At the end of 2009, California-based Akeena Solar entered into an agreement to manufacture, market and install photovoltaic (PV) systems under the Westinghouse brand. Akeena’s subsidiary, Andalay Solar, became Westinghouse Solar. This week, Westinghouse Solar announced a new “all-in-one” product, do-it-yourself home solar kits.
The new kits represent an evolution of the Andalay DIY kits that have been available through Lowe’s home improvement store for nearly two years under the Westinghouse label. Westinghouse Solar’s new product is an advancement of the former model, with improved energy efficiency. The new panels produce 235 watts compared to the 185 watts of the older models.
While most solar panel systems require an inverter device that converts photovoltaic DC current into conventional AC power, the Westinghouse systems feature panels with micro-inverters contained within each individual panel, making them easier to install.
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The systems feature others built-ins as well, including racking, roof flashings and panel splices. Panels in most PV systems must be wired together to make a system. Westinghouse Solar’s panel snap together with no extra wiring involved.
Barry Cinnamon, former CEO of Akeena Solar and now Westinghouse Solar CEO, has seen solar technology’s advances first-hand. “Since the beginning, we’ve worked consistently to make solar more mainstream,” Cinnamon said.
Executive vice president of sales and marketing, Jeff Kiel, said that they are seeing a lot of consumer interest in solar panel installations, both from homeowners and from contractors. “What we learned was that the two key issues were, obviously, cost — but also ‘out of the box,’” Kiel said.
The Westinghouse PV kits have definitely tackled the cost component. The company is offering kits with one, four or 20 panels.
In Hawaii, where incentive programs are even more generous than in other states, a 4-panel DIY solar residential installation costs less than $1,500, after incentives. The system would provide about 15% of the home’s electrical needs, save about $660 a year on electric bills, and recoup the cost of the initial outlay in two years.
In New York, the 4-panel system would cost less than $900 after incentives. The same kit would cost about $2,300 in California, after the federal incentive program. While California’s state incentive is generous, the state program mandates that solar systems be installed by approved contractors, leaving the DIY folks out in the cold.
Having a contractor install the DIY kit might be a good idea, anyway. While a 50-page, detailed set of instructions are available from Westinghouse Solar for the DIY kits, the document contains several warnings that those who are not qualified to work with AC voltages should not undertake the project themselves.
For those among the DIY crowd comfortable with roofing and electrical projects, the new Westinghouse Solar kits may be the most affordable solar solution yet.
With 80% fewer components to install, which means shorter installation times and less labor, having a professional install the kits may be an affordable option as well. The new DIY kits are the closest the solar industry has to plug-and-play technology yet.
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