Recently DailyTech reported on how companies like Sungevity are revolutionizing the consumer solar power industry. Companies are cutting costs in estimating using satellite imagery, cutting production costs with mass production and computer optimized installation infrastructures, and utilizing improved materials.
The solar industry has been booming and experiencing the heaviest financial investment in years. Among them are a plethora of enterprising web startups looking to connect people to solar panels in the most efficient way possible. Among them is Joseph Brakohiapa, CEO of Clean Power Finance. His company just scored a major contract last Friday with German solar panel manufacturer Conergy, which use the company's financing options and software resources in its U.S. distribution network.
The founder of Clean Power Finance is Gary Kremen, a rather legendary investment entrepreneur, known for his acquisition of the infamous domain name Sex.com. Kremen and other big names in investment capital are showing newfound enthusiasm for the solar industry and online options. Their take is by making the panel buying and installation process more like leasing a car, customers will take to it in droves. In their mind, once people see how much money they'll be saving in a month, and how little hassle it will require, it will be easier to bring them onboard.
The biggest challenge is upfront costs. Solar panels can cost $20,000 to $35,000 on a standard size home, and installation can be as high as half the cost of the panels themselves. Tax rebates help to dull the blow, but it’s still a sizeable expenditure.
This means that most growth is limited to green consumers and corporations, two groups willing to part with large sums of money for long-term financial and environmental returns. Brakohiapa states that the problem is that these green consumers have already bought panels. He states, "For the industry to continue to grow in the residential space, we have to appeal to the mass market and find ways for the everyman to step into solar and get the benefits. At some point, it's going to be difficult to convince people to make large investments simply based on the fact that it's green."
Clean Power Finance and rival SunCity both have lease programs in the works. SunCity already rolled its program out in several states. SunCity CEO Lydon Rive states that by leasing customers should see an immediate return and can have the option of eventually buying the cells. Clean Power Finance has thus far only implemented a loans program to help with the initial capital, but plans to soon roll out a similar program.
Yet another enterprising idea is to allow neighbors with panels to sell electricity to their non-panel-equipped neighbors, using a setup similar to the standard pre-determined electrical rate used by power companies.
One of Clean Power Finance's big initiatives is to provide a SalesForce-like compilation of data. The company provides up to date info on the tax rebates in every state and local region, on the electrical production of available panel models, and on utilities' electrical rates across the country. This info helps installers give better estimates on the cost and return.
Brakohiapa says that one challenge is getting the more technical-geared solar power industry up to speed in sales competence. He states the need for using more straightforward figures with customers; "Solar is still a technical sale. Installers are more comfortable talking about kilowatts but the consumer really isn't there. Tell me that if my monthly payment to the utility is $500, I can get it to $450. Then I'm in."
Last year, solar start-ups looking to develop more efficient solar cells netted $1B USD in funding. Solar experts say that along with the resulting benefits in production, the cost of cells will also be going down due to increases in the scale and capacity of manufacturers, essentially from increased and optimized mass production.
Many companies that currently sell to utilities looking to build solar plants, or to companies, are looking to jump into the consumer market soon. Nanosolar CEO Martin Roscheisen has a "fabulous residential solution" in the works, and also looks to bring the power costs of his company's panels down to $1 per watt.
These advances march solar power closer and closer to "grid parity" without tax rebates -- meaning that solar production will soon match traditional fossil fuel production in terms of cost per unit of power, with infrastructure investments factored in. Some companies are even deploying in-home displays in new homes to show customers how much power their using, and potential savings from solar.
With the credit crunch, and sagging economy, some of the consumer growth in solar has slowed. However investors like Brakohiapa believe that Wall Street Lenders will soon be jumping on solar. He points out that they are already involved through companies such as SunEdison and SunPower, which signed a deal with Morgan Stanley. He states optimistically, "Some investment banks are realizing that they can reach consumers and they can start investing in energy portfolios. Over time, we are going to see more players in the financial space."
quote: And we still have to wait 5+ years before new ones generate any electricity...
quote: The Energy Policy Act of 1992 set a national goal of 30 percent penetration of alternative fuels in light-duty vehicles by 2010. It also requires the federal government, alternative fuel providers, state and local governments and private fleets to purchase vehicles that run on alternative fuels. In 1998 , the Transportation Efficiency Act of the 21st Century extended the ethanol tax incentive through 2007...
