Solar panels in the stores but installation's not for novices; Home-improvement retailers, state law call for some expertise
Meredith Cohn, January 23, 2010 (Baltimore Sun)
"…[A]s major retailers begin to push a do-it-yourself movement in solar energy, some experts say green-minded homeowners generally shouldn't get on a ladder either - even if it means paying more for installation.
"Solar panels hit the shelves in early December at Lowe's stores in California, and the chain plans to stock them in other states this year. Home Depot already sells them online. While many around the industry support solar energy's move into the mainstream, there are some concerns: Electricity is involved, as well as a pile of paperwork for permits and government subsidies…[Panels cost $1,000 and can be dropped…Roofs can be damaged]…The home improvement stores aim to capitalize on an increasingly trendy form of alternative energy by cutting installation costs that amount to about a third of the total bill…U.S. solar electric capacity grew by 63 percent in 2008, triple the growth in 2005…[and] half of the people… recently polled said they were thinking about solar power for a home or business…[Lowe's] officials are encouraged enough to add them in more stores…"
click to enlarge
"[Made] by Akeena Solar Inc….[they] cost $893 each, not including connection parts…Barry Cinnamon, president and chief executive of Akeena, said officials were trying to make it easier on workers when they engineered panels to incorporate more parts, including a micro-inverter…[then] realized the devices were simple enough for others to use…[C]onsumers looking for energy efficiency already were buying insulation, compact fluorescent bulbs, water heaters and other equipment at Lowe's…
:Cinnamon acknowledges that the panels require skill to properly install. He put 30 panels on his 4,000-square-foot house but hired an electrician to link them to the electrical grid - required by law in Maryland. His bill went from $400 a month to $12…[Many, like Cinnamon, are not] ready for DIY panels. At Home Depot…most customers still want to hire a professional…That's the case across the state… [T]he Maryland Energy Administration…offers grants of up to $10,000 for solar-power systems, on top of a 30 percent federal tax break…In the fiscal year that began in July, records show 662 people have applied and just a handful appear to be doing their own installation."
click to enlarge
"…[One professional installer said he understands] that people want to save money…[T]hat's a major benefit of solar. He has personally installed two solar thermal panels on his house in Pasadena; he expects they will heat 80 percent of his water…But even he had friends help him on the roof and, per law, hired an electrician to finish the job…
"In evaluating an installation company, there are no specific solar licenses, but an independent group, the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, has a voluntary national certification program…[It would be wise to check] to see how long a contractor has been in business and to ask for references…[T]he Green Building Institute…offers classes [on buying a solar system…[and the] executive director of the institute [said] no one has asked about doing the job himself and added that he would voice his concerns if they did. To start, not every house is suited for solar…"