Homeowners get a solar system that looks great and performs well—and one that installs quicker and easier than anything else on the market. Since the installation crew spends less time up on the roof and makes about 25 percent less rooftop penetrations, there is less wear and tear on a roof.

EarthToys Interview - The Andalay PV Solar Panel System

Dirk Hosmer | Akeena Solar

EarthToys Renewable Energy Article
Homeowners get a solar system that looks great and performs well—and one that installs quicker and easier than anything else on the market. Since the installation crew spends less time up on the roof and makes about 25 percent less rooftop penetrations, there is less wear and tear on a roof.
EarthToys Interview – The Andalay PV Solar Panel System

Dirk Hosmer, Akeena Solar


1. What's new about this solar panel, and what makes it different from the panels that are already on the market?

Andalay is the first radical improvement in rooftop solar system design, packaging and installation in more than 30 years. The idea for the panel came out of Akeena Solar’s experience installing panels and the company’s frustrations with the process. We spent nearly three years in research and development on the panel, and it finally debuted in September 2007. The modern, sleek design of the panel and its level of performance are what really set it apart from everything else on the market. The old systems were bulky, ugly and obtrusive—and many homeowners were wondering why you couldn’t design a reliable, high performance panel that also looked good. By eliminating about 70 percent of the parts used in assembling a conventional system and incorporating the electrical wiring and racking elements into the panel, we were able to improve the panel’s performance and reliability, and deliver a high-design product that looked great when installed.

2. What do homeowners like most about an Andalay system?

Because of its sleek design, Andalay seamlessly blends in with any home’s architectural style. Before, bulky, industrial-looking and sometimes downright ugly systems dominated the solar market, and that was a huge deterrent to homeowners who wanted to install a system. They were demanding a better-looking, reliable, high performance system that also decreased the cost of going solar. Andalay lays flat when installed, has a sleek, continuous appearance and looks like a skylight.

3. How about installers? What do they think of the system? Does it save them time?

Andalay panels are prefabricated, with the racking and electrical components of a panel incorporated into the panel itself. This means that the panels basically snap together on the roof like LEGO blocks, streamlining the installation process. Andalay panels eliminate about 70 percent of the parts used in a conventional system, so less nuts and bolts and screws are rolling around on the rooftop. What we’ve seen with the overly complicated systems on the market is that the installation intricacies make it easier for someone to make a mistake that might affect the overall system performance. Because there are less parts and the installation process less complicated, there is also little room for human error, and less need for follow-up maintenance. Installers like the streamlined process, since it reduces the learning curve for employees and means greater employee productivity.

4. How important is design to something that is strictly functional, like a solar system?

Since the beginning of the residential solar industry, engineers have only paid attention to developing highly efficient, reliable and durable panels, and rightly so. When panels are installed on a roof, they are exposed to the elements, and homeowners want panels whose performance won’t be compromised when there is a windstorm and that will produce the most amount of electricity given any conditions. But while innovations on the technical side have made leaps and bounds, you haven’t seen the same type of innovation on the design side. What we found in designing Andalay is that you can’t neglect the overall style of a system--homeowners are becoming increasingly picky about what they choose to throw up on their roof, and they want something that works well and looks great. And with Andalay, any improvement in the stylistic design of the panel was due to some pretty important innovations on the technical side. It’s the little things that matter and that can cause your system to fail—exposed wiring, for example. By incorporating the electrical grounding and wiring into the panel, we eliminate human errors in the installation process and decrease wear and tear over time that compromise a panel’s performance integrity. Andalay shows that something functional can still look great without sacrificing any technical advantages.

5. Have you had input from Architects and Designers about the product? Are they happy with the look of it?

We’ve mostly worked directly with homeowners on the installation, and overall they are quite satisfied with the product because of its look. Recently, Andalay was named a finalist in a top design contest judged by world-renowned experts in design.

