Andalay/Akeena DIY solar panels at Lowe's

wwu123December 11, 2009

How do people feel about the announcement today that Lowe's is starting to stock the Andalay solar panels starting in some California stores? Yes, I've seen solar panels for sale at Costco and Home Depot before, but these are supposed to be much more DIY-friendly in their integrated wiring and mounting systems - granted a fairly expert DIY-er comfortable with working at the electrical panel and on the roof.

I think it's very interesting for areas like California that have aggressive tiered pricing models for electricity, because each household can look at their marginal usage and size up enough modules that make economic sense.

For example, the retail price is $893 per 175 kw panel. My baseline electricity rate is about 0.11-0.15/kwh, and I have poor afternoon sun coverage, so about 5-7 hours of good sun per day. If I can get about 1 kwh per panel per day, that's 0.11-0.15, or about $50/year, for about a 19-year payback period, not a great value prop. BUT, I usually creep into the 0.25/kwh tier every month, and if I size up a couple of panels to keep me below that tier, I'm saving $100/year, for a reasonable 9-year payback. Plus if you have a life event like having kids that increases your permanent usage, you just buy another panel and link it in. Or I think many households around here that have a pool or several kids are already in the 0.35-0.45/kwh tiers for even quicker 4-6 yr payback periods.

It could be even more compelling with time-of-use pricing, which I think might be become mandatory once PG&E starts shifting my town to Smart Meters in about a month. My wife works from a home office, so our electrical usage does not drop during the day (though it doesn't peak either). There's even an extreme summer time-of-use program that PG&E offers, that has 20x normal rates for a few peak afternoons each summer in exchange for about a 30% discount the rest of the summer - for my household that doesn't need or have A/C, could result in another 10-15% savings over standard tiered rates....

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