Monday, January 15, 2007

Solar Gets Simpler

From the RH Top 10 Predictions for 2007: Maturing industry means easier times for people making the switch.
Solar will get easier in 2007, which will be a step up from where it’s been. Aside from the pain of spending $20,000 upfront to buy the system, a solar enthusiast like Berkeley, California-based photographer Joseph Homes, for example, jumped hurdle after hurdle to get the equipment. Among other headaches, he had to schedule six installation phases between the roofer and the solar installer, navigate three different panel-rating systems to figure out which panels to buy, field inspections from the county, and buy costly homeowners’ liability insurance.
Solar’s complexity, costs, and risks have deterred all but the most determined. But 2007 may finally be the year that solar gets easy to install. With the end of a worldwide shortage of solar-grade silicon in sight, competition is expected to heat up, and the solar industry is preparing with a buying spree. System integrators—which match customers up with the right panels and other equipment—and installers could be attractive fodder for manufacturers looking for ways to place more panels on rooftops.
Attention-grabbing acquisitions signaled the start of this consolidation last quarter, when SunPower bought PowerLight, the largest commercial solar integrator in North America, and when German firm Conergy bought Swiss solar integrator Voegelin. Neal Dikeman, a partner at Jane Capital Partners, expects plenty more deals like this in 2007.
“It’s not going to stop; a lot of these integrators are in play,” Mr. Dikeman says. “We’re going to enter a [period of] competition in the next years, so you’ve either got to get bought or get bigger.”
Companies ripe for the picking? Several players say it’s the industry’s “worst-kept secret” that Solar Depot is on the market. Innovative integrators like SunEdison and Energy Innovations, groSolar, and Akeena Solar would also make tasty targets.
All the buying will mean consumers may soon be able to deal with a single company, instead of handling the modules, inverters, financing, and installation separately. That would make for a simpler experience, and maybe even convince mainstream buyers to take the plunge.

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