What do Australia, Indian Lands, and women’s shelters have in common…? While it may sound like the start of a bad joke, there’s actually a great – and lucrative – answer: solar power potential and solar market opportunities abound in all three!
The solar market potential is large, and growing. With almost 30 GW of total installed capacity in the U.S. (enough to power 5.7 million American homes), “solar is the fastest-growing source of energy in America,” according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). This year, the solar industry is projected to add 14.5 GW of capacity, breaking last year’s record by 94%. But where is all of this solar going and, an even better question, who’s installing it? In this interview, I spoke with Paula Mints, the Founder and Chief Market Analyst of SPV Market Research, who’s solar-focused market research spreads across the board, from an Indian Lands report, to offering her expertise to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, and more.
You’re a busy woman! You have 3+ concurrent projects related to solar – and they’re all across the board. Give me a run-down of what you’re currently doing.
Indian Lands Report
I am working with an expert – we have known each other for years – who works directly with Indian tribes to help them deploy solar.
In a nutshell, Indian tribes are sovereign nations with their own laws, rules, and regulations, many of which conflict. Though there is significant potential, not much has been done in regards to solar or renewable energy. Why? Because Indian developers have to sift their way through a myriad of conflicting tribal, state and federal regulations and requirements – including changes to net metering. This is what the report will cover. I think this is important work because there is demonstrable need in terms of off grid and on grid deployment and no one seems to understand the space well enough to write about it.
High School (& future Women’s Shelter’s) Mentorship Program
This is a personal goal/project. I am passionate about encouraging young people to consider STEM careers, and have been wanting to launch a program at the high school level for a very long time. This year I was a judge for the local science fair. The winners of which go on to state and national contests. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had in a very long time.
Eventually I would like to connect local installers with women’s shelters and build arrays for those properties. In the solar industry, we need passionate people to work in sales, as installers, etc. Many women in shelters need training, retraining and …
I’m also an expert panelist for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (akin to the U.S. Department of Energy), reviewing Australia’s government funded solar research programs. It’s very gratifying but the findings are confidential until the Australian government releases them. I just started a bimonthly video blog with Jenn Runyon, the Chief Editor at Renewable Energy World. Finally, I’m continuing work that predates me, working on my annual market report, published for over 40 years.
SPV Market Research’s mission is to provide your clients with thoughtful, accurate solar market research based on primary survey effort into the solar industry. Can you speak to why you founded your own market research company and how your firm differentiates itself?
Stepping back a bit in time, I began my work in solar market research at Strategies Unlimited in 1997. Strategies was founded in the 1970s and was the first market research firm focused on solar. I am lucky to have begun with Strategies and to have worked for one of the industry pioneers, Bob Johnson. I am also lucky to be carrying on work begun in the 1970s and to be able to do so with the valuable databases built at that time. Most of the price work you see these days has its roots in this pioneering market research practice.
After my boss at Strategies retired, I became the Director of the PV research practice. Navigant recruited me in 2005. I continued my market research work there for seven and a half years before founding SPV Market Research in 2012. Honestly, I had wanted to build SPV for a very long time, but I just wasn’t ready. Running my own independent practice is one of the most challenging things that I have ever done. This includes writing and publishing my first book in 2000 (Legacy of Courage) and a host of other personal and professional experiences.
Founded in 2012, SPV Market Research currently offers four main products and services, including the Solar Flare Executive Report Series and an Annual Global Analysis of Markets for Photovoltaic Products.
Tell me about market research as a discipline.
Market research is a research discipline that observes industry/market behavior overtime via data. The analyst sets ups their experiment (research) by establishing a sample size that will be representative of the whole, developing a survey instrument, testing the instrument and then conducting the research. The first obligation is to eliminate bias, including the bias of the researcher. This is very hard to do as it is human nature to want or not want something and wanting or not wanting something is bias. To a market researcher trends are established overtime. Forecasts are constructed by observing behavior (data) overtime as well as bringing into the forecast scenario everything that would affect market/industry behavior. Market research is really about the past – the future hasn’t happened yet and a forecast should provide a guide to it.
I believe strongly that my work as a solar market researcher is my life’s work. I am building a body of work that will continue to educate my industry. Education is one of my personal mandates. I was inspired by my industry first – filled with courageous people who are trying to change the world – and by my own work and my vision for it. Market research should be independent and unbiased and a market researcher should professional ethics, morals and tightly held beliefs in the face of competing views. As a market researcher you must be open to the data and where it leads (which is not always where you want to go.) You must maintain your independence in the face of clients and employers (and others) who believe something despite the evidence. You do no one a service if you give in to the pressure to agree for the sake of agreeing.
As Founder and Chief Market Research analyst, what does your job entail?
The day-to-day for me is research, analysis and writing. I find all of it rewarding. It is intellectually engaging and challenging and always fascinating. Market research grounds you because you are focused on setting up your research correctly so that you eliminate your own bias first. You’re always learning… even after 20 years focused on this work, I love the learning aspect the most. It keeps you in the real world. Also, it’s an honor to know and work with many of our industry pioneers. This year I have four book chapters coming out in two separate books and it sure has been a challenge fitting this into my always busy schedule.
How did you get interested in renewable energy and market research? What sparks your passion?
Honestly, when I took the job at Strategies I had a layperson’s view of Renewable Energy, I wanted more of it. I took the job because it is a dream as a researcher to focus on one subject and understand it deeply from all aspects along the value chain: raw materials, manufacturing, installation, end user. When I was a kid I always wanted to know everything. This is, of course, impossible. As an adult I retranslate this to wanting to keep learning, with the goal of understanding deeply as much as I can about this complex industry.
At Strategies, I had to begin learning everything about the technologies, deployment and end user market for our industry – including incentives, etc. Since my research covers all aspects of solar I also do research into off grid solar deployment in developing countries. It was this aspect of solar research that hooked me first, the deployment of PV in the developing world profoundly changes lives. I say this so often that it almost sounds like a cliché… but it is true for me still. As a researcher, I absolutely love the complexity of this industry and all the people in it. It is still fascinating to me. The work sparks my passion. The people spark my passion. The potential for solar to change the world sparks my passion.
Do you have advice for women (especially younger women) trying to go into your line of work?
Goodness, that is a tough one. First, make sure it is right for you. Research involves long, long hours meticulously setting up, and then conducting the research. It is not about the result, it is about the research. Make sure you love ongoing real, constant challenge, and compiling and analyzing a lot of data, then writing a lot. You might want to find a place to work that does research, not consulting (also something worthwhile, but very different.)
PAULA Mints is Founder and Chief Market Analyst of SPV Market Research, a lifelong learner, and dedicated to quality market research. An avid writer, she has dozens of publications on the economics and behavior of the solar industry. She entered the solar space in the late 1990’s while earning an MBA from San Jose State University. Encompassing a deep understanding of this complex industry, Paula has key insights and speaks at several conferences annually, such as InterSolar North America, Solar Power International, the IEEE PVSC, and the EU PVSEC. She is on the expert committee for the EU Photovoltaic Technology Platform. Her areas of expertise include global markets, applications and installations for solar products, cell and module cost and price analysis, trend analysis and analysis of system and system components.
Interested in Solar PV Markets? Check out Chris Williams and Dr. Sean White’s free course!
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