Accelerating the Solar Transition

 By Claudia Woodward-Rice

A friend has put together a plug-and-play solar panel system, and entered it in a contest. Jonathan Cole writes:

“I have just entered my 6th generation solar energy system design in a concepts competition sponsored by NASA Tech Briefs. It is for a modular solar energy appliance that I call SunPax. It would be a great favor to me if you would go to this web site, register and vote for my entry. This is as much to promote the rapid transition to solar as to win a prize.

“Please help if you can. And please pass this to anyone else you know who may be interested.”

SPECS: (Image here)

Solar energy systems need to move from custom-engineered installations to a mass-produced modularized energy appliance containing all related electronics, storage and monitoring functions within a single, UL approved, energy appliance. The SunPax system will do just that.

The rapid deployment of solar energy is inhibited by several issues.

1. Today, all solar energy systems are one-of-a-kind, custom designed systems with engineering being a substantial recurring cost. Systems with widely variable selection of components have variable quality and highly variable failure modalities. This creates uncertain maintenance-cost profiles. This customized style of assembly also fosters high permitting and installation-costs.

2. Solar/light energy is only available during the day. With battery storage, it becomes a 24/7 electrical energy source.

3. Solar energy systems are not well-integrated with IT hardware and software.

4. Utility companies often resist the use of solar.

The potential benefits of this product being developed, mass-produced and distributed world-wide are rapid deployment of solar energy, reduction of pollution and other threats to the global eco-system, as well as, distributed and secure energy systems. Being UL –approved, SunPax will require no permitting, engineering or utility permissions. With a 20-year warranty (20-year batteries are available), installed, solid-state SunPax modules will have very low operating-costs, a small fraction of today’s utility power costs.

With quick-mount panels operating independently, SunPax is an independent, uninterruptible solar-appliance that yields household AC, sine-wave power, 24/7. The modules comprise an individual solar panel with micro-charge-controller, micro-inverter, battery-pack, backup-charger and wireless IT/communications modules mounted behind the panel via plug-and-play individual components. The SunPax modules can be daisy-chained to build capacity. Twelve 200 watt units provide the power for one household 120 VAC, 20 amp circuit. SunPax will include theft-prevention and smart micro-grid technology that will track the performance of all components and every appliance powered by the module

SunPax will be used for camping, RVs, military power supplies, and to power households and businesses.

This product would have a potential market size rivalling that of automobiles or computers. . There is no competing system.

SunPax is an integration of best-practice micro-technologies that have been widely demonstrated. The uniqueness is in the value-added through engineering of individual plug-and-play components and an algorithm which balances the relative component capacities. This algorithm is a by-product of thirty years of the developer’s solar R&D. Long-life solar panels require long-life, cost-effective, balance-of-system components. Since the system does its own fault diagnosis and trouble alerts. Plug-and-play allows easy, affordable replacement or upgrade of components with low labour-costs.

SunPax modules would be mass-produced with local assembly from plug-in, individual components manufactured world-wide.

In mass-production the costs would compare favourably to existing systems because of reduced engineering, permitting, installation-costs and contractors-profits. By bundling all components together, materials-costs, system-assembly costs and installation costs are dramatically reduced. In mass-production, this product would see a steep downward price curve just as has happened in the electronics and computer industry. The market would expand. As volume increases, margins go down but profits go up.

9 responses to “Accelerating the Solar Transition

  1. How does the manufacture of the SunPax system affect the local evironment? And, are they available as stand-alone units or do they need to be roof-mounted?

  2. I liked the idea as soon as I saw the drawing of the components all laid out. If this system comes on the market I will be most interested as I have been trying to find a suitable ‘off grid’ energy generation system that works 24/7/365 for a very long time now.
    I voted for this and would welcome some more info and updates as to how the competition goes.
    If it fails to win I would love to know where to source the components to build something similar myself for use here in the UK.

  3. check out this solar plane:

  4. In answer to your questions, The SunPax modules will not effect the local environment at all. All components are solid state and give off no emissions. All components are 100% recyclable. They do not have to be roof mounted. From 30 years experience living off the grid with solar and developing advanced solar energy systems I have come to prefer ground mounted systems for their easy access for occasional cleaning and maintenance. The SunPax modules will be available individually or as many as you need to power a complete household.

    It will take substantial investment to bring the product to market. I have been working on this for 30 years and plan to continue until the goal is accomplished. My friends smile when I say that my occupation is to save the world, but I am not kidding. We need to accelerate the transition to solar energy as rapidly as possible to avoid an ever increasing catastrophic breakdown of the natural world. We have everything we need at our disposal and must choose action over complacency or despair. We owe it to our children and all future living beings to do this now with all due speed.

