What if you could have portable, lightweight plug-and-play solar panels that you can pack up and take with you? Well, thanks to the SunShot Initiative, now you can.

As 2012 came to a close, the U. S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative gifted the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems (CSE) $11.7 million over the course of three years to create plug-and-play solar systems. The SunShot Initiative partnered with CSE with the aim of  making solar energy available and affordable for all people.

CSE, along with a team of equipment manufacturers, utilities, local governments, universities and research institutions, determined the guidelines for the residential installation of plug-and-play rooftop solar systems.

Christian Hoepfner, Director at the Fraunhofer Center and Principal Investigator for the Plug and Play PV project, says purchasing and installing these solar systems should be just like installing any other home appliance. While CSE wants using plug-and-play solar systems to be simple, they also want to continue reducing the price. Their goal is to cut the price per watt by $3-4, lowering the cost to $1.50/Watt installed by 2020.

If CSE can meet their goals, solar energy will be more affordable and accessible for all people.

How Plug-and-Play Solar Systems Work

PixabayEnsupra Solar LLC out of Houston, TX, provides homeowners with an easy, affordable, do-it-yourself plug-and-play solar system. The company offers a variety of PluggedSolar products ranging from 1.2- and 1.5-kW grid-tie solar systems. Prices range from $800 to $8,000 depending on the size of the panels and the wattage.

These solar systems plug into a 120-volt household outlet, sending electricity through to the grid to power washers and dryers, electronics and more.

With every plug-and-play solar system, Ensupra Solar LLC includes all essential pre-wired and UL certified parts, such as PV modules, grid-tie inverters, converters and wires. Customers also receive equipment for mounting the panels.

Following installation, the plug-and-play solar systems run comprehensive self tests, ensuring that the product is safe and all local codes are met. This feature makes evaluating the product easier for utility inspectors.

Ensupra Solar’s CEO, Sunil Sinha, says that their plug-and-play solar systems are cheaper than traditional panels because they are standardized. Opting for a more uniform design rather than customizing individual systems results in a savings of 40 percent.

Benefits of Plug-and-Play

  • Quick Installation: The installation process takes only one day.
  • No Professionals Required: Anyone can install the plug-and-play regardless of experience levels. Hiring a certified electrician is not necessary. Lightweight and Easily Portable: Plug-and-plays weigh less than traditional solar panels and are easily portable. Therefore, this product is also optimal for non-homeowners.
  • Saves Money: While the original price of the plug-and-play is less than conventional solar panels, the upkeep is minimal as well. If a residence is located in an especially sunny area, electric bills could be virtually zero.
  • Tax Credit: Speaking of saving money, using  plug-and-play solar systems qualifies homeowners to receive a 30 percent income tax reduction under the Solar Investment Tax Credit.
  • Environmentally Sound: Allowing the sun’s rays to provide electricity ensures your energy is clean and free from fossil fuels. Limiting the amount of fossil fuels in the atmosphere helps to fight climate change.

While the U. S. Department of Energy, CSE and Ensupra Solar have studied the benefits of installing plug-and-play solar systems, so has Joshua Pearce of Michigan Technological University.

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Joshua Pearce is an associate professor of materials science and engineering at Michigan Technological University. He says that plug-and-play solar systems are capable of providing upwards of four times the electricity produced by the entire U.S. solar industry in 2015.

The results of a study Pearce conducted alongside two other researchers revealed that plug-and-play solar could supply a maximum of 57 gigawatts of electricity. This incredible production could equal $13 billion in yearly savings. This study highlights the benefits of the plug-and-plays and makes possibility of providing affordable, accessible solar energy for all a reality.

Drawbacks of Plug-and-Play

The paperwork local utility companies require before installation of plug-and-plays can be complicated and frustrating. To complete the necessary paperwork with ease, utility websites offer a standardized application on their websites. Ensupra Solar will also walk customers through the paperwork via phone or email.

Moreover, the system has been outlawed in some states due to an electric current it sends back into the grid from residential locations. Some communities fear that sending electricity back into the grid without being a professional utility company might be dangerous.

Pearce maintains that because we know through research that solar energy is safe, states should allow plug-and-plays.

While installing this product has its challenges as it is still new to the solar industry, the end result is clean, cheap energy.


Kristen Sharp

Kristen is a writer for Poplar Network.

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