More companies are designing solar electric panels with microinverters, which makes it easier to install just a few panels at a time. That means instead of spending $25,000 to $40,000 for a full rooftop of solar panels, people could spend much less for a handful of panels.
Andalay Solar, which is changing its name to Westinghouse Solar, has a product package it calls "plug and play" solar. It includes a solar panel with a microinverter, which converts direct current to alternating current on each panel, and simplified wiring and racking system. The company is testing a program to sell them through Lowe's stores in California.
Armageddon Solar is developing this product, called the Solar Clover, which it hopes to release by the end of the year. The idea is that it will take a few hours to install and be as easy as buying any appliance. This single clover can produce enough electricity to power a few kitchen appliances, it said.
Another advantage to microinverter-based systems is that each panel can be monitored and performance can be viewed online.
Green Ray Solar is a start-up developing a system through which solar panels put out alternating current, instead of direct current. The AC panel will have a simplified wiring system that makes it easy to put a few panels on initially and then add more later, according to the company.
Green Ray Solar expects its system to be available in the fall. It will include panels made from Sanyo (this panel is made by Sharp Solar) as well as a microinverter and an online monitoring system.
Clarian Technologies is developing the Sunfish, a system that will allow a consumer to install one or three panels themselves. This is a photo of a solar awning the company designed. Clarian hopes to release its product next year, but it has not yet gotten UL certification.
Enphase Energy, started a few years ago, is rapidly growing around its microinverter business. Microinverters convert direct current from solar panels to household alternating current, a technology that makes it easier to install a few panels, rather than a rooftop array. Microinverter technology has been pursued for many years, but the reliability and efficiency has improved in the past few years.
Of course, if you really want a small solar system, you could always buy a solar charger. This one from Regen, still under development, combines a solar panel and an integrated battery in a slate form. There's a docking station for iPods or lights that draws on the stored energy.