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Are You Solar Ready? Solar Red’s Disruptive Solar PV Technology Can Halve Cost of Residential Solar

| Wednesday January 7th, 2009 | 12 Comments

A typical residential solar system will put you back ~$20,000+ after credits and incentives and requires extensive design work and several trained technicians toiling on your roof – drilling, wiring, bolting, and performing other complex tasks to build the proper infrastructure. What if your roof were built for solar panels, and installing them were as simple as snapping panels into place? And what if it didn’t cost you an arm and a leg?
Chances are a lot more people would be going solar today. This is exactly what Solar Red aims to do. Based in San Jose, California, Solar Red is still more concept than product, but their concept won them runner up in the California Clean Tech Open (CCTO), and is poised to entirely disrupt the residential solar market by making it affordable.
After learning of the exciting new technology at the CCTO, I was intrigued. But with a website just now emerging from stealth mode (launching any day now), and purposefully limited press coverage, I had to sit down with CEO Joe Augenbraun to get more information. Augenbraun reviewed the piece you are reading now, and told me it is more revealing of his start-up than any previous coverage or their soon to launch website, so consider yourself privy to breaking start-up news.
Solar Red wants to reinvent residential solar installation, and cut the cost in half with its proprietary, patent-pending technology. Solar Red’s core product is a plug-and-play solar panel mounting system featuring a bracket that interleaves with the shingles of a roof, which can be installed at the time of construction, or retrofitted into the roof.
The brackets are cheap to manufacture and install – it costs $825 in additional costs to make a new roof solar ready. Then special Solar Red compatible solar panels can simply be clicked into place on the roof, taking mere minutes to install.

The cost to install a 5kW residential system is ~$42,000 for conventional solar and ~$32,000 with a Solar Red system, a $10,000 savings. Now, layer in an estimate for federal tax credits and state and utility incentives, this becomes ~$19,000 for conventional solar and ~$10,000 for Solar Red in many US states (keep in mind that state incentives will vary).
And Solar Red offers operational improvements along with cost savings. In a conventional array, when one solar panel is shaded or broken, the entire system is affected because they are all connected to the same inverter. Solar Red solves this problem by using integrated micro-inverters, which simplifies the wiring and makes each panel its own independently functioning system.
Solar Red’s modular design enables users to snap panels in and out easily, making a Solar Red system the ultimate, timeless solar system. As technology advances, consumers can swap out older types of panels with the latest and greatest with ease. The trick for Solar Red will be to ensure their system accommodates the breadth of panels manufactured.
I think the most important factor in Solar Red’s success will be how they are able to work with competitors and across the solar industry to gain wide adoption and collaboration. While Solar Red has plans to create panels as well as the mounting technology I describe above, it may be easiest to get panels from a competitor who has already achieved significant market share. Since the panel technology will continue to change rapidly, it will be difficult to keep up.
Ideally, Augenbraun can infiltrate the LEED guidelines (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), requiring that all new LEED certified building roofs be solar ready. For now his focus is on getting into new homes and development projects as the added cost of making a roof solar ready is negligible and who wouldn’t want to move into a solar ready home?
Solar Red does have some competitors, but Augenbraun systematically explained that no competitor can compete with Solar Red on affordability. Akeena Solar for example boasts a 25% savings over conventional solar, which pales in comparison to Solar Red’s 50%. “Where Akeena streamlines the system, we change it”, Augenbraun pointed out.
The Solar Red team met at Stanford business school. Augenbraun is an electrical engineer by training, and a serial entrepreneur, having been involved previously in two successful startups: WorldGate, which went public, and Neato Robotics, which is poised to launch its proprietary robotic vacuum next Christmas. The Solar Red team is working on a Series A round of funding, with a goal of $5M. The ultimate aim is to go public, but Augenbraun noted that the IPO market has “dried up,” so this could prove a bit more difficult than during his WorldGate days.
Overall, I think Solar Red can help speed the transition to a renewable energy economy by lowering the prohibitive barriers to residential solar adoption. Their model requires a more unified solar industry, and will require more collaboration and partnership-building than I’ve seen in solar to date.


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  • dave

    I like it! This is the kind of evolution that will be necessary to lower per-unit costs and increase the adoption of this sustainable renewable distributed energy technology. It’s in everyone’s best interest to quickly standardize this aspect of the design to allow other innovations to proceed on top of the platform.
    I’d like to see some public money spent on this type of investment very soon. It’s the type of green job innovation that the Obama administration has been contemplating.

  • http://www.greensmithconsulting.com Paul Smith

    Inspiring to read this. It sounds so smart, built to appeal to people’s immediate needs (financial) while acknowledging that things progress and build in the ability to move with those advancements.
    Reminds me of how Interface changed the flooring market by allowing single pieces rather than the entire thing to need to be replaced. Will keep my eye on this one. Thanks Sarah

  • Brian Bishop

    Solar Red seems like a very smart company. I love the simplicity of the plug-and-play panel concept as well as the use of integrated micro inverters. It makes me wonder about upstream manufacturing efficiency and simplicity improvements that await innovation and implementation. This is a very hopeful sign — solar is rambling right along!

