Let's be honest. At many trade shows in the mainstream electrical market, you can sometimes shoot a cannon down the aisle and not hit an attendee. Try that at SolarPower 2008, held Oct. 13-16 in San Diego, and you would graze a few dozen greenies. In only its fifth year, SolarPower 2008 had more than 22,500 attendees (up 10,000 from last year), 425 booths — and another 450 companies on a waiting list that couldn't get booth space. Not bad for a show that started out in a San Francisco hotel with 60 exhibitors and 1,000 visitors in 2003.

In addition to the aisles packed with the latest in silicon photovoltaic (PV) panels, thin-film panels, inverters and other related supplies necessary for solar installations, SolarPower 2008 also offered a surprise visit from California's Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who sang the praises of solar to an already converted choir of installers, integrators, manufacturers, investment bankers and other solar professionals. California is by far the nation's leader in the amount of installed PV systems. Schwarzenegger has pushed a green agenda including the Million Solar Roofs Initiative that is expected to provide 3,000 megawatts of solar-powered electricity for homes by 2018 and regulations that require utilities to generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable power sources by 2017.

The Governator's enthusiasm for solar's potential was obvious during his Oct. 13 speech. He said he is looking forward to flying a helicopter over California and seeing solar panels on the roofs of warehouses and big-box retail stores, and that the next time he comes to SolarPower, he would be driving a solar-powered Hummer. “What's green for the earth can be green for the economy,” he said. “We are going full-speed ahead on green and are going to show the nation how it's done.”

Schwarzenegger's interest in PV arrays for warehouses is quite interesting because warehouses provide some of the most valuable commercial real estate for solar power in the Golden State. Entrepreneurs are installing PV arrays on these facilities in lease-back arrangements called Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), where building owners lease PV systems and get a break on their electrical bills. The PPA providers sell any electricity the building owners do not use back to the utility.

On the show floor, several electrical professionals from the West Coast said solar power was starting to provide some real market opportunities. At the Ferraz-Shawmut booth, Jeff Dunn, Nelson Associates, said Rexel's San Diego branches stock photovoltaic supplies. Platt Electric Supply, Beaverton, Ore., had a booth at the show and was distributing a company catalog dedicated exclusively to its lines of PV supplies. John Eddins of Platt Electric Supply said he believes the company will be in a good position to take advantage of electrical contractors' increasing interest in solar energy. Eddins said that while most PV supplies are now sold direct, as the market expands over the next few years the existing distribution models won't support the expected growth. “This market is expected to grow 10 times larger in the next 10 years,” he said. “With all the rebates, that's probably not far off.”

SolarPower 2009 will be held Oct. 19-22, 2009, at the San Jose Convention Center in San Jose, Calif.