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US retailer becomes first to offer ‘plug-and-play’ solar panels

solar-panel2The US-based home improvement chain Lowe’s has begun offering a “one-stop shop” for energy management in 21 of its California stores, and has also become the first major retailer in the country to start offering grid-connected solar panels that can be installed by homeowners.

Lowe’s says it will expand the new services to other stores in the US and Canada next year.

The 21 new Energy Centres in California focus on three areas for saving energy and money:

  • Measuring energy use or waste with power monitors and other devices;
  • Reducing energy consumption with compact fluorescent light bulbs and other products; and
  • Generating and using renewable energy with solar panels.

An information kiosk with a touch-screen display will also be placed in each centre to help customers evaluate their energy needs.

“Homeowners are paying more attention than ever to their utility bills, and the first step to saving energy is tracking where it’s going,” said Nick Canter, Lowe’s executive vice president of merchandising. “By providing monitoring tools to help customers know their numbers, Lowe’s is helping them find the money-saving solution that’s right for them.”

As part of the new initiative, stores in California will also begin offering solar panels from Akeena Solar. The Andalay AC Solar Power System, which won one of Popular Mechanics’ 2009 Breakthrough Product Awards, has built-in inverters to produce standard household AC power, so homeowners don’t have to worry about high-voltage DC wiring. The racking, wiring and electrical grounding components are also integrated into the solar panels, which can be installed one at a time and added onto later.

The system retails for $893 per panel.

“The PC revolution in the computer industry occurred when new technology made PCs easy to use and affordable,” said Barry Cinnamon, CEO of Akeena Solar. “Likewise, with panels becoming plug-and-play appliances, the solar revolution has started.”

He added, “Buying panels off the shelf at Lowe’s offers solar options to homeowners that they didn’t have. Homeowners now can get a system as small as one panel.”

Lowe’s also soon plans to begin offering utility-connected wind turbines by special order. Two types will be available: a 10,000-watt turbine on a 100-foot tower that’s suitable for rural homes, farms and small businesses; and a 1,000-watt, 7-foot-diametre turbine that can be mounted to a rooftop or pole at various heights.

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