Window Insulating Plug & Play Solar Panel Retrofits - Save A/C make Clean energy by InSite Energy, LLC.
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Congratulations! Your proposal, Window Insulating Plug & Play Solar Panel Retrofits - Save A/C make Clean energy in the Buildings contest, has been selected to advance to the Finalists round.
Be proud of your accomplishment – more than 350 proposals were submitted and only a very small number have been advanced through these two rounds of judging.
As a Finalist, your proposal is eligible for the contest’s Judges Choice award, as well as the contest’s Popular Choice award, which is determined by public voting.
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Both Judges Choice and Popular Choice will receive a special invitation to attend selected sessions at MIT’s SOLVE conference and present their proposals before key constituents in a workshop the next day, where a $10,000 Grand Prize will be awarded. A few select Climate CoLab winners will join distinguished SOLVE attendees in a highly collaborative problem-solving session. Some contests have additional prizes given by the contest sponsor.
Thank you for your work on this very important issue. We’re proud of your proposal, and we hope that you are too. Again, congratulations!
Additional comments from the Judges:
The author provided comprehensive explanation of technical and functional details of the proposed system, which help understand its potential but, most importantly, clarify its features. Constraints and limitation imposed by the system to light access and visual comfort do not seem to be in the agenda. Yet given the rapid development of PV technologies, some of these issues could soon be addresses (beyond the commercial product). Despite the author’s comments, louvres with integrated PV are not innovative (several products are already commercially available), but the ‘plug & play’ system is extremely interesting, especially as a means to drive people awareness of on-site renewables.
Well written proposal that addresses many of the practical challenges with a "plug and play" residential solar power system. The author does admit that their smallest module costs $650 and produces 125 kWh annually-- from a pure payback perspective a single module does not contribute much towards the home energy use (which averages almost 11,000 kWh annually in the US). The author does claim that combined with insulating effects, the combined effect would be closer to 300 W, but I find that claim questionable without the presence of any data to back it up-- a simple way of evaluating this would be to run some energy simulations for typical homes across different climatic zones to gauge the high and low ends of energy production (also factoring in the 13-16% efficiency of polycrystalline-based panels which the author proposes to use) and the ancillary benefits on home energy performance. Performance of the system is ultimately the heart of the issue, and while the proposal does go above and beyond to address many of the issues surrounding its viability, the basic question of energy performance, and the potential contribution towards home energy use remains unclear.
I feel the extra level of detail provided by the applicants at this stage has been great. Both in the main proposal and in the responses to our initial comments. The responses in the discussion area are clearly presented and referenced back to our original questions. While I am not able to comment on all of the technical aspects the additional detail provided appears to at least address most of the keys concerns which had been raised. My question relating to inward/outward opening windows may have been a bit Eurocentric, something for the applicant to consider if they are looking at the European market. I think the applicant has made clear that while this is not a solution to all solar energy problems this represents a very important ‘foot in the door’ option for potentially millions of consumers. I would like to think that people will uptake these with the same enthusiasm as an apple watch! Although this may be a bit ambitious it does highlight the marketing of these panels is very important to the uptake of them and therefore the success of this project. I would hope that recognition through this competition would help raise the profile of these products.
A great idea for a product with multiple benefits. The uniqueness and innovation seems to lie in the installation however I am not enough of an electrician to judge if this is technically feasible and has a benefit even without feeding back to the grid and / or local storage. For the window application it is unclear if they are to be removed in winter where one would benefit from solar gains, also how much the use of daylight is reduced - which would increase the use of artificial lighting.
This appears to be an existing product and company. It seems like an interesting building component, and clever PV window blind. Again I don’t see a suggestion of action associated with this contest, and assume the reason for applying was to add an endorsement.
Your proposal has been selected as a Semi-Finalist!
Congratulations! Your proposal, "Window Insulating Plug & Play Solar Panel Retrofits - Save A/C make Clean energy" in the Buildings contest, has been selected to advance to the Semi-Finalists round.
You will be able to revise your proposal and add new collaborators if you wish, from July 1st until July 14, 2015 at 23:59pm Eastern Time.
Judges' feedback are posted under the "Evaluation" tab of your proposal. Please incorporate this feedback in your revisions, or your proposal may not be advanced to the Finalists round. We ask you to also summarize the changes that you made in the comment section of the Evaluation tab.
At the revision deadline listed below, your proposal will be locked and considered in final form. The Judges will undergo another round of evaluation to ensure that Semi-Finalist proposals have addressed the feedback given, and select which proposals will continue to the Finalists round. Finalists are eligible for the contest’s Judges Choice award, as well as for public voting to select the contest’s Popular Choice award.
