By John Dodge
Posting in Energy
Lowe's new Energy Centers which sell large solar panels and even wind turbines is a very positive development for DIYers and anyone seeking some degree of energy independence. It will bring renewable energy into the mainstream and make systems more affordable.
Installing solar on your house is complicated and costly, but Lowe's entry into serious solar panels sold along side lawn mowers should make such projects easier and cheaper.
Lowe's this morning announced it will sell Akeena Solar'sAndalay AC solar panels. This is a positive development and farsighted on the part of Lowe's -- no doubt, Home Depot and other meccas for DIYers will be sure to follow. Lowe's entry into the solar market will help de-mystify solar installation although tying into the grid will still and should require a qualified electrician - for now (Lowe's already sells small toy-like solar panels...this morning's announcement is about panels that can truly dent your electric bill).
I have been looking at solar for the past several months.
An installer has come out and evaluated the position of my roof with respect to the sun and shadowing. Actually, one is on my roof right now taking solar readings using a product called a Solar Pathfinder. My roof, as it turns out, is maximally exposed to take sunlight from the south southwest.
We've talked round numbers , but we are looking at at a $20,000-$35,000 investment offset by up to 60 per cent rebate from the State of Massachusetts from monies kicked in by utilities to encourage energy conservation.
On top of that, there's state and federal tax credits as well as renewable energy credits that I am hoping will drive my cost down to between $7,000 and 10,000. That equates to payback from lower electric bills in as little 6-7 years. Actually, the first Masschusetts rebate program was so successful, the state blew through $68 million in rebates in 22 months instead of the four years it projected. A second rebate program is only weeks away from being established.
Lowe's Andalay panel maximally generates 175 watts and promises a simpler installation rooftop installtion than other panel systems. That's 175 watts on a sunny day or about enough to power a flat screen TV.
The Andalay panels cost $893 each and the full 4,000 kilowatt system I have been envisioning would require 20-25 panels. But Andalay bills them as plug and play, suggesting easy installation and easy expansion as you go - you know, the stuff so-called experts will tell you can't be done. Now it's up to the utility companies to make tying into the grid plug and play.
Lowe's is selling the panels as part of its new store-based Energy Centers which are rolling out now in California and will be added to other U.S stores in 2010. The Energy Centers also will offer special order wind turbines up to 10,000 watts and other energy generating and conservation devices. Lowe's move is a no-brainer although I have to say this morning's announcement took me by surprise, and very pleasantly.
I don't underestimate the complexity in installing a major residential systems. My roof is too steep for me to climb and work on and integrating the system into my electrical systems by law requires a qualified electrician. But over time, installation and integration should get easier and less expensive as solar becomes as routine in homes as windows.
I suspect Lowe's solar initiative will get a lot of attention.
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Dec 9, 2009
Perform an installation study that correlates the angle of incidence with panel performance. Too many people overlook the installation criteria and may not meet optimum performance iaw tech specs thus delaying return on investment. So determine the performance iaw actual installation criteria to get a realistic estimate of the electricity that will be generated. I'm mentioning this because of the steep roof and that installations are usually flush with the roof slope. Another issue with panel performance and installation expense is that warranties may not keep up with the roi. These panels are getting there but since the taxpaying public are footing the renewable effort, particularly for those with access such as fortunate commercial and residence installations, this is a critical concern. Well, imo, the taxpayers are not actually investing but donating the money but it is a concern for the installation.
Yes my post has a few typos, but my editor is away on Christmas vacation and I worked through my lunch, so I was hungry. But I really don't care, because this subject is so IMPORTANT. Cheers all
First of All to who posted - I don't work for Akeena or Andalay or Enphase or SunTech, I am a Renewables Consultant. And my comments are not an endorsement or recommendation for their products. However, I will make the following statements so that other people who visit and if the people who posted re-visit will be educated. 1) The Andalay panels mentioned are an AC panels. They qualify under NEC Code Part 690.6 as AC Panels, which is a more "relaxed" section then the NEC Section pertaining to DC systems. 2) The panels have an Enphase microinverter intergated into the panels made by Suntech. I don't know about Suntech, but Enphase is the best thing to happen in Solalr Industry to date! 3) The advantages of AC systems are numerous: A) no shading problems, in a typical DC system, if one panel get just some shade, the whole system goes down, or poorly performs. B) High Voltage DC is dangerous, requires careful calculations, and large expensive shut off switches. I can switch off 120V AC at 20amps with a simple 99cent wall switch or normal 240V AC breaker. C) If one panel fails in a DC system, I must match it exactly! in a ever evolving market place such a solar, chances are slim to none that I will be able to. No so in the AC systems mention. 