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.