Thank you for your great work and again, congratulations!
2015 Climate CoLab Judges
This commercial product (available on the market in July 2015) in not innovative in terms of integration of PV in the building as a shading system (louvres). Similar systems have been available for years, with different formats and installation options (including that used for the German entry in the 2007 Solar Decathlon, with PV porch/shading structures). Innovative though seems to be the “plug and play” solution, which, however is not sufficiently described to understand if technically viable. Size options, fixing system, interference with the grid etc are unfortunately not addressed, thus it is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of the proposed solution.From the architectural point of view the system rises some questions concerning: integration in the façade, visual connection with the outdoor environment, adaptability to non-standard windows, impact of installation on the envelope, to mention the most important. Energy storage issues will also need to be addressed, as well as LCA, considering the limited energy generation: is the energy generated sufficient to offset the embodied energy? The system is presented almost as “portable”, which makes it very appealing. However this feature does not match with the constraints of a shading systems that requires to fit with window sizes, to perforate the envelope and to be plugged into the domestic grid. It might just be a lack of technical details though.
This is a very interesting proposal and is already being offered to consumers which shows that this has addressed many of the initial feasibility barriers. For me the strongest elements of this proposal also present some of the biggest challenges. Most notably the ability for these to be installed by home owners is excellent and helps to keep these affordable, however how do you insure the panels are correctly installed and not located on northern elevations or under shading elements? The window application is of particular interest, it would be good to know more about the operation of these. For example are they only compatible with inward opening windows? There is mention of them being automatically controlled, this should be carefully considered before being offered as additional electronics require energy and maintenance. It would also be good to know if there is any research on how the panel affects the light transmittance through the window as this will impact the artificial lighting requirements. The figures provided by the applicant for the potential increase in total energy from PV are very exciting. The idea that many small interventions will add up to provide a significant energy contribution is really good. An issue I see with this is that the actually money saved by the individual homeowner remains quite small and they may not feel the benefits of the panel, especially if they can only afford one or two. There will also be some aesthetic restrictions with these, in that they may not be accepted on historic buildings or on the front façades of prominent buildings, this will restrict the application.In summary this is an exciting proposal, already market ready which has the potential to make a significant contribution to carbon reductions. It is also a very visible measure so should be expected to contribute to a knock-on effect and wider increase in public awareness of low carbon technologies.
Jul 14, 2015
Comment 1 Thank you for selecting us as a semi-finalist, and thank you for your input. I understand your criticisms, but I urge you to investigate further. Despite your belief that such systems as our own are in existence, have been made available to the public, and are not novel I wish to remind you that we are building our products for consumers in the mass market, not for individual projects. Our company designs products, we are not architects. This is an important distinction because our project was dismissed on the laurels of novelty because a team from Germany built something similar and won the architectural solar decathlon competition 8 years ago. You should be aware that this competition is not the solar decathlon, the Climate Colab competition as I understand it is concerned with the greatest reductions in carbon and greenhouse gasses by the most feasible means possible. Please also consider that the louvered solar panels used by the German team to win the solar decathlon were hand built to achieve the necessary effect, they were not designed as a building retrofit as an aftermarket universal solution as would be necessary to reach the mass market and reduce carbon emissions on a mass scale. I invite you to look at the pictures of their design; the house was designed around the louvered solar panels instead of the louvered solar panels being designed around the house. If you look closely, you can see the solar cells used were thin film solar cells (6~10% efficiency) which would only be half as efficient as the mono, and poly crystalline silicon based solar cells used in our solar panels (15~20%), furthermore our solar panels are being built with the inclusion of a microinverter for interconnection with the electrical grid for on-grid (grid-tied, utility interactive) power production, their system was an off-grid home demo that was wired in series by string to dangerous voltages that could not safely be intended for consumers, or for laymen. If you look at the back of their solar panels you can see slats of wood, this presents a huge fire hazard, which is why all solar panels are typically built from non-flammable components such as Glass, Metal, and plastic. Their project also did not undergo approval from an NRTL like UL, CSA, or ETL because it was not a consumer-oriented product; it was not intended to suit the mass market. The solar panels used in that competition were one-off prototypes, they had 8 years between then and now to develop them into a consumer product, the technology however proven effective and viable it remains uncommercialized. It is ultimately the goal of this project to commercialize this technology into a readily, and easily accessible retrofit produced in mass for distributed integration into the electrical grid. To see the project presented by the German team during the solar decathlon in 2007 and to explore the differences between our project and theirs please follow the link here: http://inhabitat.com/germany-wins-the-2007-solar-decathlon/ As for the comments about plug and play