3) With a Typical AC system the connection to the main panel is much simpler and requires only one or two additional breakers. Always consult with an electrician, because every main panel is setup differently but... 4000 Watts / 240V = 16.6 amps, * 1.56 (125% for CT Loads +125% "because its solar") = 26 amps = new 30 amp 240V breaker, or 2 15 amp breakers. NEC has an allowance for backfeed on to the main bus for solar systems. I agree, its not really a DIY job, but an easy job for a Qualified Electrician or General Contractor. Co-Planar arrays are now possible with out additional equipment. I can have one array facing South and an Addition array facing west (Good for late afternoon strong sun). Specific Responses to posters: littlepitcher said "Lowes is a little late in the game. Northern Tool and Harbor Freight have sold solar panels and accessories for over 5 years." The panels are cheap and most don't qualify for most State rebate programs and aren't really for building the roof top DC systems that suffer all the failings mentioned above. Normal_z said: "$893 A quick survey of solar power websites finds several panels at half that price." Those several panels do not include a integrated inverter. Therefore you have buy and inverter to make AC. Either a big expense DC string inverter or micro inverters like Enphase. The end cost is the SAME, unless you do a Traditional DC system and lose out on countless benefits. Some Cheap panels are cheap because the don't qualify for rebates. However forgoing the rebate may be the thing to do, if the price is right. (A subject of my most recent nationally published article.) yovinman said...see above to see what he said... yoviman, you do bring up some valid points, but could you be anymore pessimistic? and even my own livelihood depends on solving the problems you mentioned for people; However, I wish to see growth in this new industry... We now live in a world that has no time for "Nay Say'ers" such as yourself...I use my time, skill, and energy focused on renewables such as Solar. I believe there is nothing more important or worth while to help people and the planet. I am creating a better world by helping people obtain their basic needs (hot water, light, warmth) from the Sun. What are you Doing?. And even though it may threaten my current livelihood, even I think what Lowes, Akeena, Suntech and Enphase are doing is a good thing. Oh and one other thing "Meter swap?" most Utilities will switch it out for free when a Solar system is implemented and the benefits are grand..Better tracking of usage, (Most people with old meters are over billed because they are not accurate) and no meter reader in our back yards invading our privacy, that is a big bonus. Most areas, in most states are due to be switched out anyway as part of the "Smart Grid" The Utility bill is the new "Death and Taxes" there is no escaping it....unless a person implements the new technologies available to us. As far as Oil goes, yeah we NEED it.. for Pharmaceuticals, plastics, tires, lubricates, and the list go on for a mile....We should just stop burning it, because we need it for so many other things, not to mention burning it is not so health for us. Especially now that there are some other ways that are Green and Clean. (Because it's the internet..... All words and opinions of the author are subject to copyright even though they are posted on a public forum. Do not quote or reprint anywhere else, other than this site, without first obtaining written permission for the author. Furthermore, the Author is not responsible for errors, typos, or omissions.)
This can either be a real breakthrough in solar acceptance or a real disaster. I frankly, find it hard to believe tha DIY homeonwer can successfully mount these modules on a roof without causing some leaks, getting a permit from the local AHJ to install the modules, and picking the correct sized conductors and conduit that can withstand the heat of the roof in the summer and run this wiring to a properly sized circuit breaker in the main panel. What about making sure your meter can run backwards? I know PG&E requires a meter swap. And we are not even considering whether the main panel can take the additional amperage that a solar system can add to the main power buss. Hopefully Akeena and Lowes have thought of some of these things in their product and they guide the buyer appropriately.
I think the key point about Lowe's entry is its distribution. Big customers for panels means lower prices for consumers. The entry of a "big box" retailer into any new market helps justify that market, even if smaller retailers are already in it. We see this in countless product categories all the time. If you want big sales you need big channels. Lowe's is a big channel. I'm certain Home Depot will be looking at this closely, and if Lowe's makes money will jump in with both feet.
Steve Jones, The turbines will also be sold in Lowe's Energy Centers. Small ones it will stock...bigger 10k watts units will be special order....
Solar will have to get 10x cheaper before I try it here in Brighton, UK. Between cloud cover, high latitude (weak sun) and seagull poo, it's not such a rosy picture for us. It is pretty breezy though - what's the status on retail wind turbines?
I just wanted to see if readers were on their toes-:)...yes, 4 kilowatts (fixed in the post). FYI, I have proposals for three different brands of panels, two with the Enphase microinverter so electricity is AC off each panel. I will almost certainly go that route assuming adequate warranties. Just waiting on details of next rebate program. Good question on hail, very little of which we get here in NE. But we do get hailsotrms and the question is worth researching.
Four Megawatts! Wholly Cow Mr. Dodge, are you THAT heavy into tech?! Or do you want to power the whole neighborhood? I know there have been significant improvements in PV efficiency lately but four megawatts from a roof-mounted array is really IMPRESSIVE! (Chuckle) Thank you for posting this, it helps your readers out here in the darkness to understand what's happening in the PV world. Tom Hargreaves
The article has the all-too usual technical typos.... 4,000 kilowatts is 4 megawatts. (not quite achievable with the average housetop roof area) You're obviously trying to reach 4 kilowatts or 4000 watts.
Lowes is a little late in the game. Northern Tool and Harbor Freight have sold solar panels and accessories for over 5 years.
Oddly enough, there is a moderately low cost solution to protecting your solar panels from storm damage. You equip a motorized, rollup door with tracks to cover the panel array. As soon as you have a report of an incoming storm, you can flip a switch and instant protection. You could even set it up to run it remotely via a web app you could trigger from work. Admittedly, the door will take damage from the larger stones, but it's a lot easier to peen the dents out than it is to replace the panel cells.
I'm all for renewable and alternative energy sources. However, I've seen nothing in print or online about the replacement costs for solar panels that get hit by hailstones. In the Midwest, where I live, hail is a very real part of life, particularly in the summertime. Does anyone have any cost information on what happens when that initial investment requires additional funding because the panels got beaten to death by hailstones? I'd think the interest in these panels would diminish quite a lot if people had to pay full price for replacement panels. Even insurance on those would be expensive, depending on location.