When Bob Rapoport stepped back from his marketing career, he finally had time to think about using solar power at his house. “It was a surprising journey,” he says. “I couldn’t find a company that didn’t want to sell me whatever they had on their pallet.” It could be a 100-watt panel or less. And when he asked what was new in the category and said he wanted battery backup, too many of the conversations stopped.
So Rapoport researched his own system, which would include solar panels and battery storage to use in sync with his Generac generator that he had purchased earlier to provide his house with electricity during power failures.
During his research, he noticed that few affluent households even had solar power, though they could clearly afford it. And battery storage? “People look at solar [storage and] realize they need a room filled with batteries, and that stops them in their tracks, he says.
Rapoport’s own system would use 12 AGM (absorbed glass mat) batteries that can handle higher electrical loads and are increasingly being used in automobiles. Rapoport says they can withstand 400 to 500 charging cycles over seven to 10 years. The line-interactive, 8,000-watt UPS (uninterruptible power supply) of batteries is coupled with 4,500 watts of solar power from 18 250-watt panels and the 8,000-watt generator.
An idea was born, which has resulted in Rapoport’s new company, NewPower, which is marketing the same Emergency Back-up Power System used in Rapoport’s home, costing $30,000. Rapoport won’t publicly say who makes the solar panels and batteries, but that they are American-made. The batteries reside in a steel locker that can be placed in a garage.
The systems are grid-tied to sell power back to the electric company when the solar array is producing power that’s not being used by the house or to keep the batteries charged. When power goes out, the solar array will keep the batteries charged. (Grid-tied solar systems without battery storage shut down to prevent dangerous backfeeding along power lines.) The generator keeps the batteries charged and topped-off when solar is not available.
A plumber will have to run a gas line from the meter to the generator, Rapaport says, so figure on about $4,000 to $5,000 for a complete installation. When purchased with the solar array, the system is eligible for the 30 percent U.S. federal tax credit available through 2016, as well as some state and local utility credits.
Rapoport says he also found that many people did not want solar on their roofs. “They don’t care about saving the planet or lowering their power bills, they care about how their house looks.” So NewPower offers pole- or roof-mounting options
Going green is not the primary driver for this, Rapoport insists. “This is a Plan B alternate power system for when the utility power will go off.” And with more severe storms predicted in our future, such as the superstorm Sandy that wreaked havoc in affluent parts of the Northeast, Rapoport sees a “perfect storm” of a market.
Who will sell it? He’s looking to the audio/video channel of custom electronics integrators that he’s already familiar with. “I think A/V guys are more qualified to do this kind of work.” He points to them already doing much more today in systems like lighting, central vacuums, beyond their bread-and-butter audio and video. Though these systems will require a licensed electrician for high-voltage installs.
Rapoport says he thinks the A/V guys can do solar, though no one has given them an easy path. “I’m trying to open a new channel here.”
Rapoport even envisions these systems being used for green A/V. He says you could have the battery system take over at night for one room, to power a home entertainment system via the stored energy. He says that would be better for amplifiers receiving a stable 120 volts from a UPS instead of voltage fluctuations from the utility.
“Safety and security is the market,” he says. This is for households wanting to ensure they have electricity when the power goes out. “I’m trying to sell a Ferrari of a system.”