A year ago, Bend solar-power startup AC Solar Technology did not even exist.
Last week, CEO Glenn Harris presented his company’s product, a solar module, to industry representatives from the United States, France and Switzerland at a startup conference in San Francisco.
And this week, AC Solar Technology expects to receive its ETL Listed Mark, which shows the modules meet Underwriters Laboratory safety standards, and which will allow the company to start production.
AC Solar Technology’s Blue Leaf 210W AC module, which is essentially a small solar electrical system, has the potential to open up the solar market to small commercial and residential users, Harris said. It simplifies solar power installation.
Photovoltaic systems produce DC, or direct current. Most electrical appliances in a home use AC, or alternating current. So most solar systems need wires that lead from the solar panels to an inverter, which converts direct current into alternating current. The wires continue from the inverter to the building’s electrical system.
The Blue Leaf module essentially removes the direct current portion. It has no DC wiring or components and uses AC from the modules to the power grid, according to a company news release. It has a single AC line leading from the inverter on the back panel. It’s like an extension cord, Harris said.
“We think the market is going to like a little 200 watt solar system,” he said. “That’s not something that’s been done before.”
Removing the DC part of the equation also simplifies installation for electricians, he said.
Costs for solar electric systems can vary, depending on the size, the system rating, installer and other factors, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. On average, the costs run $8 to $10 per watt, before rebates or tax credits.
Harris estimates a Blue Leaf module, which measures about 5 feet by 3 feet, will cost $5 per watt installed, or about $1,500, after rebates and credits.
Before his work with AC Solar Technology, Harris worked for Bend-based PV Powered, which makes inverters, both as its president and also a consultant. He also served as CEO of SunCentric, a Grants Pass company that provides a variety of services for solar power firms.
Harris does not believe AC Solar will compete with PV Powered, at least not directly. PV Powered does not make small-sized inverters or modules, he said.
Founded in the middle of last year, Harris said AC Solar Technology does not have a real office.
But it’s looking to get one.
With its certification in hand, the company will be able to start manufacturing, first at a temporary location, he said. AC Solar, which expects to employ about 150 workers by the end of its third year, also has been seeking a permanent site, but Harris said he’s not optimistic it will be in Oregon.
The climate in the state has become uncertain with the debate over the Business Energy Tax Credit, sparked after its estimated $4 million cost expanded to $167 million in lost revenues .
Harris understands, he said, how that leaves lawmakers to make tough decisions, balancing the state’s need for tax revenue with its desire to encourage renewable energy.
Other criteria also factor into the decision on where to locate, Harris said, not just government incentives. Along with Oregon, he said, other states in the running are Arizona, Delaware and Michigan.
Arizona, with its abundant sunshine, major population centers and transportation infrastructure, is attractive, Harris said. In one morning in Phoenix, he saw about 10 buildings and 1 million square feet of real estate.
“Some of the other states are chomping at the bit,” he said.
Harris expanded on his company’s product and market in an interview with The Bulletin.
Q: What makes your product different?
A: The new technology is the box on the back. It takes the DC power right at the back and turns it into … AC. You could put one on your back fence. … You could put one on your roof and wire it right into a 110 (volt line). It’s just three regular wires going into your fuse box. You could walk into Costco and buy this thing. Basically, you enable everybody.
Q: Where does it fit within the solar power market.
A: (It has the) potential to open up lots of different markets. Our interest is expanding the residential market. (It’s a) market expansion device.
Q: Where is AC Solar Technology located presently?
A: We don’t have official offices at the moment. We’re looking for a place to call home. It’s time to put the stake in the ground. We’re going to build the modules. I think we’re pretty well ready to start manufacturing. The question will be where.
Q: What are the considerations?
A: It’s really not a competition, per se. It’s not like they walk in and hand you a check and say thanks for being here. It really comes down to: Is it a great place to build? How’s the transportation system? What the state does is icing on the cake.