The whirl of events have left even the closest market observers shaking their heads in disbelief at how much has changed in the solar industry over the past several months. The solar industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States. Just how much is the solar energy business growing in the US. Well, a lot if you are counting watts. If you take the second quarter of 2010, 186 megawatts was installed; 2011, 314 megawatts, or an increase of 69%. The irony is that despite this explosive growth in the solar industry and a lot more people putting solar panels on their roofs, solar companies are getting hammered. Their margins are being squeezed and they are not making much money. I am not even talking about the woes of Evergreen Solar, which filed for bankruptcy and is down 99% year-to-date. We won’t even talk about the spectacle of Solyndra, the financial problems of which may only be the least of the problems for some of the executives there. (When the FBI comes knocking on your door, they are usually not bringing gifts.) If you are or were an investor in solar energy stocks, don’t even look at your stock holdings unless you want to barf up your breakfast. But if you are a homeowner interested in a home solar panel system, you may still be smiling as prices have come way down.
Posts Tagged ‘home solar panels’
You think that the solar industry is just emerging. Well, you may be right, but don’t tell that to the people who have been on the solar home tours for the past 21 years. The 21st Annual Metro Washington, D.C. Tour of Slar and Green Homes took place this past weekend, and if you missed this solar home tour or the one in your area, then you missed out on seeing some of the vibrant solar homes that have taken the solar challenge. This year’s solar home tours, like the Solar Decathlon on the National Mall a week before, was not blessed with sunny weather, but that did not deter the spirits of those who wanted to check out the solar home panels, and solar water heater systems throughout the DC metro region. Despite the rain, solar homeowners were eager to show off their energy efficient houses and to show that, even when it is not sunny, their solar arrays help save on energy costs.
The Solar Decathlon is an event sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, in which students from around the world design, build and operate solar-powered and energy-efficient houses. The team with the house that best incorporates elements such as design excellence, affordability, customer appeal and maximum energy efficiency, wins the competition. The event is meant to educate both the public and the students involved in the project of energy and energy efficiency. The first day of the Solar Decathlon was rainy, which did not deter the visitors as they waited in line to visit each house and discover what made it so special. Fortunately, the rain did not dampen the spirits of the crowds and was no deterrent to this solar event.
SolarTown is pleased to be the host of the premier solar forum Solar Panel Talk. Hosting this solar forum is another way that we can help our customers get the information that they need to get the proper solar panels and other solar energy products that they need. If you have a question about setting buying a solar panel system for your home, or about setting up the system, or what you need to order, then you should join the solar forum and post your question. Likewise, If you enjoy sharing your experiences with other homeowners or installers, then you should visit SolarPanelTalk.com and answer questions from the many other homeowners who need guidance about their home solar panels.
If you have a home with solar panels and next door you have a home without solar panels, you would expect that there should be a premium for the home with solar panels. So you have just sunk $20,000 for your solar panel system—and you will get some of that back from incentives, but will you be able to recoup any of your out of pocket cost if you move in a year. If the useful life of the solar energy on the home is 25 years, and we use a discount rate of 5% per year, then the economic value of the solar panel system you have on your home is $11,000. All things being equal, and assuming that the market is rational, a purchaser of your home should pay an additional $11,000 over what the house next door is selling for without solar panels on the roof. You would expect that you would recoup at least the present value of the energy savings over the next 25 years if you go sell your home. There is scant evidence out there and we at SolarTown wanted to see if this assumption was correct. Accordingly, we are now completing a study to see whether homeowners do indeed receive a premium for the “solar savings” of having a solar energy system on the home. We are about to release the results of a study on this issue. Stay tuned to the SolarTown Learning Center to see the results.
An investment analyst calls SolarTown, inquiring about trends in the solar panel market for 2011, particularly the supply of modules. It reminds me of the study I heard about in business school that if you ask 100 of the leading economists whether interest rates will rise or fall, 42% will get it right. You can pay a lot of money for analyst reports, but with the solar energy market expanding rapidly and incentives seemingly changing day to day, it is hard to predict supplies. That has been a challenge for us, especially last year, but we think that we did well by our customers to secure modules at good prices.
We should say right up front that we generally have a bias in favor of microinverters. Most of the solar energy systems that we sell at SolarTown are sold with microinverters rather than central inverters. We have explained in our learning article explaining inverters and micro inverters why generally we favor microinverters in the residential solar market. Our recommendation, however, may be tempered by our recent experience dealing with customer care of the leading microinverter manufacturer, Enphase. Microinverters have quickly garnered acceptance especially for solar installations on homes. Although we expect some major competition starting this year, Enphase is undoubtedly the leader of this fast expanding market, and as of this writing, is the only microinverter we carry at SolarTown. We may have not been as sensitive to the reliability issue of microinverters, or particularly the Enphase microinverter, until one of the Enphase parts failed on one of our customer’s installations. The part that failed was the Enphase Envoy, which is, according to Enphase, the “communications gateway” for the solar energy system. It basically monitors the performance of the system.
As the blizzard batters almost a third of the country, solar energy may not be the first thing on people’s mind. Our customers who install solar energy system in the Midwest are best staying out of harm’s way as the sun is not going to be casting its rays on solar panels in the US today. That is one of the oddities about solar energy: you need the sun to produce electricity. And when it is safe to go outside, probably the homeowners with solar panels on their roofs will be trying to sweep (please don’t shovel) the snow off their solar panels for two very good reasons. As you start digging out from the big storm, start thinking about design your solar energy systems for the spring.
These are some of the highlights of the year gone by and an outlook of things to come for 2011. The solar industry has waited to find out what would be the fate of the Treasury Grant program. If you haven’t tuned in for this debate, this development is very good news for the renewable energy industry. The solar industry had another stellar growth year. A recent report predicted that the industry will grow as much as 22% in 2010, when all of the numbers (modules) have been counted. The one gnawing issue is that the solar industry is quickly becoming a Chinese industry, as even today the Chinese own 66% of world production. It was a better year to put home solar panels on your roof than investing in solar stocks. Morningstar says that solar investors “could be in for a rude awakening come 2011.” The biggest change in the industry came with the micro-inverter. Sure, solar panel efficiencies improved, which means more output for the buck, and the price of PV came down, but the biggest change in the industry came with the industry acceptance for residential PV installation of the micro-inverter. Enphase is no doubt the market leader, but there are many, many wanabees and the competition for micro-inverters will heat up in 2011. The other major shift we saw in the industry is that regardless of whether the homeowner gets a micro-inverter, the homeowner almost invariably wants to get monitoring of the solar energy system.