integration, in North America local building authorities defer to and adhere by the provisions set forth in the National Electric Code for safe practices regarding electrical installation. It is incredibly important to understand the distinction between permanently installed wiring, and non-permanent field wiring. Permanent wiring pertains to all of the wiring in the wall, or in a conduit, all the way from the utility service meter, to the breaker panel, to the receptacle in your building. Non-permanent wiring is anything you install on the outside of the receptacle, this includes extension cords, power plugs, power strips, etc. If we connect a solar panel system traditionally it means we need to connect on the Supply side of a breaker panel in a home, this requires disabling power for servicing and connecting all the necessary hardware, because it is also permanently wired it requires a building permit be approved before installation. Our system however being plug and play since we connect on the load side of a breaker panel, by plugging into a receptacle (which is permanently wired back to the breaker panel) our wiring is considered non-permanent field wiring. This means we can plug and play solar panels just like you can plug in and use all your appliances today like TVs, radios, refrigerators, washers, dryers, etc. This very small change essentially means someone can immediately unbox our solar panels and plug them into an electrical receptacle without having to wait for building permits to be approved. A single solar panel may not be enough to sell electricity back to the grid, but it would slow the meter with the electricity produced locally by the solar panel. Additionally by adding more solar panels, someone would be able to further supplement their electricity until they overproduced and were capable of selling back to the electric grid. There were a couple of other things briefly mentioned that I feel would be easier to address individually: “Size options, fixing system, interference with the grid etc are unfortunately not addressed,” Size options: I’ve stated in the proposal that we are making our solar panels for standard sized windows 24x36, 36x60, etc. From here on we will be able to cost effectively scale our designs and production to accommodate different size windows, more applications, and more variations and colors, as well as add capabilities to size to custom window sizes, our current strategy right now is to make a solar panel for a standard size window, and be able to fit custom sized windows that are smaller than the standard sized solar panel made for the custom sized window for instance: we make a 24x36in standard solar panel, the same one will be capable of mounting to a customer supplied custom window size of 24x30, so we should have to micromanage all the sizes and retool. This strategy should be able to work for most residential, and some commercial applications, if a company with a larger building needed a specific sized solar panel but had a lot of windows then we would likely retool our product specifically to fit their windows. Interference with the grid: The microinverters incur nearly no interference with safety, or operability of the electrical grid. They have a Power Factor of >0.95 they meet UL1741, they have anti-islanding protection so they do not energize the electrical grid when people are attempting to repair power lines and restore electric service. By “fixing system” I believe this to mean the mounting system? We have a mounting base/bracket that’s capable of being drilled, and bolted onto a wall it can work on nearly any surface including brick, concrete, metal, and wood walls. “From the architectural point of view the system rises some questions concerning: integration in the façade, visual connection with the outdoor environment, adaptability to non-standard windows, impact of installation on the envelope, to mention the most important.” I find it kind of hard to address these comments as there isn’t a clear query present. However we’re able to integrate into and customize our design as necessary for aesthetics by changing out modular parts, this allows a wide array of customizable options without sacrificing economies of scale in manufacturing standardized parts. I’ve addressed non-standard windows above. I’m having trouble understanding what the comment is about having a “Visual connection” with the outdoor environment. The impact on the building envelope would include weight and wind loads, for large buildings and big installations weight loads would need to be considered, we want to make sure that our solar panels can be used and practiced safely. We do not want to overload a building’s façade with too much weight as that could ultimately cause mechanical failures. However some architecture presently uses light filtering schemes including metal hardware with awnings, and similar shades, use of our products as architectural elements will be no different. It should be noted that our solar panels are constructed with aluminum to reduce overall weight; most systems weigh less than 35 pounds. “The system is presented almost as “portable”, which makes it very appealing. However this feature does not match with the constraints of a shading systems that requires to fit with window sizes, to perforate the envelope and to be plugged into the domestic grid. It might just be a lack of technical details though.” We prefer the term semi-permanent to portable. Portable implies that it’s something on wheels, or that’s lightweight with a handle that can be readily moved. Our products are semi-permanent appliances. They are bolted to buildings using hardware that requires the use of tools to install and remove. Comment 2 “Most notably the ability for these to be installed by home owners is excellent and helps to keep these affordable, however how do you insure the panels are correctly installed and not located on northern elevations or under shading elements?” We include in our instructions and brochures information on recommended applications and installations. We advise our consumers where it would be best to use our products, we ultimately cannot control how they install them, but we can however provide tools for monitoring the power output of their installations so that they can see their performance. We also plan on providing potential consumers a trial kit, that they could place in their window that would simply be a sensor with some instructions, we send it by mail, a consumer may stick it to