By Wolfgang Schlichting, Research Director
Open standards, integrated and easy-to-use products have been the foundation of most products that have reached mass consumer adoption. The same can be achieved with small solar PV systems. Multi-vendor support of interchangeable modular products can create a fast-growing, competitive market. This will allow vendors to develop low-cost, easy-to-install products and sell them at big-box retailers.
Integration can reduce component count, and thus cost. Also, this shifts more systems design upstream in the manufacturing process, where vendors have better quality and consistency control. Currently, much of the system design is customized for each individual PV system. Integration can reduce installation labor cost, as a lower level of skill is required to attach highly-integrated PV products to each other and to the roof or ground. Also, fewer man-hours per installation are necessary because much of the electronics, wiring and attachment interfaces will be integrated.
Simplification of PV products, making them easy to install and use, compounds the effects of integration, further reducing the need to educate users and train installers. Also, simplified products are much easier to market with appealing consumer messages. Highly-simplified products can also address the ‘do-it-yourself’ market. Here, a positive ‘out-of-the-box’ experience is essential. Easy-to-understand products significantly speed up the purchasing decision-time. This can ultimately lead to impulse purchasing of certain PV products. Additionally, word-of-mouth marketing by satisfied users can also be an important driver of adoption.
Standards are important to achieve end-user confidence and adoption within any industry that requires different components from various manufacturers to work together in a final system configuration. This is especially true for PV, where the value-added proposition is for reliable operation of the installed system for more than 20 to 30 years. When a standard insures interoperability and compatibility of certified products, the industry can then focus on specialization and cost reduction. This can lead to a rapidly-growing market and declining prices. Also, co-branding, marketing and education activities reduce costs for the individual vendors of these standardized products.
However, cooperation is typically limited to marketing efforts. Individual products will compete fiercely in the marketplace. With standardized products, the PV industry can be in a much better position to address the (existing) painfully-complicated, slow and often expensive permitting process with local and regional authorities. Straightforward licensing arrangements for all parties interested in producing products that conform to the standard are critical. Typically, this is best managed by an independent organization that oversees licensing fees, royalty payments, and promotion of the standard or format.
To achieve integrated, simplified and standardized PV products, it is important to bring the key stakeholders together to discuss important features and requirements, as well as to learn from best practices of other industries. If this is achieved, it may help to accelerate the PV industry into an important new phase of mass-market appeal.