Oklahomans tell Europe about state’s energy

Published: Friday, September 25, 2009 7:00 am By: Jay F. Marks

The Oklahoman

State government and business officials are half a world away this week in an effort to attract new business to Oklahoma.

The European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference is a prime opportunity to meet companies that might be interested in bringing their business to Oklahoma, officials said.

The five-day conference, which runs through today, boasts nearly 1,000 exhibitors and more than 4,000 delegates. It is expected to draw about 40,000 visitors.

"This is the largest gathering for the international solar industry," Oklahoma Commerce Secretary Natalie Shirley said.

The state Commerce Department is focused on developing Oklahoma's natural resources, from oil and gas to wind and solar power.

Shirley said Europe is a hub for alternative energy companies because the continent has less access to carbon-based fuels such as oil and gas.

She said state officials have been working for months to set up meetings with companies and potential investors at the annual conference in Hamburg, Germany. Commerce officials were joined at the conference by representatives of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce, and Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co.

They arranged more than 60 meetings over the past two weeks. Some are follow-ups to contacts made at a recent wind energy conference.

"It's a huge investment, but you want to make the most of your time while you're there," Shirley said.

She said Oklahoma is a prime location for solar energy firms.

"The reality is we have as much solar energy in Oklahoma as Southern California does or Texas does or Florida does," Shirley said.

Oklahoma City Chamber President Roy Williams said the technology used to harness solar energy is evolving rapidly.

New advances include a paper-thin film that can be placed on windows, rather than relying on bulky solar panels to capture the sun's energy.

Williams said the state's central location is attractive to solar energy firms looking to establish a foothold in the United States, which many companies view as one market.

"Oftentimes it's cheaper to be in the middle," he said.

Williams said some solar manufacturers already have inquired about setting up shop in Oklahoma.

Sending representative to this week's conference and trade show is a way to meet some of the people who make such decisions in person and begin establishing relationships, Williams said.

He said it is not unusual for economic development trips overseas.

Chamber staff averages three to five such trips each year.

"Those are where our markets are," Williams said. "That's the world we live in."

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