their windows, and then based on the irradiation of the sensor it may change colors or display an output indicating that it would be advisable to use our products or not, based on how effectively they would perform in the given environment. As for shading elements, we advise the use of our products outdoors where they can get the most sunlight, some overhangs from roofs may pose a shading hazard, but this is partly why we provision our solar panels to produce a higher voltage than what is actually necessary. Our microinverters may need a minimum of 22VDC, so our solar panels produce 30-48VDC so half the solar panel may actually be shaded, but they can still produce the necessary voltage for the system to be able to work. You don’t necessarily need the solar panels to be irradiated all the time for them to work, they will not work as well, but they will still work when partially shaded. “For example are they only compatible with inward opening windows? There is mention of them being automatically controlled, this should be carefully considered before being offered as additional electronics require energy and maintenance.” Please consider that most residential windows slide up, rather than rotate out or inwards. There is also a small offset of about an inch between the rotated state of the louvers and the window so they should be able to work in most circumstances. When we say automatically this can either be by a wax motor, which works by opening and closing louvers as the wax in the motor expands automatically from heat expansion, this would be very inexpensive to apply to the system, or by electronics, and motors which would add some complexity and cost, but this would also add value and allow the system to be included in home automation systems. “It would also be good to know if there is any research on how the panel affects the light transmittance through the window as this will impact the artificial lighting requirements” We have not done enough research on this to conclude how much of an impact will be exhibited but please consider that many windows in use today have two window treatments in use in conjunction: window tints, and shades like blinds or curtains. Window tints are permanent, and overall reduce the amount infrared light (to save on air-conditioning) at the expense of natural lighting. Curtains and blinds are manually operated, and many people have them drawn closed for privacy and so their windows nearly never can be used for natural lighting which would reduce the need for indoor lighting. What we recommend is people use our products without blinds, or window tints so that they can maximize the natural lighting from the window, the louvers can also be rotated at a 45 degree angle for privacy, while also allowing natural lighting into the building. “The figures provided by the applicant for the potential increase in total energy from PV are very exciting. The idea that many small interventions will add up to provide a significant energy contribution is really good. An issue I see with this is that the actually money saved by the individual homeowner remains quite small and they may not feel the benefits of the panel, especially if they can only afford one or two.” We’re opening up the doors to new markets that normally would not have any ability at all to install solar power. In marketing and sales, this is considered an entry-level product that takes advantage of the “foot-in-the-door” phenomenon. We’re not saying our products are going to entirely take a home off the grid, this isn’t our goal, nor is it feasible for the vast majority of consumers. But our products are something that people can get started with, and when they’re ready to make a bigger investment, and power more of their home from solar power then we, or other solar contractors can help them with that too. I think you should also consider the spotlight placed on consumers return on investment. Return on investment is understandable when placed on something like a more efficient lightbulb, but when we’re talking about a consumer product that is part of an aesthetic then typically a return on investment is less important, if you take for instance a consumer product like a pillow, a couch, etc. These are consumer items one may purchase that don’t necessarily have a return on investment, money spent on a pillow likely will never be returned. Many people already pay thousands of dollars on new shutters simply for their aesthetics on a building, but now were providing a window shutter that will actually pay for itself, it doesn’t matter if it’s 10 years down the road, a solar panel will pay for itself long before a regular shutter will. My point of view on this comment is really, what’s better? 100 Watts of solar power, or Zero watts of solar power? I think it’s pretty clear 100 Watts would be more desirable than zero, especially when applied to the mass market in scale. Additionally our monitoring system reads the amount of energy generated over a day, week, month, and year, and then it can tell you how many pounds of carbon have been reduced into the atmosphere. This helps give a user the knowledge of the additional benefits of using our solar products. So along with a user getting a return on investment, being able to see the amount of carbon and greenhouse gasses conserved, combined with some stunning aesthetics we believe our users should be satisfied in using our products, and that hopefully that should transcend through our capitalist consumer culture to help influence more people into getting solar products installed at their homes and businesses. If it became the norm seeing buildings with solar panels integrated into them then you would likely be more inclined to install your own solar products if you saw them in a store. “There will also be some aesthetic restrictions with these; in that they may not be accepted on historic buildings or on the front façades of prominent buildings, this will restrict the application.” Yes, we don’t expect our products to be applied to historic buildings, our products are more modern and wouldn’t fit their aesthetic, we don’t expect to have our products on every building, were just giving more consumers options that they never had before. There are however statutes in place saying that home owner associations cannot restrict you from installing solar panels. I've addressed your comments by adding lines to our proposal, you can easily find them by seeking the asterisks (*) at the beginning of each added paragraph.