Home Grabs Onto Sun’s Rays in Pilot Case

(The Orange County Register/MCT) -

Many of life’s essentials, from cars to mobile phones, run on batteries.

Will our homes be next?

Two companies are exploring that possibility in a pilot case that involves storing the sun’s energy for residential use.

San Jose, Calif.-based solar manufacturer SunPower Corp. has outfitted a model home in Irvine, Calif., with a solar-panel system and battery that harnesses power from sun rays that can be used in the evening.

If the numbers make sense, SunPower and partner KB Home, a Los Angeles-based builder, could incorporate the systems into future construction to appeal to the environmentally conscious homebuyer.

“It’s a real opportunity for customers in the future,” said Steve Ruffner, president and regional general manager of KB Home’s Southern California division. “Basically, the power they generate can be used when they get home from work, using it as a backup system during a power failure or natural disaster. But obviously, the system is brand-new.”

The test case in Irvine, one of three in the nation, began about a month ago. The other locations are San Diego and El Dorado Hills, in Northern California.

Over time, the experiment will give company officials an idea of whether something like this could work on a grander scale.

Because the pilot case is still early, few details are available.

If a bigger roll-out does go forward, homeowners would own, not lease, the combined system of the solar panels and battery unit.

The cost is not yet available, but would be rolled into the overall cost of the home. A solar-panel system at a KB community in Irvine could save homeowners more than $200 monthly, on average. An attached battery unit would likely yield more savings.

SolarCity Corp. also offers solar-storage systems.

So far, the biggest barrier for the mass adoption of solar storage for homes is its high cost, energy experts say. The installation of solar panels could cost as much as $30,000, which makes leasing an attractive option for some homeowners.

Consumers should do the math before buying a home with such an energy system, said Alfredo Martinez-Morales, managing director of the Southern California Research Initiative for Solar Energy.

“What is the cost per energy unit?” Martinez-Morales said. “Is this significantly more than what you’re currently paying?”

Such systems could be a big hit among early adopters, especially those who are concerned about limiting their carbon footprint, he added.