The latest winner in GE’s $200 million Ecoimagination smart grid contest is Clarian Power, a startup that makes what’s essentially a home solar kit in a box.
Clarian makes a plug-and-play solar solution that it plans to sell for under $1,000. For that price, Clarian founder Chad Maglaque says, you get a few solar panels that can be mounted within an hour or two — either on your own or with the help of a handyman — and plug directly into the home. It also includes with the company’s SmartBox, a thermostat-sized monitor that manages power flow. The system can offset 10 to 15 percent of a home’s energy use, and users can choose to add more panels to it if they wish to generate more electricity.
There are two key factors in Clarian’s appeal — it’s designed to be cheap and easy. Right now, solar enjoys popular support in the U.S., but most home rooftop solar systems retail for upwards of $30,000, and installation is an unwieldy process that requires specialized workers who can charge $5,000 to $8,000 for the project.
“What we’re doing is we’re fundamentally changing the installation paradigm,” Maglaque said.”Instead of a barrier to entry of $30,000 to $40,000, why not be able to build out a system that fits any budget?”
Clarian’s pithy box o’ solar proposition is winning the attention of some notable names. (It also makes a similar solution for wind power.) The company was propelled to the win on the back of raves from venture capital heavyweight Kleiner Perkins and RockPort Capital. Maglaque said it has also won the interest of Costco and Lowe’s, big box retailers who are looking to add home solar offerings.
But of course, the idea of making solar easy and affordable isn’t exactly ground-breaking — companies like Solar City and SunRun have had success offering solar leases, which allow residents to get a solar system for little to no money down, and often replace nearly all of a home’s monthly energy costs since the companies install bigger systems than what Clarian offers.
So is Clarian looking to compete with players like SolarCity and SunRun, who already have significant headway in the market?
No, Maglaque said — it’s complimentary, and in fact, SolarCity has shown interest in teaming with Clarian. Clarian can fill in the gaps for customers SolarCity has to turn away for full-scale installations when a house’s roof or location means it doesn’t get enough sun to make the project ideal for a rooftop system financing. Clarian can tack on a few panels onto, say, the side of the house that does get hit by sunlight, thus offering a smaller solar solution for residents who aren’t able to qualify for the full rooftop shebang.
Clarian sees a market potential of 20 million homes for a product at their price, and so far has had 12,000 people sign up and pay a $25 reservation fee to buy the product’s intitial launch. The company has also signed up 1,000 installers and is planning a pilot for California and Seattle this sprint, and will launch its product in September 2011.