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Friendly, detailed, and expedient, Sungevity offers a compelling and painless argument for private solar installation.  (Source: Sungevity)
New solar sales site is part internet maps, part environmental advocate, and part business planner

While big solar plants and high tech solar cells using high-efficiency or exotic materials steal all the spotlight, it is shameful to overlook the very real financial and ecological benefits of private consumer solar cell adoption.  Private adoption lets users cut their power costs drastically, and cut down on the burning of fossil fuels, which releases greenhouse gases, sulfates, nitrates, and toxic phenyl compounds.

It seems hard to argue the logic of such benefits, but there are the inevitable detractions.  First, even with government rebates which are available in most states, the process needs an upfront investment of anywhere from $7,000 to as much as $40,000 for very large homes.  Further, some areas get less sunlight then others, so not all of these investments are created equal.  Worse still, the planning process can involve weeks of quotes and uncertainty.

This is where Sungevity, a new company founded by enterprising entrepreneur Danny Kennedy, comes in.  Sungevity looks to take the pain out of purchasing private solar power.  Users simply log onto the site, submit their address and electrical bill information and within 24 hours they have a detailed individualized analysis that beats many private quotes taking 10 times as long to receive or more.

The quote starts with the basic price of installation after local rebates.  It continues with the prospective savings over 25 years (most cells have a life of around 25-30 years or more) and how much the system will increase the value of their home (green is considered a selling point, even in today's troubled economy).  The analysis even includes images of how your house would look with solar panels.  Traditional analysis would require physical examination of the roof and days of inspection, processing, and numbers crunching.

His new system takes a complicated system and makes it simple says Kennedy.  He states, "We do all that (the calculations for preparing the estimate) in about 10 to 15 minutes."

Pleased customers can put down a deposit after their quote and schedule an installation appointment.  It's hard to get much more pain free than that.  While the system currently only operates out of its home state, California, it plans to soon expand to additional states.

A CNET writer, Michael Kanellos, did an analysis on his grandmother's house as a test of the new system.  He found that the system would provide 25 percent of the home's power on average and cost $7,511 after government rebates.  The total savings over 25 years would be an incredible $27,360.  The quote easily beat the 24-hour guarantee, coming back in a mere 2 hours.  A deposit could be placed conveniently using Visa, MasterCard, and American Express, the writer noted.

The new Sungevity system not only helps the customer, but saves money for the seller as well.  The software eliminates the need to pay an inspector to come out and visit the house to develop an estimate.  According to Kennedy, only 10 percent of such visits end in the sale.  The result is the installation cost, typically half the cost of the panels themselves, is unnecessarily high.

The system cuts installation costs by around 10 percent, and reduces estimating costs by as much as 80 percent.  The system also includes software that coordinates installation and delivery, helping to further cut down on labor costs.

The "magic smoke" driving the whole engine is a complex amalgamation of the Internet's most advanced resources.  Sungevity uses Microsoft Virtual Earth's satellite data to derive its information on the house.  The company gave Microsoft a one up over rival Google, as Microsoft offers views from different angles, where as Google only offers a top-down view. 

From the satellite information Sungevity calculates the pitch of the roof (its angle), the azimuth (what compass direction it faces), and the amount of free space for the system.  The system also takes into account the user's electrical use and geographically based average levels of solar radiation.

The company will be showcasing its hard work, mailing free fliers to addresses in Albany, Calif., with free analysis, showcasing its prowess.  While the estimates need a bit of fine-tuning based on the owner's power bills, the fliers should contain reasonable estimates and help to show the customer what their home would look like in images that combine actual pictures of their house with computer generated images.

To cut costs, Sungevity offers 5 different size systems, rather than going for custom sizes.  These mass produced systems range from 1.4 kilowatts to 5.6 kilowatts and typically cost $7,500 to $38,500 after rebates.

Sungevity is currently working to secure solar installers as subcontractors in other states or to offer its estimating services to solar contractors in other states.



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RE: Cost and Savings
By MozeeToby on 4/24/2008 12:07:35 PM , Rating: 2
That is true to a certain extent, however there are a few caveats:

One, increased equity really doesn't get you anything unless you plan on selling your home. In fact, if the solar panels increase the value of your home you could end up paying more property taxes.

Two, not all areas have a large population of people who "think green" enough to pay an extra $10k for a house with solar panels.

