PowerGen Renewables: Viva Las Vegas!

This past week, I attended probably the largest annual pan-renewables event in the U.S.: PowerGen Renewables, held each spring in Las Vegas. This event is produced by Pennwell (which puts on the immense annual PowerGen show for the conventional power generation industry), and is organized by the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE).

The keynote session packed a huge hall, with a claimed attendance of 2500. The first presenter was the new leader of DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) shop: Alexander Karsner. (March 23 press release) It’s notable that Karsner is actually a renewable industry guy himself, having led Enercorp, a project developer that includes some wind in its portfolio history. Karsner’s speech was probably pretty compelling on paper, but (in my view) he tried too hard to express his passion and instead came off a more than a little overly-strident, even militaristic. Oh well, perhaps with time he’ll polish off his “hot” edges; he’ll certainly have plenty of opportunities to do so in future speeches.

The keynote session also included ex-CIA Director Jim Woolsey, who made an outstanding case for biofuels as a means to dramatically reduce our dangerous reliance on the Middle East for transportation fuels, as well as reduce emissions. If you get the chance to hear him speak on this topic, make your schedule work for it.

But, GE’s “Ecomagination” talk was strangely flat, and after the keynote session, the event lost steam. There were probably only a couple hundred attendees by Day Two, and the exhibition floor distinctly lacked a buzz for the whole show.

Perhaps this is due to the fact that the hall was much bigger than it needed to be, but the lack of crowds trolling the booths suggests that there may not be much of a market for a trade show that spans the various forms of renewable energy.

The wind industry was not very well represented. Among the bigger players, GE was the only manufacturer and enXco the only developer to exhibit. Probably this is because the U.S. wind market is “large enough” for industry players to see the upcoming AWEA Windpower Conference in Pittsburgh in June as the only venue that matters.

In the solar industry, much the same story applied: only Kyocera among the major photovoltaics manufacturers had a booth. Presumably, the solar companies view Solar Power 2006 in San Jose this October as the place to be.

On the other hand, the biofuels crowd was far more prevalent than at previous PowerGen Renewable shows. With $60+/barrel oil, and the lack of an established leader in the biofuels trade show arena, I guess that’s not surprising.

ACORE talks about its identity as a “big tent” for all renewable interests to rally under. This probably makes sense for policy issues in Washington, which is where ACORE was founded and remains based. But, with this 3rd annual show now in the books, the verdict remains unclear (at best) for a trade show among corporations in different segments of renewables. It would appear that companies with interests in wind want to do business with each other, not so much with solar parties, and vice versa.

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