Instant Connect is a range of solar panels recently launched by California based company Westinghouse Inc. The new panels are designed to make roof installations easier and faster and are known as 'plug-and-play' panels because they do not need panel to panel wiring. Instead they use UL-approved connectors that fit directly into each panel thereby allowing the panels to connect together when they are installed on the roof. This allows the connectors to be precisely aligned, thereby eradicating cumbersome wiring and cabling.
In a traditional solar panel system, the installer has to carry a multitude of separate parts on to the roof where they are manually assembled. The components include sections of aluminium or steel racking, clips used to attach the panels to the racking, electrical conduit which is used to isolate high voltage DC wiring, inverters, disconnects, heavy duty copper wiring, lugs, clips, ties and so the list goes on. As you can imagine, this can be rather difficult on a sloping roof. Westinghouse noted the problem and ten years ago started to develop components that were already built into the panels. The first such 'plug and play' system, nicknamed 'Andalay', was launched on to the market in 2007. In 2009 Westinghouse captured the world's attention again with the first integrated AC solar panel in which rooftop components were reduced by about 80 percent with a consequential reduction in labour costs of around 50 percent. This panel won the 2009 Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award.
As well as eliminating all the hassle of working with hundreds of components, the advantage of the plug and play system is that it can easily be extended. The Instant Connect panels are available in both AC and DC configurations and so far are the only panels with integrated racking, grounding and wiring.
Barry Cinnamon, the CEO of Westinghouse Solar, said: "There continues to be tremendous pressure to reduce the fully-installed costs of rooftop solar. Manufacturers of solar panels are bending over backwards to squeeze an extra 0.1% efficiency out of their panels, or to reduce their costs by $0.01/watt. But now that high quality solar panels are selling for less than $1/watt, the biggest remaining cost savings opportunity is on the installation itself. With Instant Connect, Westinghouse Solar can reduce direct and indirect installation costs by over $0.25/watt, which has a much greater economic impact on customers than incremental efficiency or cell cost improvements."
Gary Mull, Westinghouse Solar Vice President of Marketing, believes that this is the way in which solar PV will be installed in the future. "The second part of our technology that brings it all together is our splice system" he said. "It joins panel to panel mechanically. It also automates the grounding process. The modules eliminate the need for solar installers to install separate racking systems on the roof. It removes the cost of having to purchase all disparate parts and eliminates the need to build that inventory or manage that cost. From an installer point of view, there's an interesting dynamic. As solar panel prices have continued to drop, there's been an opportunity for homeowners to take advantage of lower costs. What's clear to us is lower prices have driven demand."
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