quote: "So if you want to save the planet, feel free to drive your Hummer. Just avoid the drive thru line at McDonalds."
quote: Control didn't start happening till the FDRs term, when things started to improve...
quote: (I'll give you a hint, even the economists with PHds are still arguing the exact cause...)
quote: The recession ended before FDR implemented all his fascist bull, it ended in March of 1933, the month he took office.
quote: Many more argue that government interference in the free market, vis a vis the federal reserve and its artificial manipulation of interest rates, along with protectionist legislation such as Smoot-Harley, are the true cause of the Great Depression.
quote: People have been planning on making a profit from wind energy for a very long time. When such farms are actually built, they find them seriously underperforming due to pie-in-the-sky estimates about wind availability, maintenance costs, etc.
quote: Much of the wind industry's success can be attributed to the research conducted at NREL's National Wind Technology Center (NWTC). Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Wind Energy Technologies Program, research conducted at the NWTC has led to the development of multi-megawatt wind turbines that produce electricity at a cost that is starting to compete with conventional energy sources in the marketplace.
quote: No one has answered my basic questions yet.
quote: What do we do with nuclear waste? The simplest solution is to refine out all the plutonium, vitrify it, then just drop in the deep ocean somewhere. There's already so many millions of tons of radioactive uranium, thorium, radium, and other radionuclides, that we could do this a thousand years and still not even measurably change the background radiation of the sea.
quote: Some of you may not realize this, but the open desert is a huge recreation area
quote: No. Solar is good for about six hours-- if it's not raining, cloudy, and you're in a low latitude location. For another six hours, its generating some power, but not as much. For the remaining 12 hours-- it generates nothing.
quote: As I have pointed out many times before, solar energy storage is far from feasible today. It wastes at least 50% of the total energy created, and raises the price per kWh by a factor of ten or more.
quote: Oh, and we're still generating power in the middle of the desert. That's fine for supplying LA, but how do you get that power to northern cities like NYC and Boston? We don't have anywhere near the grid capacity for that, and even if we did, we'd lose half the power in line losses. Oops...now we have to double the size again. 9,000 km².
quote: That's 10,000 square miles, an area larger than nine of the US states. I call that a "lot of land".
quote: Urban dwellers who live their entire lives within 50 meters of a road tend to get a slanted view of reality. The fact is that, even today, nearly the entire planet is still unoccupied.
quote: As I pointed out earlier, that works for powering Phoenix and LA. But we have no practical means of piping power from the Mojave to the Northeast or the Northwest...the areas of the nation which use by far the most power.
quote: Furthermore, if you attempt to generate 140GW in the middle of the desert, you're piping that much heat energy *out* of the area. If the solar cells are 20% efficient, that means a few million acres of desert are now receiving 20% less heat energy from sunlight. That would cool the area enough to cause increased condensation....and suddenly voila! You now have a large number of cloudy days in the middle of your desert.
quote: and you'll measureably cool the area
quote: A 20% efficient PV cell converts 20% of the light to electricity, leaving 20% less energy to heat the surface.
quote: However the energy company around here (detroit edison) still makes his bills the same as ever.
quote: they should pay for it because they force him to sell him his electricity he produces
quote: For example, switching light bulbs to LED or CFL (huge power savings here... per bulb its a few watts compared to 100 for an incadescent).
quote: In 1975, I was taught in school that the world would be "totally out" of oil in 30 years. Today, more than 30 years later, our known reserves are closer to 50 years. In fact, since 1960, we've found 5 new barrels for every three we've burned.
quote: I'd hate to retrofit my car with solar panels and such, only to have it stolen or vandalized.
quote: We have wished, we ecofreaks, for a disaster or for a social change to come and bomb us into the Stone Age, where we might live like Indians in our valley, with our localism, our appropriate technology, our gardens, our homemade religion—guilt-free at last!
quote: show customers how much power their using
quote: "At some point, it's going to be difficult to convince people to make large investments simply based on the fact that it's green."
quote: the USA, which is the most technologically advanced country on the planet is still using heating oil for a good percentage of it's domestic heating?