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CEOs, Ted Turner, Larry Hagman gather for solar fest

Solar energy will be all the rage in Southern California this week as the industry gathers for its principal conference, Solar Power 2007.

A conference featuring actor Larry Hagman and media mogul Ted Turner? Your first thought is that someone must be colorizing episodes of I Dream of Jeannie.

Actually, the two men are going to be keynote speakers this week at Solar Power 2007, the industry's big annual conference, in Long Beach, Calif. Like the solar industry, the conference has been growing like crazy and the conference will likely be noticeably bigger than last year's fete in San Jose, Calif. (Click here for and articles from that event.)

Among the highlights:

• Turner is expected to talk about DT Solar, a joint venture he formed with Dome-Tech that will create solar power plants for utilities, commercial buildings and industrial sites. Turner is scheduled to deliver a keynote speech Tuesday morning.

• CEOs and other leading executives from the photovoltaic solar industry will hash it out in a roundtable discussion on Wednesday morning. Speakers include Zhengrong Shi, founder of China's Suntech Power Holdings; Thomas Werner, CEO of SunPower, the fast-growing U.S. solar manufacturer known for its high-efficiency solar cells; Steve Hill, president of Kyocera Solar; Anton Milner, CEO of Germany's Q-Cells; Heiko Piossek, CFO of component supplier and installer Conergy; and Ron Kenedi, vice president of Sharp Solar Energy Solutions.

That's a significant portion of the big-name executives in the photovoltaic industry. Suntech may further flesh out its plans to build new industrial parks in China. The company is ranked third right now, behind Sharp and Q-Cells, and is expected to try to become the largest maker of photovoltaic panels, which convert light into electricity. Sharp, Conergy and others will also likely elaborate on their plans to sign up more solar installers.

• Executives from roofing companies and home builders will discuss their plans to integrate solar technology into new construction. Installing solar panels into a home during initial construction cuts down initial costs (installation accounts for about half of the price of adding solar to a building). Companies represented include Lennar, Grupe Homes (which has been installing solar roof tiles in some homes) and Old Country Roofing.

• Solar thermal technology--which some believe is more economically viable than photovoltaic--will also be a major topic of discussion. Several companies, including Ausra and BrightSource Energy, have already sketched plans to build solar thermal plants in California that will be capable of generating several hundred megawatts of power. Utilities in the state, forced and encouraged by recent legislation to get more power from renewable resources, are signing long-term deals with solar thermal companies. (In solar thermal, heat from the sun is harvested and then used to heat liquids, which turn into steam. The pressure from the gas turns a turbine.) CEOs from both BrightSource and Ausra will speak at the show.

Solar thermal water heaters, which use heat from the sun to warm water, will be represented as well. Canadian Alex Winch of Mondial Energy will discuss how his company has been trying to sign large-scale deals for solar thermal water heaters. He is among the presenters scheduled to speak Tuesday afternoon.

• Venture capitalists and analysts will be crawling all over the place. Several panels will discuss the latest trends in solar financing, whether the market has become overheated and when the silicon shortage will end.

• And on Thursday, the last day of the conference, the spotlight will be on Hagman, he of Jeannie and Dallas fame. Hagman actually owns one of the largest personal solar installations in California, according to sources. It generates far more electricity than is used in his home.