Coming soon: Sub-$1,000 plug and play solar

Coming soon: Sub-$1,000 plug and play solar

Summary: Right now, many of the solar projects you read about are intended supplemental energy sources. That is, the technology being installed is offsetting some portion of a home's or business's energy use.

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TOPICS: Google, Start-Ups, Wi-Fi
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Right now, many of the solar projects you read about are intended supplemental energy sources. That is, the technology being installed is offsetting some portion of a home's or business's energy use. Make sense in these early days. But would you be more inclined to invest in some solar if it not only cost less than $1,000, but could be installed by YOU in a day -- rather than over the course of weeks by someone with an electrical degree?

The same sort of mentality that helped kickstart the personal computing industry is being advocated by Clarian Power, which is working on a product called Sunfish that it hopes will be sold in retailers like Best Buy, CostCo, or Lowe's Energy Center.

Sunfish, which is essentially a solar appliance, basically plugs into your existing outlets. The base unit is a 200-watt solar panel with microinverter that comes with a wireless Web access point, so that you can monitor your usage. Basically, you mount the unit, plug the thing in and activate it over the Internet. When I spoke with the company's president Chad Maglaque, he said Seattle-based Clarian is testing the technology with the Google PowerMeter.

"This is not about powering your home, it is about slowing down the meter," Maglaque says.

So, you can't buy this thing yet. Clarian is hoping to start selling it in the spring at a starting price point of around $799 for one solar panel. You actually will be able to expand up to five panels, Maglague says. That configuration (which gives you 1 kilowatt) would handle about 15 percent of a typical household's power consumption, he estimates.

Two other things to know about Clarian.

  1. The company is one of the start-ups being considered for potential funding as part of the GE Ecomagination challenge. You could imagine, also, that Clarian would benefit from GE's vast appliance distribution and service network. If you want to vote for the Sunfish, you have until Sept. 30 to do so.
  2. Clarian is ALSO working on a wind turbine appliance called the Jellyfish that will be priced starting between $399 and $699. That technology is also due next year, although the timeframe is less definitive.

Topics: Google, Start-Ups, Wi-Fi

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  • Math probably does not work out

    200W is probably peak, and of course depends location, time of year and time of day. If we say 50W 24/7 and 10 cents/KWh, we get a saving of about 0.5 cents/h or about $44 per year. That is not enough to amortize the cost of the equipment over any reasonable life span. In addition, you have to run an extension cord to an outlet, virtually all of which are inside.

    Nice idea, but it would be mostly a "feel good" thing.
    Economister
    • Most places, its more than 10 cents per KWh, and then subsequent panels

      are cheaper (up to 5 total), since they plug on to the same micro-inverter. But, the prices will come down in any case. We DO need early "feel good" adopters to get the volumes up and prices down.
      DonnieBoy
      • We've been hearing that solar panel prices will

        come down for decades now. Put it in the same camp as "this is the year of linux" and "we'll have fusion within ten years"
        frgough
      • RE: Coming soon: Sub-$1,000 plug and play solar

        Solar panel prices HAVE been coming down for decades now. They still just quite haven't reached a price point that even green-minded early-adopter types can typically stomach it.
        SlithyTove
      • RE: Coming soon: Sub-$1,000 plug and play solar

        @DonnieBoy
        Wow! I totally agree with you Donnie.
        eargasm
      • RE: Coming soon: Sub-$1,000 plug and play solar

        @DonnieBoy Good point. When I was connected to So Cal Edision they had tiered rates depending on how much you went over your baseline allowance. I think baseline rates were around $.13/KWh and around $.29/KWh for the top tier. Solar panels replace your most expensive energy. <br>I had a 2.5KW system. The amount of energy it put out varied from month to month. But if it were equal the energy it produced in spring/fall (when my consumption was lowest) would have been worth about $60. In the summer when I was hitting higher tiers because of AC usage the same amount of energy would have been worth about $100.
        i_be_taxed@...
    • RE: Coming soon: Sub-$1,000 plug and play solar

      @Economister -- so, say 17 year payback with your numbers. Thats about a 6% TAX FREE ROI. Sounds pretty reasonable.
      paultraite@...
    • RE: Coming soon: Sub-$1,000 plug and play solar

      I see Harbor Freight has a 45 watt solar panel on sale for $200, not including inverter or battery, so that's right in the same ballpark, namely, too many years to recoup.

