No CEDIA Customer on the Grid by 2012!
Submitted by Grayson.Evans on Tue, 08/26/2008 - 10:02am
I've been really bugged with all the "green" platitudes floating around lately, like the "green" stuff from CEDIA (no relation/offense Rich!). I know, I know, I'll apologize ahead of time for whoever I'm going to make mad. Call me a cynic (which would be entirely accurate), but this isn't going to make a hill of beans difference, just a lot of political correctness. Hope I'm wrong.
If we really want to do something, it's about time to COMPLETELY rethink the old boring residential energy management issue. Our industry is in a key position to take advantage of new technology that when combined with automation products we already install, can finally take your customer's; house off the grid. This could actually make a difference. And as you'll see, it has some unexpected side benefits for home electronics as well.
Getting serious about energy management and reducing our dependency on nasty stuff like coal and oil (foreign and domestic) means making energy on site (the central distribution systems we use now, not only have too many problems, but would take lifetimes to convert). The best way I know to do this, until small residential nuclear generators are available, is PV (photo voltaic) solar. This may seem way out of our field, but it isn't.
A recent news item and NY Times article about SolarCity (www.solarcity.com), a "custom electronics installation company" was a real wake-up call. To quote the NY Times article describing the recent incredible increase in solar installations: "They point to companies like SolarCity, an installer of rooftop solar cells based in Foster City. Since its founding in 2006, it has grown to 215 workers and $29 million in annual sales. “It is hard to find installers,” said Lyndon Rive, the chief executive. “We’re at the stage where if we continue to grow at this pace, we won’t be able to sustain the growth.”
Check out their site at www.solarcity.com. These guys have put together a great design/field installation business specializing in solar systems.
The company offers:
• A lease package with lease payments less than the previous electric bill
• Little or no installation charge
• Free repairs/service
• Free performance monitoring via internet
I'm not the only one impressed. The company's sales are backed up for at least 18 months in CA alone.
So what's changed to make solar electric now so hot? Three things.
• Lower cost solar panels due to incredibly increased demand and competition
• Higher cost of energy, big time over the last two years
• Dramatically increased state and federal subsidies
Companies that make solar panels are seeing the largest increase in demand in their history. To paraphrase another NY Times article:
"SunPower, which makes silicon-based cells, reported 2007 revenue of more than $775 million, more than triple its 2006 revenue. The company expects sales to top $1 billion this year. SunPower, based in San Jose, said its stock price grew 251 percent in 2007, faster than any other Silicon Valley company, including Apple and Google."
Many solar panel manufacturers are beginning to use materials like copper indium gallium selenide, or CIGS, an alternative to the conventional crystalline silicon, the dominant technology. CIGS, while less efficient than silicon, can be made far more cheaply than silicon-based cells. Nanosolar's (a startup that makes CIGS "panels) factory looks more like a newspaper plant than a chip-making factory. The CIGS material is sprayed onto giant rolls of aluminum foil and then cut into pieces the size of solar panels.
And it gets better. One of the most expensive and bothersome part of a solar electric installation has been batteries for storing electric power to use during night time. They are big, expensive, and not that efficient. A familiar story in the electric car business which has pushed the technology hard over the last few years. The results have been enormous progress in high capacity battery development for the electric car industry and it's spilling over into the solar electric industry. Just google "battery breakthrough" and you'll see what I mean. Check out nanowire batteries.
And just last month, a major breakthrough occurred in fuel cell technology. Danial Nocera and Matthew Kanan at MIT have developed an unprecedented process using new catalysts and a minimum amount of electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases at room temperature. Later (at night), the oxygen and hydrogen are recombined in a fuel cell to recreate the electricity. Overnight, fuel cells went from a not-so-great energy storage device to something that could actually change the world. No joke. Check it out at: web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2008/oxygen-0731.html
And, oh yes, Federal and State governments and electric utilities are currently offering tremendous financial incentives to motivate home owners to switch to solar. Current rebates can cover 30-35% of the total solar system cost.
A solar power installation has some interesting side benefits to our industry.
1. UPS - by definition, the house is running off a big uninterruptible power supply (UPS). No need to install extra ones for computers or AV equipment.
2. Clean power - the inverter, by design, is a power conditioner. It provides a well regulated source of AC. Unless it malfunctions, no threat of over/under-voltage from the grid, no spikes, surges, or other noise from outside sources. Cool!
3. Readily available low-voltage DC - back in the 1980's some of you might remember the NAHB Smart Home project. At the core of the project was a plan to establish a new wiring system for the home that would include the distribution of low-voltage DC at most outlets. The idea was that it would eliminate the proliferation of low-voltage power supplies for electronic equipment. A nice idea but needless to say, it didn't fly. Too complicated, too expensive. But a solar power system already has the low-voltage supply built-in. You just need to supply wiring from the batteries to low-voltage equipment. Hey, it's an idea.
So, why is this such a great opportunity for our industry? If it isn't obvious, I'll list a few reasons for you:
• We're already in the residential custom electronics business. This becomes an add-on. We have all the basics.
• If your customer can afford what you are offering now, they can easily afford a solar system installation. Even so, the economic model is only going to get better.
• Installation is not rocket science but it requires engineering skill. These systems must be designed and professionally installed. Something you should be good at now.
• Nearly infinite demand. It's like retrofit, every home is a potential customer.
• If SolarCity is any indication, customers will be calling. What better way to introduce the customer to other products and services you offer.
No, it isn't as glamorous as home theatre. But it IS something that you can make money at that is actually beneficial to the customer and the world. AND you can combine it with your other work, especially automation. Nowhere on the SolarCity site does it mention anything about load management. The cost saving figure they give appear to be based on standard grid-based electrical usage in the home. But, if you couple on site generation with on-site load management through a good home automation/managment system...bye-bye grid! And we CAN do it.
"NO CEDIA CUSTOMER ON THE GRID BY 2012"