Seven years ago, at the 2005 Solar Conference in D.C., the media room was in a dimly lit basement at the Capitol Hill Hyatt.
This year it was one floor above the expo hall at the massive Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, where tech geek CEOs and cardboard promo displays from 2005 have since been have been replaced with Vegas-style marketing shows and leggy model types luring solar nerds with winks and smiles.
The enormity of the setup at this year's Solar Power International Conference offered a not-so-subtle reminder that the solar industry is no longer a niche player looking for a few more tree huggers and wealthy eccentrics to keep it going...
One look at the most recent Q2 numbers illustrates this point quite well.
In Q2 2012:
Solar PV installations totaled 742 megawatts, representing a 116% increase over Q2, 2011.
Utility PV installations totaled 447 megawatts, representing the largest quarterly growth ever.
A cumulative 5.16 gigawatts of PV capacity spread across nearly 250,000 individual systems in the U.S.
Forecasts show that 3.2 additional gigawatts of PV will be installed in the United States in 2012. This represents a 71% increase over 2011.
As manufacturing costs fall and new technology facilitates continued price reductions for both production and installations, solar growth remains solid.
But there are shark-infested waters ahead...
$1 Billion Super PAC Dollars
We already know that most solar stocks will continue to struggle over the next eight to twelve months due to high inventories and shrinking margins. And as I've said in the past, while the solar industry continues to tackle the growing pains that come with any maturation of a market, we will mostly stay on the sidelines.
But from a social and political picture — not an economic one — solar has two more issues that are certain to pour salt on the wound...
Whether you're a fan of clean or energy or not, there's no doubt that the industry isn't getting much love on the campaign trail these days. The fact is 81% of all attack ads in this year's election have targeted clean energy. And this has been bankrolled by more than $1 billion in Super PAC money.
Regardless of who wins the worst job in America, the attacks won't stop. After November, we'll continue to hear the anti-clean energy rhetoric from the right, just as you'll hear the anti-oil and gas rhetoric from the left.
It's all noise — but we can't dismiss the fact that this noise slows progress and helps no one.
Over the next two months, I expect the anti-solar brigade to double down on its efforts to discredit the fastest-growing industry in the U.S.
And despite the data that shows just how valuable solar is to our economy, it's an easy target for the sheeple who hate math and who vote based on what the plastic-faced media whores tell them while channel surfing to and from the latest reality monstrosity.
Of course, I don't think this will really affect solar stocks. And the growth in solar will not stop because a few politicians have it bad for that Koch Industry money, just as natural gas development will not stop because a few politicians refuse to accept the reality that fracking can be done safely and responsibly.
Look, no form of power production is perfect... Fossil or renewable, there are pros and cons to both.
So we have to embrace the pros — and make sure the cons don't interfere with our nation's prosperity.
One of the Biggest Scams Going
It hasn't been released yet, but the October issue of Consumer Reports is going to report on unethical and fraudulent business practices within the solar industry.
Consumer Reports will present it as one of the biggest scams in the country.
I'm pretty sure it won't come anywhere close to the trillion-dollar banking scams, Fed scams, and health care scams we've all witnessed over the past few years. But it'll definitely inflict some damage on the solar industry.
Of course, these types of investigations are absolutely necessary to weed out the few bad apples that are looking to make a quick buck at the expense of an entire industry that employs 100,000 Americans.
In any event, this report on top of election-time rhetoric makes the solar space not so appealing these days.
But let's be honest; that's usually the best time to start sniffing around for opportunity...
Truth is solar will continue to prosper and flourish after the election, after next month's Consumer Reports issue, and after anything else they can throw at it.
Just like the oil industry, which battles its own critics much in the same way, solar will take its lumps — but never go gently into that good night.
And if you play your cards right, you'll be able to scoop up some pretty impressive bargains in the solar space very soon... like this one here, which has actually been one of the most successful solar players in the market for the past eight months.
The takeaway from all this?
Solar will continue to be a punching bag throughout the rest of this year.
But smart investors that tune out the noise and focus on the numbers will make some serious cash when it's time to jump back in.
In the meantime, while we patiently wait for another chance at some solar scratch, we continue to benefit from the oil and gas space — specifically with our latest enhanced oil recovery play.
This one's a small under-the-radar engineering firm that's actually found a way to triple domestic oil production. It already has deals with Chevron, BP, and Halliburton...
And it's quickly becoming one of our most lucrative domestic oil and gas stocks of 2012.
To a new way of life and a new generation of wealth...
@JeffSiegel on Twitter
Jeff is the managing editor of Energy and Capital and contributing analyst for the Energy Investor, an independent investment research service focusing primarily on stocks in the oil & gas, modern energy and infrastructure markets. He has been a featured guest on Fox, CNBC, and Bloomberg Asia, and is the author of the best-selling book, Investing in Renewable Energy: Making Money on Green Chip Stocks. For more on Jeff, go to his editor's page.