Three, and I think most importantly, the value of this equity will decrease over time. Both because new techology will be developed and because solar panels wear out.

Basically, if you live in an eco-concious area and are looking to sell your home in a few years the equity argument works. I'm not sure how valid it is if you intend to live in your house for a long time.


RE: Cost and Savings
By JustTom on 4/24/2008 12:16:16 PM , Rating: 3
Good points, although many taxing authorities specifically exclude solar panels in calculating property taxes. And increased equity has other benefits, such as refinancing and home equity loans.



RE: Cost and Savings
By Netscorer on 4/24/2008 6:31:41 PM , Rating: 2
Where is it proven that Solar Panels do increase home selling price? I would like to see some statistical figures vs that marketing talk that we all know is only good for nothing.

What I do know is that for car sales 'hybrid' badge so far did not inrease resale values.

And solar panel sellers never would tell you the negative sides of owning it. Maintenance costs, susceptibility to storm damages, degrading output over the years, huge loss of output in winter months, etc, etc. And do not even get me started on that 'green' badge. Solar panels production is anything but green. Even with years of usage, solar panels are worse for environment then nuclear plant's generated electricity.


RE: Cost and Savings
By Diesel Donkey on 4/24/2008 9:54:38 PM , Rating: 2
What is so bad for the environment about nuclear power? Yeah, you get some radioactive waste and some water usage for cooler, but am I missing something?


RE: Cost and Savings
By MadMaster on 4/24/2008 11:20:54 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
And do not even get me started on that 'green' badge. Solar panels production is anything but green. Even with years of usage, solar panels are worse for environment then nuclear plant's generated electricity.


http://www.ecn.nl/publicaties/default.aspx?nr=ECN-...

Carbon emissions equal to about nuclear. (added benefit of using no water)

What other impacts? The factory? I don't see how the factory is worse than coal (assuming waste is properly disposed).


RE: Cost and Savings
By masher2 (blog) on 4/25/2008 12:13:38 AM , Rating: 2
From your own link:

> Greenhouse gas emissions [from solar PV cells] are now in the range of 25-32 g/kWh "

Last estimate I saw put nuclear emissions at under 17 g/kHh (this comes almost entirely from mining operations) and even that figure would drop to essentially zero if fast breeder reactors were instead used.

But of course, this is all moot...the real problem with solar power isn't emissions, its a) exorbitant cost and b) its inability to operate as anything but a supplemental power source. Unless we experience a quantum leap in energy storage technology, solar will never fill our needs at night, in excessively cloudy/rainy weather, or in high-latitude areas where sunlight is very weak.


RE: Cost and Savings
By Jedi2155 on 4/25/2008 12:59:55 AM , Rating: 2
Where's Mr. Quantum when you need him......


RE: Cost and Savings
By MadMaster on 4/25/2008 9:14:31 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
But of course, this is all moot...the real problem with solar power isn't emissions, its a) exorbitant cost and b) its inability to operate as anything but a supplemental power source. Unless we experience a quantum leap in energy storage technology, solar will never fill our needs at night, in excessively cloudy/rainy weather, or in high-latitude areas where sunlight is very weak.


You're beating a dead bush, that's old news. Anyways, what's wrong with letting the people who want to buy it buy it?


RE: Cost and Savings
By masher2 (blog) on 4/25/2008 11:13:06 AM , Rating: 1
> "Anyways, what's wrong with letting the people who want to buy it buy it? "

Nothing of course (and in fact, I'm one of those people...but only a passive system for my pool, not my house)

The problem comes in misleading people that they'll save bushels of money by buying such a system.


RE: Cost and Savings
By MadMaster on 4/25/2008 8:17:10 PM , Rating: 2
It's called sales and marketing...

It's what makes your job possible. Be thankful that it exists.


RE: Cost and Savings
By MicahK on 4/28/2008 2:42:16 AM , Rating: 2
umm... I live in Canada, we have a solar panel at our cabin. It can run a week without any sunlight... So I wouldn't go so far to say that it can't meet our needs... Granted, in a real house you would be running a lot more electricity, but still, use LED's or CFL's for light, thats like a few watts compared to 60 watts per bulb...

And another bonus, when there's a power outage, you're the only one on the street who still has power... With oil supplies running out, I would expect to see rolling blackouts to conserve energy... even if you only use is as supplemental power, its benefits are huge!


