Monday, July 09, 2007

The Solar Synapse: Thinking Ahead for Solar Installation

I've pointed to St. Louis-based Solar Night Industries a couple of times over the past couple of years, and have enjoyed my occasional email exchanges with company president and founder Jason Loyet. I'm not sure why it took so long, but Jason and I finally got together last week to meet in person and talk business. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about the company's work, but was most impressed by a product they've created for homebuilders that could help pave the way for wider residential adaption of solar energy systems: the Solar Synapse.

The Synapse solves a problem that I didn't even know existed until I met with Jason: wiring a house or building for solar panels. Obviously (I'm saying "duh" to myself), solar panels don't just plug in -- an existing building's wiring has to be retrofitted for the system. This can be relatively expensive: Solar Night claims that the typical rewiring job costs over $4000. For those of us with existing homes and buildings, that's just a part of the costs we have to pay to install a PV system. The Synapse, however, is a pre-wiring kit that allows the builder of a new home to wire it for solar, and at a significantly lower price than the traditional retrofit. As Jason told me, builders are already installing wiring systems for things like home theatre systems: why not for solar panels?

The builder gets a number of benefits for installing this system. First, s/he can market it as "solar ready," a characteristic that's going to continue to rise in popularity. Secondly, the system can earn a home LEED standard points: "one for education and one for forward-looking home engineering." (Note: the LEED system for homes is still in development). These systems may even qualify a builder for grants from local, state or the federal government. Homebuyers, of course, will pay a bit of premium for this system, but it's lower than paying for that retrofit mentioned above.

I'm probably sounding like a spokesperson for the company, but this is one of those ideas that made so much sense that I smacked myself on the head for not thinking of it first! As energy prices continue to rise, consumers are going to continue to look for alternatives. Knowing that they can just "plug" a system in (OK, it's a bit more complicated than that) makes it more likely that they'll add those panels to the house. It's a win-win-win-win (at least): for the buyer, homebuilder, SNI themselves, and, of course, the environment.

I'm planning to interview Jason for Green Options, and we'll be talking more about this product. Stay tuned... tags: , , , , , ,