Analysts and journalists were not welcome at the SEPA utility event I crashed in San Jose, Calif. today. Julia Hamm of SEPA, one of the "women to watch" in solar, did allow me to join the several hundred utility players for lunch at the Marriott, though.
One of the sponsors of the event was Petra Solar, a 50 employee microinverter startup with a bit of a twist.
Petra was funded with a $14 million Round A in 2007 from Element Partners and Blue Run Ventures. As mentioned, the firm builds microinverters. But what was it doing at a utility event?
Well, Petra sells a kitted system consisting of a solar module, an integrated microinverter, mounting hardware, and wireless monitoring equipment. It intends on selling this system directly to utilities for mounting on the distribution pole or streetlight pole.
It's meant to be installed by a utility crew in less than 30 minutes and to deliver AC power directly to the grid. By dealing with utilities and mounting directly on the utility-owned pole – the hassles of permitting and Nimbyism are pretty much avoided.
Petra has allied with SunTech and it's safe to assume that means they're buying SunTech PV panels.
Here's the big news. According to Adje Mensah and Joseph Polaski of Petra's sales and marketing team, the company is soon to announce a 200,000 pole deployment with a Northeast utility. That's a lot of panels and about 40 megawatts of distributed power.
It's a new sales channel and a new niche for solar – and as interesting as the idea might be, I wonder what the barrier to entry is for an existing PV module manufaturer or an existing microinverter firm like, say, Enphase.