6. What are the benefits to the homeowner?

Homeowners get a solar system that looks great and performs well—and one that installs quicker and easier than anything else on the market. Since the installation crew spends less time up on the roof and makes about 25 percent less rooftop penetrations, there is less wear and tear on a roof. Additionally, homeowners get a system that they can count on to perform within 3 percent of specification throughout its lifetime. That’s very important, considering that the efficiency percentages fluctuate at a high rate for most systems and it makes it difficult for homeowners to estimate how much electricity they are getting for their solar investment.

7. The PV market seems to be getting crowded with new products. How are you planning to handle the competition ... especially for dealers and installers?

Andalay stands apart as far as design and performance are concerned, and our recent manufacturing and distributing partnerships have verified this. In September 2007 we signed a manufacturing partnership with Suntech, who will produce Andalay panels and distribute them in Japan, Australia and throughout Europe; and in March 2008 we signed another manufacturing agreement with Kyocera, who agreed to deliver 1.6 MW of Andalay panels in 2008. We’ve also actively continued to expand our operations footprint, and now have Akeena Solar offices located throughout California serving all of the major solar markets. As an established installer, Akeena Solar has one of the best and most trusted reputations in the marketplace, and can offer homeowners seven years of installation experience—something that other installers cannot.

8. How important is government support for this industry in the form of grants and rebates? Could you survive without them?

We are fortunate to have leaders in California who understand both the need and the potential for the renewable energy industry. Sparked by the California Solar Initiative—Governor Schwarzenegger’s “Million Solar Roofs” program—investments in clean tech and related technologies have exploded in California. On a local level, Mayor Chuck Reed’s "Green Vision” will create 25,000 new jobs in Silicon Valley as we move toward a future of 100 percent renewable power, alternative fuel vehicles and wastewater recycling.

These types of programs are helpful in pushing renewable energy through the early adopter phase when complicated technologies, like solar, tend to be a bit expensive. What we’re seeing though, as solar moves closer to the mainstream, is more affordable pricing and financing options that make alternative energy increasingly enticing to consumers. Electricity costs are only going to go up; the government needs to encourage the everyday homeowner to choose renewable energy, and one of the ways to do that is through offering state-level and city-level grants.

9. What does the next President need to do in order to get this country on the road to energy independence?

Our CEO and founder, Barry Cinnamon, has been quite active on both the state and national level as far as renewable energy policy is concerned. His main argument is that the government needs to get smart about its energy policy by eliminating its favoritism toward the oil industry and replacing it with incentives to spur cleantech development. We’ve seen the solar industry boom in California; in 2007, nearly 90 MW of solar power were installed here, leading the nation (New Jersey, which came in second place, installed only about 16 MW of solar power). And that’s due in no small part to the forward thinking on the part of the state government--something we will need to see on the national level.

10. Have a look in your crystal ball and tell us where you think the PV market will be in 5 years ... and beyond?

That’s an interesting question. Our hope is that the market will continue to flourish under a new government and growing excitement at the prospect of solar energy. People see electricity costs going up with no end in site; the price of gas is increasing; and as more and more people start to feel the effects, they are going to be looking toward renewable energy, like solar electricity. Hopefully, the government will tailor its policies to encourage these new industries.

As the industry grows, so to will the innovations coming out of it, with the eventual adoption of solar into the mainstream community.

Dirk Steven Hosmer

Dirk Hosmer is the San Diego regional manager for Akeena Solar, one of the United States’ leading solar installers. He graduated with a degree in electronics from Santa Barbara City College and since 1995 has installed more than 300 solar PV systems in Southern California, including the first commercial PV system in San Diego to pass final inspection. With a background in custom home wiring and home automation, Dirk has designed and installed the first fully automated home in San Diego (there are no switched or outlets in the entire home), and most recently he worked closely on the installation of an Akeena Solar Andalay System on the SDG&E Xtreme Energy Makeover home.

 


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