Soft costs include permitting, design, installation, and inspection. They haven’t come down as fast as the costs of panels themselves or the cost of electricity generated by them. But a revolutionary new system will come on the market late in 2017.
It’s more than just better solar panels. It hasn’t yet been tested in real-world conditions. But what it can do in demonstrations is truly impressive. If it works as planned it will disrupt the entire energy industry.
Inventor Christopher Estes started in the recording industry Since 2012 he has been working without fanfare on an innovative solar system. He recently unveiled his new company, SunCulture Solar and its new product, SolPad.
Estes became concerned about electricity in the Caribbean. Countries there rely on diesel generators. They must import the diesel fuel. Their electricity is both dirty and expensive. It can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars a month.
When he tried to find a way to use solar panels instead, he found no simple and affordable solution. So he invented one.
SunCulture Solar will market two products. SolPad Home is a rooftop solar system. SolPad Mobile is a stand-alone panel useful for off-grid applications. Or homeowners can plug it into their existing wiring.
Estes compares his integrated solar system to smart phones. Smart phones have revolutionized both telecommunications and personal computers. He aims to revolutionize the solar energy business the same way
SolPad Home as a rooftop solar system
Estes stresses that the SolPad is not a better solar panel. It’s not a solar panel at all, but a completely new product.
Each panel is an integrated system with a very efficient solar panel, a solid-state battery, and an inverter system combined in a single unit. Therefore, SolPad customers don’t purchase and install solar panels, inverters, and storage systems separately. Each panel has 96 cells that generate 330 watts of solar electricity.
Solid-state batteries have no liquid electrolyte. That makes them less flammable than lithium-ion batteries. They can withstand all kinds of weather conditions, including rooftop temperatures up to 200ºC.
SunCulture will offer both 500-watt hour and 1-kilowatt hour batteries. They can be fully recharged either by the sun or electricity from the grid .
The SouPad’s inverter can sense power voltages between 110 volts used in the US and 240 used in Europe. So it can start working out of the box with any electrical system in the world.
It also comes with software that can detect the cost of electricity from the grid at any moment. That information allows the batteries to charge from the sun or the grid, whichever costs less.
Customers will even be able to use a cell-phone app to control devices, lights, or small appliances connected to the SolControl plug. With the SolControl Breaker, customers can also control power intensive systems like dishwashers and HVAC.
With traditional rooftop solar systems, combining panels requires expert installation. Connecting them to inverters or batteries is even more complicated. Each SolPad comes with a three-pronged connection system so installers can link them together like Legos.
Practical advantages of SolPad Home
SolPad is utility-friendly because it doesn’t generate more electricity than the home needs and push it onto the grid. Utilities claim that dealing with excess output causes problems for grid management. They also complain that what they have to pay for net metering is not fair to customers that don’t have solar systems.
If nothing goes back to the grid, it eliminates net metering issues and uncomplicates utility regulation.
SolPads can also interact with users. For example, tapping on the panel’s surface can prompt a voice to respond with information on the panel’s charging or how much energy the battery has left.
Owners will even be able to use a cell-phone app to control devices, lights, or small appliances connected to the SolControl plug. With the SolControl Breaker, owners can also control power intensive systems like dishwashers and HVAC.
It can be taken on a camping trip or used to supply emergency power after a natural disaster or other humanitarian need.
It has USP ports on the back so users can plug devices directly into it. SolPad Mobile can also provide power to a home by plugging it into an outdoor outlet.
This capability makes solar power available to apartment dwellers and others who can’t use rooftop solar.
SolPad Mobile can’t power an entire home. Plugged into an outlet, it can only power one side of the service panel. But homeowners can choose some devices tol operate only on solar power and not the grid.
SolPads will go on sale late in 2017 and probably cost between $1000 and $2000 each. The launch will begin with pilot projects in California. The total cost of a rooftop solar system will probably be just a little less than $20,000.
That’s about half the cost of a traditional solar system with added battery storage. As an integrated system it doesn’t require three kinds of components. Its linking system also reduces the soft costs.
The development of alternative energy is littered with broken promises. New technologies show a lot of promise, but often don’t work as planned. Here’s hoping Christopher Estes has a winner.
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Meet SolPad, an integrated solar-plus-storage solution fresh out of stealth mode / Julia Pyper, GreenTech Media. September 22, 2016
A new kind of solar panel that’s smart, stores energy, and even talks / Katie Fehrenbacher, Fortune. September 22, 2016
SolPad: a game changer for residential solar? / Tom Lombardo, Engineering.com. October 23, 2016