A mere month after the long-awaited Illinois renewable energy plan was signed into law, we were on the ground in Minneapolis for the Midwest Solar Expo. Needless to say, there was a lot of excitement and optimism among attendees about the growth of the Midwest solar market. Here are three solar trends from the conference:
1. The strength of the Midwest regional market:
With successes such as Minnesota’s community solar program that hailed more community solar deployments in 2017 than any other state in the country, Midwest solar is clearly a source of strength for the larger industry. Rhone Resch, a leading solar voice as the former head of SEIA, in an ode to the entrepreneurial spirit of solar, said “there will always be a regional opportunity.”
To the Mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey, solar is a regional jobs creator – he called on attendees to “energize our cities with an all-hands-on-deck approach.” Frey said, “the moment calls on us to innovate, collaborate and accelerate.”
If market headwinds, such as tariffs, were a major concern about the near term opportunity in the Midwest, the conference attendees and speakers didn’t show it.
2. Solar energy? Try flower power:
While community solar remains a tough nut to crack in many regions across the country, it is blooming in Minnesota. Minnesota’s utility, Xcel, when asked about the success of the Minnesota program, attributed it to branding, noting that a simple name change to “solar gardens” makes it feel more inclusive and flexible for participants. This will be an important case study to keep in mind as community solar developers work to refine the value proposition pitch to potential subscribers, in the Midwest and other markets.
3. Rural areas are embracing new technologies:
Meanwhile, a blockchain panel addressed rural utilities’ nimbleness to new technology as compared to larger, regulated and crowded utilities commenting on how municipalities and cooperatives are well positioned to use blockchain for local arbitrage of storage assets. The role of blockchain in energy markets will be a key trend to watch in the Midwest and beyond.
Set by a backdrop of regional victories, it was clear that this regional market is moving the needle on new ideas and has a solid foundation to scale. We’re excited to watch these trends unfold and are looking forward to next year’s show.