Barry Cinnamon, Founder and CEO, Akeena Solar
By Jeanny Lim
Why did Akeena Solar decide to enter the solar PV market?
You frequently hear that companies get their start by working out of a garage and Akeena Solar’s humble origins are no different, except that we started on top of garage! In 2001, I literally decided to strap on a toolbelt, buy some solar panels and take a few months off to install my own solar power system. I was so excited about the project that I put together a website describing the benefits of my panels, and to my surprise the website became quite popular. I realized there was an unmet market demand for professional solar installers and decided to create Akeena Solar with little more than a credit card and some tools.
Your Andalay AC solar panels are sold at 21 stores in California of a major American retailer, Lowe’s. Please introduce the DIY panels to our readers.
What makes Andalay AC the first true do-it-yourself solar panels lies in the design of the panel. We created a fully integrated panel that incorporates the racking, wiring and electrical grounding into the panels themselves to dramatically streamline and simplify the installation process. Andalay panels have built-in inverters that produce household AC power, so there is no high-voltage DC wiring which can be quite unsafe without prior installation skills. With this modular design, homeowners can install a few panels now and gradually add on later, unlike DC systems that require a complete redesign of the entire system when adding panels.
Andalay reportedly can simplify the steps and shorten the time it takes to put solar panels on a rooftop. How is that possible?
Again, the answer can be found in the design of the panel itself. Compared to traditional solar systems that are made up of a jumble of parts, Andalay AC’s prefabricated panels decreased the parts used in panel installation by 80% and literally snap together like LEGO bricks. The result is a streamlined installation process that drastically reduces the room for human error that can compromise the integrity of a system.
You are saying “handy” homeowners could install the panels themselves, but how handy should they be? A solar energy system is a bulky appliance and putting them on a rooftop isn’t easy.
Homeowners should be comfortable getting on the roof and not be afraid of heights. Beyond that, it’s a pretty simple process, as we designed Andalay AC specifically to streamline and simplify the installation process. Homeowners will have to install a circuit breaker, so depending on how comfortable and handy they are in that regard, they can do it themselves or hire an electrician.
With the modular design, homeowners can install a few panels now and gradually add on later, unlike DC systems that require a complete redesign of the entire system when adding panels.
Please tell us about the current state of the residential solar market in the U.S.A. And what does the future look like?
In the residential solar industry, costs are coming down and opening the market. We are starting to see solar become commercially available through different distribution channels, which Akeena Solar is tapping into through our agreement with Lowe’s and the expansion of our installer network throughout the U.S. In the future, we expect to see more companies paying attention to same types of downstream innovations that Akeena has been leading.
A number of companies are targeting the residential solar market. What kind of competition do you expect to face?
As of now, we have the only solar product in the U.S. market that you can buy off-the-shelf and we expect to see many more companies clamoring to enter this space as well. However, traditional fossil fuel sources of energy like coal and oil are the biggest competitors for Akeena and the solar industry on the whole.
How much growth do you expect for your PV business in 2010?
2010 is poised to be a great year for Akeena and we expect quite a bit for demand for our premium product. We have three distribution channels, including Lowe’s and other high-profile partners and we are working closely with Lowe’s to expand their Energy Centers to new states and Canada.
What are some of the major challenges for Akeena Solar going forward?
Our biggest challenge has largely been educating homeowners about the benefits of solar energy. However, now that they can step into the local Lowe’s Energy Center to Akeena’s panels up close and learn about going solar, I believe that this is a great step forward. Wherever the sun is shining and incentives are strong, we as an industry will be able to meet demand.
Jeanny Lim is Editor-in-Chief of InterPV. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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