RE: Cost and Savings
By ebakke on 4/24/2008 12:20:44 PM , Rating: 3
Thank you!! I hear people complain every day that their homes have lost value, and it's nice to hear someone else who realizes that it doesn't matter in the slightest unless you plan on selling.


RE: Cost and Savings
By dschneider on 4/24/2008 9:30:41 PM , Rating: 2
Your math seems a little fuzzy to me.

If your had $7000 invested in a CD you would still be paying full price for your electricity. The money you are saving per month should you invest in solar, could also be put into a savings plan and therefore you would be starting at zero but adding, lets say for argument, $150 per month plus intrest, every month for the same time period.

I'm no math major but I think it would make a substantial difference in the bottom line if you add that intrest back in to your figures. Maybe they already did this But I doubt it.


RE: Cost and Savings
By dschneider on 4/24/2008 11:52:02 PM , Rating: 3
To back up my math.
If we assume the savings to be 27,360 over 25 years thats a monthly saving of $91.20. If that were invested in a similar mutual fund with a meager 5% return rate you would compound to the following rate of return.
Year Balance
1 1119.83
5 6202.15
10 14161.74
15 24376.75
20 37486.27
25 54310.49
Final Savings Balance:$ 54310.49

That would likely make up for all the "maintenance" everyone below is talking about. ;)


RE: Cost and Savings
By masher2 (blog) on 4/25/2008 12:48:26 AM , Rating: 2
Good point. However, remember that the money spent on maintenance could have also been invested as well, meaning its true cost is considerably higher.

More importantly, the savings calculation assumes a rise in energy costs equal to inflation...meaning the first half of those 25 years, you save a lot less per month...and that reduces the total interest earned dramatically, even if the total savings is unchanged.

Also, remember that savings calculation is extremely optimistic. The mere assumption of electricity costs keeping pace with inflation is a hard sell...for the entire 130-year history of commercial electric power, in only one of those 13 decades have costs not risen significantly slower than inflation. Look at the price history since 1965 for instance. Housing prices are up by more than a factor of 10X. Oil by about the same amount...natural gas by more than 20X. But electricity prices have only risen by about 4X over that same period.


RE: Cost and Savings
By dschneider on 4/25/2008 2:08:39 AM , Rating: 2
Your absolutely right. But the costs and adjustments you are talking about are minimal. Where as his math did not compare apples to apples.

I was more pointing to the fact that savings and net return are two totally different things. You can't add interest to one and not the other.

For example, not investing the 7000 dollars in solar leaves you a net savings over 25 years of 7000 dollars no more no less. Apples to apples is 7k to 20k (27k - 7k initial investment). Of course minus maintence and the other things you brought up.

Investing the 7000 or the monthly return with compounding intrest is another thing entirely.

And honestly this is only a 25% system with a $90 a month savings. I would bet the net return goes up the more you supplement your energy with solar.


RE: Cost and Savings
By masher2 (blog) on 4/25/2008 4:04:46 AM , Rating: 2
Err, no, ROI on the PV portion of the system (which is the lion's share of costs) should scale almost perfectly linear. There might be a small amount of superlinearity in regards to the installation and inverter costs, but this would be a very minor factor overall.


RE: Cost and Savings
By dschneider on 4/25/2008 1:36:13 PM , Rating: 2
I'm certainly not saying the numbers from this article are accurate or reflect true savings or ROI.

I was merely pointing out that according to the numbers provided by the article, the previous posters argument that a CD would provide the same ROI is not accurate because he included no profit from the intrest off of the savings.

Whether or not solar is a good investment is more complicated. However if these numbers were correct, I believe the math works out in solar's favor over investing strictly in a mutal fund, etc.


RE: Cost and Savings
By Spuke on 4/25/2008 1:23:47 PM , Rating: 2
I don't think a 1.4k system would supply 25% power, generally. It really depends on your energy usage and your location. According to findsolar.com, and given my present energy usage, I could do 25% with a 1.4k system but come late spring to late fall, no way that will be enough and that's with a "Great" rating meaning 6 kWh/sq-m/day.


RE: Cost and Savings
By dschneider on 4/25/2008 1:44:59 PM , Rating: 2
I agree. Those numbers are highly subjective and difficult to prove.

I live in phoenix and don't have solar. Not that I wouldn't like to try I just haven't been convinced by the numbers yet. But if the above numbers were accurate I believe it is certainly getting to be more promising.


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