Sunday, February 20, 2011

Plug in PV

Clarian is planning to come out with PV modules that can literally be plugged into the wall to make your own  grid-tied PV system.

The system consists of one or more 200 watt PV panels, each with a micro grid-tie inverter.  Each system also has a SmartBox for monitoring the system. 
The first 200 watt PV panel/micro inverters plugs into an regular wall plug.  Additional 200 watt panels panels plug into the first panel daisy chain style.    The SmartBox plugs into an AC outlet and (apparently) allows you monitor the system.

You can add several of the 200 watt panels -- each one is 60 by 40 inches.

They also have a 1000 watt unit with a "6 to 8 hour" installation time -- perhaps this needs a connection to the breaker panel, but I could not tell.

This looks like a very nice solution for people who want to get started a PV system without having to hire an installer -- it lets you start for less than $1000, and add to it from time to time.  The projected prices they show are competitive, and the unit is said to qualify for the federal 30% tax credit program.
They expect to have the units "in stores in 2011".

The micro inverter has all the usual safety features for not powering the grid when the grid is down to protect line workers.

The system also provides for monitoring your system from the web, again  similar to the Enphase systems.

While it seems like a very nice development, I do wonder about a few things:
  • Will local utilities buy into the system -- normally, the utility would have to install a net meter to insure that you actually get credit for power you generate during times when you send power out to the grid.
  • Basically the PV panel connects to the wall outlet via what amounts to an extension cord -- it seems like this might limit mounting possibilities and perhaps not look as neat as some might like (or not).
  • PV panels are large and catch a lot of wind -- they need to be mounted carefully, and I could see people being a little too casual about this and losing expensive panels.
  • I could also see people spending a couple thousand on this to save 60 KWH a month when the same $2000 spent on conservation and efficiency projects would save 500 KWH a month.
It will be very interesting to see how it all plays out.

The link to their website is:

Thanks to Gordon for sending in the note on this gadget!



  1. I've been following their development for a while now as they've gone thru several name changes for their products with the current Smartbox name coming around the time they announced their battery backup. Some of the videos they did for GE challenge stated that they were really just interested in slowing the meter, not generating excess capacity.

    One of their big pushes early on was that you can take it with you when you move. While I see that as a possibility for the Smartbox Wind unit, a solar unit that's mounted in a sturdy manner may be more of an issue.

    They've also recently announced the SmartBox Backup with an interesting twist. They keep stating over and over that no additional wiring is required, however they also throw in this tid bit:

    "And the SmartBox Backup is safe. During a power outage, patent-pending SmartBox™ technology prevents power from being fed back onto the electrical grid. "

    I'm not sure how they plan on providing power to the house and not backfeed the grid during a power outage without wiring in some sort of disconnect.

  2. I too have been watching this company. I'm hoping to install their wind generator IF they ever actually create a product. So far there's been a lot of buzz and no product.

    Regarding the power outage safety issue. ALL inverters that connect to the grid must disconnect the moment the grid shuts down (outage). So they simply stop producing power, this is true for all grid intertied generators. Basically they have to sync to the 60Hz signal before they can output any energy.

  3. Let me run the numbers ...
    The 200W Smart Box Costs $800. It would save me about $2.00 per month. I break-even on my "investment" is 33 years if the electronics last that long (most likely not).
    They keep announcing new products but they have not manufactured anything in two years.
    Don't get me started on their Wind Turbine. Who really has 28MPH winds blowing at their home for 3 hours per day every day of the year? "... Pay back in 5-8 years ..." PURE NONSENE even including the Tax Credits and Rebates that end soon.

  4. Hi -- I guess it depends on your circumstances. PVWatts says that 200 W would get you an average of 29 KWH a month, or about $3.50 a month at 12 cents a KWH.
    Since (I guess) the system has a UL approved grid-tie inverter, it should qualify for the federal 30% rebate, so, cost is about $560. State rebates may help from here -- here in MT, I don't see why it would not qualify for the $500 tax credit we have. This would reduce the payback to 17 months!
    So, I think it depends a whole lot on the individual circumstances.

    While at $4 per peak watt its not cheap, Solar Today reported just a little while back that the US average for professionally installed grid-tie systems was $6.80 a peat watt -- so, it seems quite competitive to me.

    To me, the news here is that its a new way of installing some PV in way that bypasses all the usual bureaucratic stuff and lets just about anyone do it.

    The discouraging thing to me is that you can't go out and buy one yet.


  5. Anyone know anything about these guys?

  6. Hi James,
    Not really an expert on this, but some questions I'd ask based on having put in a grid-tied PV system myself would be:

    1- Is is OK with the utility? Utilities typically have some procedure they want you to go through before they OK a grid-tied system. Where I am this means having a signed off electrical permit.

    2 - If you don't tell the utility, will you actually get net metering (that is will your meter actually run backwards and give you credit for the excess power you produc)?
    In my case, the utility installed a new meter that supports net metering. I think that at least some utility meters are set up to ratchet rather than running backwards.
    This is only an issue when the PV system is producing more power than you are using at the house.

    The system prices seem pretty reasonable to me, and it seems to me that electrically the system should work, and that the system is safe given that it uses a UL approved grid-tie inverter.

    The company says that they will help you in how to deal with the utility -- I would test them out on this before you commit to buy. Call them up and ask them the questions above and see what their answers are like.


  7. Another thing I would look into is how do you run the wire from the inverter on the PV array to the wall plug you are going to use?

    That is, you probably don't want an extension cord running across your yard, and how do you handle the details like getting the cord through the wall etc.

    On a regular grid-tied system, you would typically run wire from the inverter in conduit to the electrical box where it connects to a new dedicated circuit breaker. This is typically not all that difficult to do, and it may afford some protection.
    An example of what's involved here:

    You also want to be sure that you can anchor the panels for strong winds.



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