While solar photovoltaic manufacturers around the world are racing to find ways to decrease the cost of their technology, Grape Solar aims to drop savings right into a jumbo-sized shopping cart at Costco.
The two-year-old company announced earlier this week that it isexpanding its agreement with the bulk wholesaler and offering itscomplete grid-tied solar kits in stores and now online.
“The beauty of Costco.com is the scalability,” said Grape Solarpresident Ocean Yuan. “People anywhere can get small residential systems even to solar farms and developers.”
Grape Solar, a consortium of Chinese manufacturers, produces its ownmonocrystaline and polycrystalline solar photovoltaic cells and panels,Yuan said. It offers them in the more aesthetically pleasing all-blackracking and in the more-economical black and silver.
They cover the cost of shipping through Costco and let the consumer decide how the panels will be installed, Yuan said.
It really is as simple as clicking on panels on the website or piling them in a shopping cart.
“Normally, how it works is the panels go from the solar manufacturerto the electric distributors and then to the independent installers,”Yuan said. “And the installers tend to be small, just a one-man show insome cases. In my opinion, there are too many layers to distribution.”
Grape Solar’s aim to make solar more affordable by cutting out themiddlemen seems to be working so far. The company contracted with Costco in June and has had enough success to expand the offering to thewholesale giant’s website, Yuan said.
People can buys systems as small as 800 watts up to gigawatts, Yuansaid. They can install enough on their apartment to charge their cellphone or they can develop a solar farm on acres of property.
“It’s like Dell Computers 30 years ago,” Yuan said. “IBM had control, and then Dell started going straight to consumers.”
He said people are thinking about solar and wanting alternativeenergy for two reasons—to reduce their bills and in case of an emergency where they lose power. It’s on their minds, and having an option easily accessible and right down the aisle from their toilet paper makes itthat much more attractive.
Grape Solar panels are eligible for all of the same rebates andincentives as solar panels bought through traditional channels. Mostcustomers, though they buy the panels on their own, still use aninstaller, Yuan said. The company provides lists of local installers with their panels.
Most utility companies require a licensed electrician to connect thepanels to the grid, Yuan said. Many homeowners are installing their ownpanels and then paying an electrician for that final piece, saving a lot of money, Yuan said.