Chicago, ChicagoThis is not a promo piece for the Solar Power International Conference.  But, it does tell you why we’re going to the conference and what we hope to accomplish during the week of October 21 in Chicago.

There are some heady issues on the table to talk about and solutions to define.  Some of these hot-topic subjects are expected outcomes from our successes over the years growing solar markets.

Thanks to Larry Sherwood’s Annual Solar Trends Market Report, data shows that in 2012, installed grid-connected PV increased by 36 percent compared to 2011.  Residential installations grew by 61 percent.   Many of these systems are a result of net metering, which has been a cornerstone of policy in the United States.  This market enabler is now in the crosshairs of a heated debate.  It’s a mixed bag of understanding and valuing the benefits of net-metered solar installations versus the costs.  We plan to dig into this while in Chicago at IREC’s 3iForum sessions in Booth #3038 on the exhibit hall floor.  We’ll bring to the debate a balanced outlook that is articulated in a recent IREC report – Calculating the Costs & Benefits of Distributed Solar Generation.  Written by Jason Keyes and Karl Rábago and reviewed by multiple stakeholder groups, it offers a fair approach.

We’ll also look at the interconnection demands on utilities in areas with high deployment of solar energy, resulting in some project delays and cost increases. Keeping pace with this growth requires new thinking on interconnection processes.  IREC has solutions based on our recent work in over two-dozen states and at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  We’ll also bring our concept on integrated distribution planning and how this proactive planning for distributed generation anticipates upgrades to accommodate growth.  Kevin Fox and Sky Stanfield will lead two of IREC’s 3iForum sessions on the current thinking on interconnection.

With only about 25 percent of rooftops able to host solar installations, we’ll talk about how to involve others through shared renewable energy programs.  Erica Schroeder McConnell and Joe Wiedman are leading IREC’s work on shared solar and they’ll talk about their innovative program designs.  IREC just updated the Model Rules for Shared Renewable Energy Programs.  It’s a very good read and will give you the basis for pragmatic solutions.

Another Chicago-ready topic for discussion is ways of reducing the time and cost for local authorities to permit PV systems while still protecting public health and safety.   IREC, along with the Vote Solar Initiative, has offered best permitting practices for local jurisdictions.  IREC’s work on this also includes in-depth workshops, technical assistance, and what we consider a prime-time program – the online PV training for code officials  course.  We’ll talk about these and other best practices when Joe Sarubbi discusses how the Solar Instructor Training Network, a DOE SunShot Initiative, brings better-trained employees to the workplace.

Here’s another issue we’ll headline in Chicago: how do we know when training covers the right skills needed for the jobs out there?  There is confusion differentiating between well-planned, systematic program instruction and training that may not deliver what is promised.  Ultimately, a competent and skilled workforce brings a competitive advantage to the clean energy industries.  IREC’s solution is our standards development and credentialing programs.  Setting the requirements and assessing compliance to them are critical underpinnings for workforce development.

Credentialing is not a snoozer.  Without some form of well-designed, third-party assurances, poor workmanship can cause big market headaches.  Laure-Jeanne Davignon and Pat Fox will bring to the 3iForum IREC’s market-valued solutions and how the bar is being raised for the solar training community.

We plan to be at full speed while in Chicago.  Along with our sessions and presentations, IREC will be hosting our 20th Annual Innovations and Special Recognition Awards ceremony, renamed the 3iAwards, including a red carpet roll out, paparazzi, and star-studded interviews.  Well, maybe not exactly.  But, we’re honored to recognize a group of very inspiring people, projects and organizations this year.  We’ll also have our Annual Updates & Trends Report available at our 3iForum sessions.

We hope to see you in Chicago and at IREC’s events.  If not, check out IREC’s web site for follow up news and information.

Image: © Henryk Sadura –