“I’ve Never Seen Anything Like It”: Key Takeaways and Impressions From SPI 2018

By Bart Leusink

Going into Solar Power International 2018, the Esdec team had high hopes for success but, as with any launch event,  we were a little nervous. Although confident in the quality and innovation of our rooftop solar mounting systems, as well as our own capabilities, we wondered if our U.S. market debut might be lost in the hustle and bustle of the industry’s biggest event. With SPI behind us, we can safely say that, if anything, the show exceeded our expectations.

My colleagues and I had dozens of conversations with commercial and residential installers,  developers, distributors, members of the trade press, solar thought leaders, and even some of our competitors over the course of the show. Our FlatFix solution, which was front and center in our show booth, was particularly intriguing to the visitors. Comments like “the product speaks for itself” and “I’ve never seen anything like it” were common, while many were impressed with the simplicity of its clickable assembly, aesthetics (“wow, this looks so cool”), and durability. The slick videos we had looping at our stand helped tell our story as well.

We found attendees at America’s largest solar exhibition to be very professional, informed, and eager to ask many questions about Esdec and our products on show. We fielded many questions related to grounding, wire management (the proverbial “home runs”), UL certifications, wind loads (rooftop systems need to stand up to 175 mph per ASCE 7-16), point loads, and the weight of the system (it’s light). Others were curious about our rapid prototyping technology (we use 3D printers for parts testing during product development), where the systems were made (the Netherlands), whether we had plans to manufacture in the U.S. (yes), warehousing locations and packaging as well as our sales and distribution approach. Some folks checked out our small system installed (ironically on the ground) around the south side of the center that helped to power the live PV array installed as part of the SPI Smart Energy Microgrid Marketplace.

My Dutch colleagues who flew in for the show observed that there wasn’t much difference between American and European installers. At the end of the day, installers all want to mount panels in the quickest, easiest, most reliable way with the lowest number of SKUs for the lowest total cost. What does differ are the various regulations and code issues for mounting solar panels, which are more stringent in the U.S. than in Europe. To that end, we made sure we entered the show having secured UL1703 certification Class A fire rating on all products, conformance to UL 2703 for bonding grounding and loading, and PE stamping, giving us added credibility and helping us stand out as a new player in the U.S. market.

As we wrapped up our conversations, there was a recurring theme: an openness to engage with us, try out the FlatFix system, and add our systems to their preferred suppliers’ list. As anyone who’s worked trade shows knows, follow-up is crucial, and we have a large stack of leads to address in the coming weeks. With any luck, some of those leads will turn into purchase orders, and Esdec systems will start springing up on U.S. rooftops in the near future.

We also discovered something about SPI attendees: They really liked our toolboxes! We brought three hundred of our distinctive orange Esdec boxes to SPI as giveaways, and by the final day, we had given them all away. People could be seen toting them around throughout the exhibit halls and outside the convention center, with some boxes already being put to work carrying various swag and materials from the show. The boxes acted as moving advertisements as well, as some attendees came to our booth after seeing someone sporting one of those Dutch beauties.

With SPI in the rear-view mirror, we have our work cut out for us. We’re actively building the Esdec U.S. sales, service, and technical team and talking with potential distribution and manufacturing partners while we follow up on the many leads from the show. Keep your eye out for news of our new innovation center in the coming days as we continue our positive momentum for the rest of 2018 and into 2019.