      Yet, it's somewhat worth considering if you wanted to, say, have power at an outbuilding for occasional lighting or light-duty tools, versus the cost of running a power line.
      ProfQuill
      • RE: Coming soon: Sub-$1,000 plug and play solar

        @ProfQuill I don't think this will work in an outbuiling application. I assume it uses a grid-tied inverter, and as such will only work when connected to an outlet that is already attached to the power company. Pleanty of other battery-tied solutions available today that would work better for an outbuilding.
        i_be_taxed@...
    • RE: Coming soon: Sub-$1,000 plug and play solar

      @Economister Nothing wrong with feeling good is there? I'd point out it is not always about the "payback." There are a number of ways people can use less electricity like using CFLs, replacing inefficient appliances, or installing solar panels. We need to consume less electricity. Remember rolling blackouts? Aging transmission lines? Power companies installing "peaker plants" to handle demand?

      If I spend $8000 on a solar array, the first question on someone's tongue is "How long will it take to pay you back?" If I spend $8000 on a hot tub nobody is going to ask that question. Consuming MORE energy is never questioned. Isn't a hot tub also a "feel-good" purchase? I understand people would derive pleasure from it, but when I installed my 2.5KW array 5 years back I also derived pleasure knowing I was consuming far less energy from the grid, and at times putting some of that energy back out on the grid for other folks to use (distributed generation). Some people dread opening their mailbox to see what their electric bill is. I couldnt wait to see how small mine was. Its hard to explain how giddy I felt seeing my power meter spinning backwards at times.

      Now the little system mentioned in the article wont make that big of a difference but the investment is much smaller as well. The point is, more people will be able to participate in lowering the need for the generation of power.
      i_be_taxed@...
  • RE: Coming soon: Sub-$1,000 plug and play solar

    Great idea. Hopefully the product manufacturing will be done in the USA, not overseas. Going green is good. Creating jobs in the USA is even better.
    jimlofgren
    • RE: Coming soon: Sub-$1,000 plug and play solar

      @jimlofgren Let's hope so. I was recently asked to join a solar panel upstart and the company was focused on a joint venture with a solar panel company in China. According to the persons I spoke with, China is way ahead in manufacturing technology and cost containment at this moment. Perhaps through intense innovation here, the U.S. could catch up quickly.
      nothingness
  • It's a great start, but...I think I will wait...

    I think I will wait until I can spend $5K or less and power my entire home needs.
    tonyhunterajh
  • Sun Catalytix

    Sun Catalytix is working on "artificial leaf" technology. They convert sunlight direct to Hydrogen, then use it -- day or night -- in a compact home energy appliance.

    So it's solar, but uses hydrogen, and avoids the problems of unworkable batteries.
    jabailo1
    • RE: Coming soon: Sub-$1,000 plug and play solar

      So that means my home becomes the next Hindenburg??

      Art
      ArtShapiro
      • The hindenburg didn't burn because of hydrogen...

        @ArtShapiro It burned because of the highly flammable lacquer the germans were forced to use on the skin of the ship because of embargos after WWI. The hydrogen only caught fire after the skin had nearly totally burned off and burned through the skin of the H2 tanks. Hydrogen is not flammable unless there is oxygen mixed in. Just a quick science lesson.
        mjm5
      • RE: Coming soon: Sub-$1,000 plug and play solar

        @ArtShapiro
        Oh, the humanity!!
        jmwells21
  • Dangerous

    This appliance could be extremely dangerous, because it might energize a circuit which an electrician or power company technician thought was turned off. I wouldn't use it without a special transfer switch.
    Anne Nonymous
    • RE: Coming soon: Sub-$1,000 plug and play solar

      @Anne Nonymous

      Anything can be dangerous but I'm not too concerned about this in particular since they will be forced to have proper UL tests and certification and UL will not let it pass unless this "back-end" problem is well covered.
      zdnet@...
    • RE: Coming soon: Sub-$1,000 plug and play solar

      @Anne Nonymous

      All grid connected inverters systems must have anti-islanding tech built in to them. Anti-islanding tech will sense when the grid power is out-of-spec and shut down power production - required for UL/CSA approvals.
      Byterat