A hybrid solar panel made in Detroit using automotive components, with investment from an EPC contractor in Florida.  Interesting.  Interesting enough that I spent two hours this week along with other members of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association touring the Power Panel manufacturing facility.

Inside Power Panel's Detroit Facility

Power Panel was founded in 2007.  Their PVT panel combines 125W of PV with a thermal output of 1,530 BTU/hr.  This is accomplished by running water through a polyethylene tray on the backside of the PV layer to peel off BTUs in a closed loop drainback system (video below).  I’m not smart enough to evaluate the merits of all the design features – but I took a lot of pictures to help you get a feel for it.  I can say that the tour left me impressed, and it seemed like the product has a lot of potential.

The big question: Does this product open up new opportunities for solar installers? 

I think the answer is maybe.  Here’s the most important quote I heard on the tour, from Power Panel’s Adam Stratton:

“We developed this product with the residential market in mind, but the people who will really give us a listen these days are institutional and commercial clients with a thermal problem.  Our most compelling value is in solving problems for big thermal users – efficient PV production on top is what sets us apart, but it’s not driving the conversation.”

This made a ton of sense to me, and helped me visualize some concrete opportunities to sell this product where other products couldn’t deliver.  If you ballpark installation costs at $1,600/panel and start talking to customers that use a lot of thermal energy, you can start to gauge demand without spending too much time debating whether the design is perfect or Power Panel is the right product for you.

At the moment, most of Power Panels systems are installed in Michigan by Power Panel and their partners.  The products have been submitted to UL and SRCC for certification, which is expected but pending.  The long term vision is to have the certifications in place and move away from fully packaged systems and proprietary installation techniques.  They want to facilitate easy installations for any solar installer – without the need for a lot of specialized training.

My take is that if you feel there’s room in your local market for a solution like this, it would be worth talking more with Power Panel to get into the minutae.  Start with your customers – if the response seems positive, circle back and connect with Power Panel.  Go to them directly, or fill out this form and I’ll make an intro – either is fine.

More about Power Panel:

Power Panel, a Detroit-based solar panel system manufacturer, has been
selected as one of 2012’s innovative building products and will
showcase the next generation solar panel system at the Architecture
Boston Expo (ABX) Innovation Pavilion 2012.  Power Panel systems are
designed to circulate water though the panel in a non-pressurized,
drain-back system.  This process collects thermal energy within the
panel while actively cooling the PV cells, which increases electrical
output.  Thermal energy is stored by Power Panel’s patented modular
thermal storage tank.  www.powerpanel.com