  • Ravi Soparkar

    Congratulations for developing low cost solar energy generation systems. I am sure this will help many energy consumers to take advantage of solar energy. I request you to keep me updated as I can see great deal in my country India
    Ravi soparkar
    Pune, India

  • hello

    Nice to see but nothing groundbreaking so far. Roof integrated tiles aren’t new nor are module-mounted micro-inverters. Every company likes to sound revolutionary when seeking capital.

  • Danton Mak

    Is this only so much vaporware?? Microinverters have not taken off, because so far they are (a) not as efficient in converting DC to AC, and (b) inverters last only 10 years, while panels (at least crystalline silicon ones) last 50. If a panel with a microinverter goes out, you’d have to throw out the whole panel. The concept has some fundamental flaws. Cutting the cost of installation is definitely the next step, as we see panel costs dropping to sub-$2/Wp – but as yet NOBODY is selling a panel with a convincing microinverter yet at those kinds of prices.

  • WSmart

    Reminds me of Microsoft with Direct X. If you let a private company start a proprietary industry standard, then the industry finds itself at the mercy of that company, to some extent. If you want to buy a computer game, you almost don’t have a choice because most Computer games are created on the Direct X API(app/program interface-and why use that cruddy open standard computer hardware when you can buy a nice Microsoft X Box proprietary console gaming unit?). It becomes a type of monopoly. If you want to sell panels, come talk to family.
    I think it would be wise to grow through an industry open standard for this type of install rather then a proprietary one.

  • Charlie Kay

    We are working on the Si-PV solar panel cost cutting process,panel mounting technology is one thing but the real challenge is how to make the Poly-crystalline Si feedstocks(chunk) much more cheaper than now!8-9 months ago it was 180$/kg now you may get it for about 80$/kg but that is not enough to bring down the module price to 2$/Wp – Can any one produce Poly.-Si chunk solar grade (6N) with the cost below says 20$/kg? Please,let me know thanks.

  • KiloWatt

    Bending metal isn’t going to revolutionize the PV solar industry. Akeena already has done the same thing with their Andalay system – lego approach with an Enphase micro inverter strapped to the back of a suntech panel.

    There’s little technology here. They need to find a clueless VC willing to invest in . . . mounting brackets!

    Akeena found Steve Westly.

  • http://sandeen.net/wordpress Eric

    Interestingly, their website still appears to be in “stealth mode” 2 years later …?

  • Kariuki Kiragu

    Great concept!


    Perhaps, though, it is not for the east and central African
    market because, US $ 32,000 can build a pretty reasonable 3 bedroom house in Kenya.


    This could be due to purchasing power parity and so on.


    However, our mooted development supply chains (see http://www.shadaonline.co.ke)
    look to engage in manufacture of affordable solar and other alternative energy generators
    as an employment creation tool, especially among the youth.


    Currently, unemployment is the biggest security threat in
    Africa what with militia’s attracting disillusioned
    youth and the recent al Shabaab-Al Qaeda merger.


    Are there any plans to manufacture this equipment under
    license in this regional market of 200 million people, simultaneously alleviating
    global (in) security?


    Kariuki Kiragu


  • kristinhazcats

    I just started researching lower cost solar systems as opposed to having a solar professional install it for me. It’s no wonder consumers have not embraced the concept of solar energy because it is OFFENSIVELY expensive! I have a home in New Mexico that is off-grid and three different solar installers quoted me about $20,000 for roughly a 1000 watt system (still not enough power to pump my well, I need a generator for that!) I am ONE individual who fully expects to be frugal with my energy usage. Using one light bulb at a time, powering up a couple laptop computers and couple other small appliances (but not all at once) requires $20K up front???? No way!!! In fact my electrician who was working on the wiring in the home suggested I look into getting the power company to actually bring the grid up to my property because that would probably be cheaper. I have looked into this and am currently waiting to hear back because seriously, if I stick with off-grid I’d be looking at the cost of solar ($20K), and the cost of a generator (at least $2K for a decent one) and the confusion about how all the components of an off-gris system work together. Unless you know something about electrical systems it’s like reading Japanese. I’ve read conflicting information on what type of generator is best and which ones to avoid, which makes your head spin even more. Frankly the leaders of the solar industry are shooting themselves in the foot. Consumers are too busy to take take Solar 101 classes to understand what the hell they’re looking at. I had one installer from Positive Energy in New Mexico make me buy a $30 kilowatt device to test what my usage was. Then I had to fill out a “load analysis” spread sheet to gauge what my expected usage was. I met him at my property for a consultation which costs me $250!! When he quoted me $20K I thought “what a joke” because to me that’s what solar is. No one is a bigger tree hugger than I am but if this is how confusing and expensive solar has to be then screw it, I’d rather plug into the power company.
    If it’s not feasible for me to hook up to the grid then I will take another hard look at these plug and play systems. Solar installers – lower your cost or demand for solar will NEVER grow!!