    For more factual information about solar energy equipment and how to buy it, use it and take care of it you can go to my web log at

    Jonathan Cole
    Light on the Earth Systems

  5. itsonlyausername

    Thank you for the prompt reply. I will be hopefully constructing my own off-grid system sometime this year. Unfortunately the idea of ground mounting is not feasible as I am limited for ground space. Use too much of it to harbour wildlife and grow my permaculture fruit and veg. I don’t dislike the idea of ground mounted solar PV systems as it does enable maintenance to be carried out without having to get the scaffolding towers up and secured for those Health and Safety Geeks*. (*this word is not copyrighted to some American firm despite what the company concerned might say. Besides my spell checker did not recognise it so its still up for grabs.:) )

    As for the current state of affairs here in the UK we have a feed in tariff system available for Solar PV systems provided the systems are installed by registered installation companies. Now that automatically stalls the roll out due to the exorbitant costs of the systems in question. A typical small home system working on a feed in tariff and supplying a small 3 bedroom home costs around £12,500 and that is only so you can generate electricity while the sun shines (daytime) because at night you draw down from the grid. During the day the surplus that you generate goes to the grid and the householder gets paid a small sum of money per unit. Hence feed in tariff. However you can rest assured the utility companies have ensured the amount they pay the householder is peanuts compared to what they are selling it on to other non solar PV households for.

    So I intend to go off grid. As they say in the real world ‘enough is enough’. I pay too much in taxes anyway. 40% in every £ goes to the government (For what I don’t know unless you call killing people legitimate use of my taxes) and that is before council tax and VAT and the usual taxes for road fund licenses, TV licenses(which is why I don’t possess one) and fuel tax which makes our gallon of petrol (Imperial Gallon which is slightly larger than US Gallon) cost approximately £6.04. That’s about 1 British pound = 1.5973 U.S. dollars = $9.647692 per UK Imperial Gallon which as I have already said is larger than your US gallon (1.201 US gallon = 1 Imperial Gallon) so it would be a little bit less than that at $8.033 per gallon (US) for your petrol if you were paying UK rates so think yourselves lucky you don’t live here. 🙂
    Don’t know about diesel as I don’t use it and it is a lot more expensive than petrol here.

    Anyway I digress but you can see why I want to go off grid asap. The cost of breathing will soon be added if they decide to tax us on clean air laws but then I ask why do the powers that be think we the people who do our bit should be penalised whilst the corporate fat cats get to keep their earnings and get a handout from the tax man (IRS over there and Inland Revenue over here) and to top it all they can continue to pollute the air land and water with gay abandon without any penalties? Can someone answer me that without telling me what I already now about the corruption up top?

    Now you have all read this I hope it makes you all feel a little bit better about your lives as you aren’t the only ones struggling after all. Its not easy being green you know. 🙂

  6. Wow Rady! I almost missed this, thanks for crediting me but it should really go to Charlene who forwarded it to me. Glad to see all the interest!


  7. @Jonathan: WARNING: I am a Luddite – lol. My concern was that the MANUFACTURE of the pieces and parts might bne super polluting. Can you please help with that info please?

  8. Here’s another article about solar power: A manufacturer is creating flexible solar panels that can be cut and shaped as the end user needs.

    Signs of Hope
    November 24, 2009, New York Times

    Is the economic, social and physical deterioration that has caused so much misery in the Motor City a sign of what’s in store for larger and larger segments of the United States? I found real reason to hope when a gentleman named Stan Ovshinsky took me on a tour of a remarkably quiet and pristine manufacturing plant … about 30 miles north of Detroit. What is being produced in the plant is potentially revolutionary. A machine about the length of a football field runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, turning out mile after mile after mile of thin, flexible solar energy material, from which solar panels can be sliced and shaped. Mr. Ovshinsky … developed the technology and designed the production method that made it possible to produce solar material “by the mile.” He invented the nickel metal hydride battery that is in virtually all hybrid vehicles on the road today. When I pulled into the parking lot outside his office … he promptly installed me in the driver’s seat of a hydrogen hybrid prototype — a car in which the gasoline tank had been replaced with a safe solid-state hydrogen storage system invented by Mr. Ovshinsky. What’s weird is that this man, with such a stellar track record of innovation on products and processes crucial to the economic and environmental health of the U.S., gets such little attention and so little support from American policy makers. In addition to his work with batteries, photovoltaics and hydrogen fuel cells, his inventions have helped open the door to flat-screen televisions, new forms of computer memory and on and on.

    (much more)

    Note: Ovshinsky has been at the forefront of new energy breakthroughs for years, yet has received very little press, likely because his inventions threaten the established oil industry. For a powerful, three-minute video showing how some of his key inventions have been shelved because they threatened profits, click

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