Independently gauging visitor levels at any major event simply isn’t possible, so many will rely on the number of booths on a year to-year basis to measure a trade show’s growing or diminishing popularity.
Of course many veterans will rely on booth and lane traffic in a subjective way to gauge developments, while others will rely on ‘quality’ of booth visitors over ‘quantity’ to measure a show, before post-sales analysis.
Intersolar Europe has not really had to worry about such things in the past as the show stomped away to become the PV industry’s major ‘international event’ in the last decade.
Although the booth numbers at the event peaked in 2011 at 2,286, the drop in numbers the following year (1,909) was hardly discernable. However, with a quoted 1,330 in 2013, many halls were noticeably less packed and several were only half-full.
The key question is whether this downward trend is set to continue.
Setting aside the obvious number of companies that have gone bankrupt since 2011 or exited the sector, several major PV manufacturers were conspicuous by their absence at Intersolar this year.
Absent were SunPower, First Solar, Canadian Solar, Sharp and Panasonic. Although Europe has not been the centre of attention for several years for all but one of these companies (Canadian Solar)), Intersolar was the international event for the industry.
Their current absence says that Intersolar is starting to lose that name tag, despite the fact that no other event can stake a claim to being the international event.
Perhaps we are seeing the beginning of the end for an international event, with companies instead placing greater emphasis on attending and exhibit at events in regions where they expect or are doing the most business. Whether or not this is a short-term trend due to the circumstances within the industry over the last two years is not clear, but a reversal in booth number trends at Intersolar seems unlikely over the next few years.
Indeed, the organisers have already announced that Automatica will be wed with Intersolar in 2014. The robotics-based trade show had been co-hosted in the past, but as Intersolar filled the halls through A, B and C, Automatica had to find another date. Whether all the A and B halls will even be used for PV companies next year is a moot point.
A second wedding at Intersolar 2013 took place, with both Hanwha Q CELLS and Hanwha SolarOne for the first time sharing a nice shiny new booth.
On the pre-show floor plan the impression given of the shared booth was that it was a cost cutting exercise, reflecting the mood in the industry. In reality the result was a clever and impressive booth that was able to express the new order that the Hanwha Group has created from two disparate acquisitions.
To this industry observer, the Hanwha Q CELLS/Hanwha SolarOne booth represented none of the troubles of the past but spoke more about the bright future both companies are working hard to achieve. Visitor levels would seem to support this view as it was consistently busy throughout the three-day event, unlike many others.
In stark and disturbing contrast was the Suntech booth. Taking up a huge frontal area of hall A3, the size of the booth simply worked to highlight the meltdown in the company since its Chinese manufacturing operations went into bankruptcy restructuring proceedings earlier this year.
At times only Suntech staff were clearly seen on the booth, void of customers for much of the three-day event. The atmosphere on the booth was clearly sombre, just like at a funeral.
And finally, another booth will be remembered, but for all the wrong reasons. Recom’s booth in A1 was quickly renamed the S&M booth due to the caged female models suspended above the booth and the gothic theme throughout.
Recom’s marketing team should be praised for coming up with such a unique design and theme, but does the PV industry really need to be doing this?
When various media teams (including PV Tech) filmed the booth many visitors that were looking at the booth and some that were actually on it quickly left the scene! Perhaps the thought that being ‘caught’ on camera with such a booth backdrop would be difficult to explain to loved ones and possible grounds for divorce.