Electric Power Assn., estimated this week that the U.S. could install more than 1 gigawatt this year.

But while solar is the fastest-growing energy source, according to SEIA President Rhone Resch, it remains the smallest, behind coal, nuclear, natural gas and wind sources.

“Any of the oil companies could come in and buy the biggest solar company here just like that,” he said while touring exhibits Tuesday. “But we see an entrepreneurial spirit here that will blossom and mushroom out eventually. We have the wow factor and the potential to be ubiquitous.”

Biz Stone, a co-founder of Twitter, was also a speaker. Dealing with a rapidly growing company –- much like many of the solar start-ups in attendance –- is like the oft-referenced roller coaster, he said.

“Sometimes it’s fun,” he said. “Sometimes you want to throw up.”

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: Karthik Polsani, a solar power merchant in Virgina, takes a close look at solar panels by Sharp at the Solar Power International 2010 Conference and Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times

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