BP’s Solar Home Solutions is now available in 500 stores -- mostly in states with solar incentives, such as Texas, Colorado and Florida. It launched in a select number of stores California, New Jersey and New York in 2004.
The company would not provide sales figures or projections but says legislation mandating renewable energy or offering incentives will be a critical to future sales.
That’s also true at Sam’s Club, a unit ofWal-Mart, where members are eligible for $2,500 discounts from installation partners.
At this point, retailers involvement in solar panels is minimal. Sam’s Club, for instance, provides an unmanned display kiosk for its partners to offer information. But since the store’s brand is at stake, it vets the suppliers, who benefit from store traffic and the strong brand association.
By contrast, Ikea is looking to invest in early-stage companies, producing solar panels among other clean tech products, but the first production is two-to five years off.
“To date solar has been a niche product for either really green or really techie homeowners and this is one of the few programs that is bringing it to the general public, to the masses,” says Mike Hall, president of San Diego-based Borrego Solar, a Sam’s Club partner.
“As the industry evolves, and as the products evolves, we will get to get point where it will be easier and easier to do, and you will need less and less customization but that’s just not the case now,” he says.
Hall says his partnership with Sam’s Club has triggered hundreds of inquiries and he expects the program to be expanded beyond an initial nine stores in southern California.
Installers assess each homeowners’ roof space, tree shading and electricity use patterns which can vary widely between households.
They also typically handle the sometimes cumbersome paperwork needed for local permits and applications for state and federal subsidies, which are critical to defraying steep initial costs, which typically run between $20,000-$40,000.
Driving Factors - Home Economics
Though the customization factor has slowed commercial appeal,a number of factors make a solid case for going solar.
Most obvious is the seemingly inexorable rise in the cost of electricity. According to the California Public Utilities Commission, electricity prices rose 6.7 percent annually between 1971 and 2001.
Solar power systems reduce homeowner electricity costs by replacing all or some portion of electricity that is need from utility-supplied power grid.
Roughly one third of residential solar units are ‘off-grid’ – not tied into utility provide power lines - according to the Solar Energy Industry Association's Monique Hanis, and are usually used in remote locations far from grid connections, where power is storied in batteries.