Lowe's move to sell solar panels will accelerate renewables

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.
Written by John Dodge, Contributor on

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).

Akeena's Andalay panel. credit: Akeena Solar

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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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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