DIY Solar Power and The Inevitable Pressure of Innovations

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One of the unmistakable aspects of the traditional v. green energy argument, no matter which jurisdiction you are talking about, is how time and advancement necessarily does funny things to the entire dialogue.

Basically, it is not that much of a stretch to compare what is going on with alternative energy technology to what went on with the advent of the automobile over a century ago. On one hand, you have the reality of the moment that there are significant cost and availability gaps in the technology.

In other words, the ability to make it available to the everyday consumer at a cost comparable to the standard fossil fuel driven power sources, is always an issue. In a capitalist market-driven economy, the cost-effectiveness of the technology and how it can be made profitable is without question a driving consideration for whether it survives or disappears.

This issue of how solar power, hydro electric power, wind power, or any other emerging green energy technology competes in a market economy is a sword used against these technologies by those opposing ballot measures, subsidies, tax breaks or any other incentive for more green energy. There is little doubt that any progress made on any front to make any of the leading green technologies available on a mass consumer scale with a legitimate profit potential behind it will be front page news and take the spotlight. It will also probably be the basis for it’s rise.

Earlier this year, Carlos Medina from Ocala.com explored the costs of solar energy currently v. the many attempts dating back to the 70s which have largely failed on a mass consumption basis.

“Solar electric back in the ’70s and historically has not been cost effective,” said Tim Anderson, the director of the Florida Energy Systems Consortium (FESC) at the University of Florida, told Mr. Medina. “There needed to be improvements in manufacturing and in cell efficiency. Since 1980, every time the installed capacity has doubled, prices decreased 22 percent. Right now, the cost of (solar) electricity is competitive with the residential (electricity) prices we pay. “

So What Then Is The Problem with Do it Yourself or DIY Solar Power?

Simply put, the up-front cost of home solar technology must be affordable to the private property owner and this is where the interesting next piece of the puzzle for more prevalent green technology in our power sources kicks in.

DIY solar power is simply the advancements in home solar technology where the property owner can handle the assembly and installation process with the intent of ending the home’s dependence on the traditional fossil fuel power grid. This is to be contrasted with the pre-manufactured solar panel technology. DIY is build your own, while the more common pre-manufactured panels come to you ready to use but at a decidedly higher cost. Obviously from the perpesctive of those businesses invested heavily in the proliferation of solar technology, if this nut can be cracked and DIY solar power can make economic sense for the average home owner, the sky opens up (no pun intended) and the market will drive even more innovation and greater affordability. That’s the hope currently as new DIY solar power innovations are brought to market.

One huge issue hampering the growth of DIY solar power is that the pre-manufactured solar panels have the capability to handle the power (electricity, hot water, etc.) needs of the entire dwelling, while DIY solar is not as cut and dry in having that capability. The emergence of the do it yourself home solar technology was trumpeted by no less than Popular Mechanics in 2009. Writer Harry Sawyers noted:

“As a counter to the high costs and relative complexity of self-installing solar panel, the true DIY solar panel came to be: “….the firm Andalay Solar debuted its new AC panel, which eliminates the need for elaborate DC wiring and large, system-wide power inverters by building micro-inverters into each individual panel. For buyers willing to dip a toe in solar, the panels can be installed one at a time.”

The primary issues to be solved for DIY solar power are utility for the average home handyman, safety during installation, and the ability to provide for the max capacity of a dwelling as opposed to just parts of it. This is where it gets interesting and where innovation might offer the possibility that sometime in the not-so-distant future the old fossil fuel driven winter home heating bill will seem like horse droppings on the main street did a century ago.

For instance, Spin Ray Energy has recently debuted a nifty DIY solar panel technology where you attach the panels to your deck and plug them in, and generate as much as 1000 watts of power from 5 installed panels. You simply bracket them to your deck. They should qualify for the Federal Tax Credit and come with a purchase price of between $1000 and $1500 depending on where you make the purchase.

The industry itself has shown scepticism mostly due to the concerns about safety in installation and effectiveness when you have a relatively inexperienced consumer charged with choosing a location for installation. Still it is so far so good and according to the Spin Ray Energy people they are selling.

You are basically slowly taking the technology of home solar that was once in the $20,000 plus range and bringing it down to a much more affordable up front cost. As analysts have noted, this amazingly simple version of DIY doesn’t need to be perfect, it only needs to deliver savings and enough ease to grow critical mass, and from there the industry will be galvanized.

More to come and wait until you see what they making these panels out of in the testing phase. Coming soon….

Although there are numerous good do-it-yourself initiatives to turn your own home into your fortress, nevertheless when you are already investing in solar power it can make a lot of sense to have it mounted by the solar expert. A certified solar specialist has got the gear as well as expertise to work rapidly and effectively to install solar panels and offer guarantees to protect your investment.

Unless you are really knowledgeable in this area, a solar project is better to be entrusted to certified solar power professionals to get the best return on your investment into solar power. Alternatively, consider taking solar training courses yourself.

Article by Anya.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

  • science guru

    Your information in this article is good but there is a mistake in the price quote. My research indicates, the cost is $1,000.00 to $1,500.00 PER PANEL. You will need at least 5 panels (as packaged) to produce the voltage needed to have the proper effect.