With the solar industry booming, manufacturers and installers are racing to improve their products in every conceivable way: more efficient PVs; better inverter technologies; remote control, sensing, and automation; better energy-use reporting; smarter appliances; open systems integration; and a proliferation of grid-tied and off-grid configurations. One area that hasn’t gotten quite as much attention is the installation, which takes special training, and can be as much as 30-50% of the cost of the system.
Bay Area startup Armageddon Energy has a new angle with a patented product that GreenTech Media has dubbed “The Ikea of Solar”. The SolarClover snaps together in cute little 3-panel modules, each with its own inverter. Lightweight and easy to handle, these modules can fit “almost anywhere” as they say. That includes small areas of roof, or uneven roofs that wouldn’t accommodate larger arrays. Three of them (9 leaves), make a 1-kW system that’s enough to power most major appliances for an efficient household.
Dmitry Dimov and Mark Goldman, the founders of Armageddon Energy, helped us out with a few questions.
What is the SolarClover?
Dmitry: With the SolarClover, we tried to design an attractive, easy to install, affordable solar energy system. It features lightweight, high-efficiency hexagonal solar panels and a triangular rack that assembles in minutes. On the one hand, it gives consumers a fresh look and an affordable package; on the other hand, it is designed to be installed by contractors and tradesmen using the tools and training they already possess.
(To see it in action, visit the GreenTech Media’s documentary clip)
What’s so different about your product?
Dmitry: We use standard high-efficiency solar cells, the kind you find in traditional rectangular solar modules, but we replaced the glass topsheet with a high-tech polymer film (Tefzel, the polymer they used to create the Beijing Swim Cube) and added a lightweight rigid backpanel, which greatly reduces weight and allows us to easily create our hexagonal shape.
There are a couple of simplified solar assembly kits out there, but our configuration is uniquely attractive and easy to assemble – and we have been recently granted a design patent for it.
Is it true that any fool can stick it together?
Mark: We actually prefer that the do-it-yourselfers leave this one to the professional installers – climbing on a roof is not the safest thing you can do on a weekend – but the system does set up very quickly. You can assemble the rack in literally a minute or two. Finding rafters and attaching the system to a roof can be done very quickly by an experienced installer, as can running AC conduit to the service panel and performing the grid interconnection.
For comparison, a typical residential solar installation takes 3 men 3 to 5 days, for an average 5 to 7 kilowatt system. Our system, which is 1 kilowatt AC, takes two men half a day.
What are the efficiencies compared to other solar products that are currently available?
Mark: We use high efficiency solar cells, such as Suniva‘s new 19 % efficient cell, and the polymer films let slightly more light through than glass topsheets, so our efficiencies are better than most.
When can I get a SolarClover for my house?
Mark: Armageddon Energy expects the units to be commercially available by the end of this year. The main question mark here is how quickly we get through UL testing, for those familiar with regulatory compliance.
Where did Armageddon Energy get its name? Are you preparing for the post-apocalypse?
Mark: We are preparing for the Apocalypse, which we believe will be sunny, beautiful and full of clean, fresh air.
[Editor's note: ROTFLMAO!]
How much does it cost? Your brochure says, “For the cost of a single high-end appliance” but let’s put that into perspective. A 1kW system will cover “all your major appliances” – let’s compare your product with a “typical” solar system including installation costs.
Mark: Our suggested retail pricing will be $8,500 installed for a 1 kW AC system consisting of three SolarClovers. That puts us in line with the low side of installation costs for residential systems today, but at a much smaller scale – one need only purchase 1 kW instead of the 5 or 7 that’s usually necessary to get to that low cost per watt.
If any fool can install them, do you think renters could stick them on their roof and re-wire their appliances to use it, without even telling their landlord or PG&E? After all, rental property owners aren’t motivated to move to solar energy if their tenants are paying their own utility bills. And tenants aren’t going to shell out for an investment in someone else’s property unless they can take it with them when they leave.
Mark: More than tenants running wires to their circuit breakers, it’s more likely that property developers will add SolarClovers to their multi-tenant buildings and then simply recoup the cost like any other property improvement that allows them to command a higher rent – except now they’ll have a “green property” that they can promote.
And if being green doesn’t attract tenants, a small, peak-shaving system like this one will help insulate both landlords and tenants from painful utility bills in the summer [or painfully sudden utility rate increases, as occurred in 2001]. Whether it’s the landlord or the tenant paying for power, as the price of solar falls, you can bet that PVs will become a signal of lower utility bills – and ours will be right up there on the roof saying so.
About the author
Rebecca Firestone has been working in the Bay Area since 1998 as a technical writer, business content developer, architectural filing lady, marketing director, and sorcerer’s apprentice.