We were less than impressed with Solar Roadways, the first winner of GE's $200 million Ecomagination Challenge. But the second round of winners, announced this morning, includes one of our favorites: Clarian Power, a startup that plans to offer plug-n-play solar technology for the residential market for under $1,000.
In addition to taking a portion of GE's $200 million investment and award fund for ideas that change the way we use power, Clarian will receive business strategy consulting, product development resources, distribution opportunities, and marketing support from the company. And that's not all. "GE, along with its venture partners, will be evaluating us for potential funding opportunities," explains Chad Maglaque, President of Clarian Power. For a startup that is currently self-funded, that's a big deal—GE's venture capital firm partners are heavyweights that include RockPort Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Foundation Capital.
So what is GE so impressed with? Clarian's plug-n-play solar solution consists of a SmartBox that provides circuit protection (installation takes half an hour) along with solar panel modules that can be installed on everything from garden sheds to door frames by non-professionals. "This is not meant for your rooftop. Half of the homes in the country are facing the wrong way [for rooftop solar], but everyone has some kind of southern exposure," says Maglaque.
A DIY installation is only recommended for the technologically inclined—Maglaque claims it's simple enough that the cable guy could install the panels if asked to—but the simplicity of the module means that the upfront cost of installation will be low even if done by professionals.
"A homeowner can go down to local home improvement store pick up two to three solar panels, plug them into an outlet, and start getting power in a matter of an hour or two," Maglaque says. "This solves the installation hurdle, the initial entry cost."
Clarian plans to have its SmartBox and solar modules on the market by next year. The products, which come as a package deal, will be sold by installers and in big box stores like Costco and Loews. "We're super delighted about getting the award," Maglaque says. "It's validation from GE."