PATH - A Public Private Partnership for Advancing Housing Technology

PATH Case Study

Passive and Active Solar Systems Offer Growing Niche Market


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[IMAGE: One to go! The supplier shipped a new PV panel to replace one broken in transit. It arrived the next day.]

"We were fortunate to have a champion in Bill Ball, who's at Stellar Sun in Little Rock and has been building systems for people off the grid most of his life. He and others took the argument to the state legislature and the Public Service Commission. The utility didn't want anyone feeding into their infrastructure--they were concerned about the safety of linemen making repairs during outages and the quality of the power--but eventually we got the legislation in place."

"My interconnection contract came in the mail not long ago, so the PV system is finally up and running. We're going to try to zero out every month. Even on overcast days, we get some power. On bright days, it does very well."


"Offering PV systems puts us in the forefront. We get the mavens--people who want to research everything. They're not casual buyers. Our customers are people who define quality of life as something different from the 'McBig' house or the 'starter castle.' They want well-planned, efficient use of space and energy."

"The PV system costs about $26,500 labor and materials, with the batteries and uninterruptible power supply (UPS). It's definitely a niche market, but it has the potential for much broader appeal."


"We sell the reliability of solar and the long-term benefits of holistic systems. The economic dividends of an energy-efficient home and solar system with battery back-up don't ever go down; the system always pays off. The higher energy prices go, the bigger the dividend. It is certainly a better investment than granite counter tops or a bass boat."

"Some states and municipalities--New Jersey, Colorado, Texas, Nevada and California among them--have the payback down to seven years or less with the rebates and incentives they offer. I believe it's the start of a trend."

"We're selective about which customers we approach to sell PV's. It may be that they're in a remote area, with no power. Or they want to be independent. Many of them are realists about the fact that the price of energy is going up. Some may just like to play with it."

"We show them our house, now that it's complete. A lot of times, it just sells itself. You've got to have something for people to see. People aren't very good at imagining a PV system. They'll think it's going to be ugly on the roof. My goal is to integrate it so that it's not aesthetically unappealing."

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Federal PURPA regulations of 1978 guaranteed the right to interconnect a renewable energy-powered generator to a home to reduce its dependence on utility-supplied electricity. The law also requires utilities to purchase the customer's excess electricity production, usually below retail cost. Often the utility will set the PV-generated unit selling price equivalent to the electricity pool price, about one-third the domestic purchase rate. A growing number of utilities offer "net energy" billing options that allow small systems to run the meter backwards, so they get the full retail rate for excess production. Today, some form of net metering is offered in more than 35 states.

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Content updated on 9/1/2006

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