Clear Skies Solar plans to launch a renewable-energy monitoring system this month that will cost customers nothing up front – and will pay them a quarterly check, CEO Ezra Green has told Greentech Media.
The company's Xtrax monitoring system collects electricity-production data from wind, solar-electric, geothermal and solar-thermal power systems, and delivers it via cell-phone text messages, satellite or Zigbee wireless technology.
Other companies, such as Fat Spaniel Technologies, already have renewable-energy management systems on the market. But Clear Skies – which trades over the counter under the ticker symbol "CSKH" -- expects to be able to manufacture its system for a cost of less than $100 completely installed, compared with competitive products starting at installed prices of $1,000 today, Green said. (Yes, he says that's his real name.)
The Massapequa, N.Y.-based company has developed all the software and firmware itself, designed its own circuit boards and tested the system for a year with no problems, he said. Green claims the system is "far more" than 99 percent accurate.
Clear Skies also is going after a different market than Fat Spaniel, which focuses mainly on larger systems with capacities of 100 kilowatts and up. Fat Spaniel's prices for residential systems start around $900.
Clear Skies plans to target small systems instead, such as individual homes with only one to two kilowatts of capacity.
"We don't even want the larger ones," Green said. "We'll do it of course, but there's no reason for it. We're going to deal with the masses."
One reason might be that larger systems might require more information than the Xtrax provides. The company cut out some of the bells and whistles of other systems to keep the cost down.
"We like to keep things simple," Green said. "Life's complicated enough. There's no reason to have devices that can do everything from sing and dance to record the temperature. Who needs that? We're stripped it down to what you need to know – the actual production of the system in kilowatt hours, as well as system failure and brownouts."
Green claims that the additional information that other devices report, such as the temperature and the panels that aren't performing right, are "inconsequential as a rule."
"If you're doing a scientific study, absolutely there's no question you need that information," he said. "But how many of these are going on? If you want to hit 10,000 homes and truly capture the carbon-credit market, what you need is an accurate reading of what is [being produced]."
The low cost of the systems will enable Clear Skies to make money selling carbon credits from systems normally considered too small to be worth the effort, Green said.
The company plans to charge most of its customers nothing up front, sell the resulting carbon credits and then take a monthly cut of $19.95 out of the earnings, he said.
"Right now they are not making any money off carbon credits, so we would guarantee them a check every year, or probably quarterly; we would promise them a certain amount of money. If the system is producing $300 or $400 per quarter, we will collect our $20 and send the rest to them."
Of course, carbon credits aren't worth a whole lot today, especially not in the United States, where Clear Skies plans to focus first. That's because the credits are voluntary, meaning that companies have little incentive – aside from good publicity and the desire to do good – to buy them.
But both U.S. presidential candidates have said they support a carbon cap-and-trade system, which would limit the amount of carbon-dioxide emissions some companies could emit and open an auction where heavier polluters could buy credits from low-carbon projects.
The expectation that a mandatory system could be coming, potentially driving up the prices for carbon credits, has led to a number of new startups in the space.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative already is setting up a mandatory system in northeastern and mid-Atlantic states. Outside the United States, Europe already has a mandatory system, and countries that signed the Kyoto Protocol are working to set up their own carbon cap-and-trade programs (see Are More Climate Exchanges Good for the Industry?).
Green, which has a full patent in the United States and patents pending in 20 other counties, hopes his company's system also could help accelerate the pace of change.
"This technology will help build and enhance the carbon-trading market in this country," he said. "It will change the face of the carbon markets as we know it."
Clear Skies, which has spent between $200,000 and $300,000 in research and development for the Xtrax, plans to locate its first manufacturing plant in the United States, although it hasn't yet announced the exact location.
The company plans to contract out for the manufacturing of its printed circuit boards – it already has an undisclosed manufacturing partner that has produced its test units – and to assemble and test the systems itself.
Green said the company hopes to produce 1,000 commercial systems by the next month and to install 40,000 to 50,000 in the United States in next two to three years. The company also plans to license its technology in other countries.
Aside from the Xtrax, Clear Skies has developed solar-powered recharging systems for GPS tracking systems that monitor the locations of vehicles at car dealerships, Green said.
Clear Skies' New Jersey-based customer, which developed the car-monitoring technology, asked for its name to remain a secret for competitive reasons, he said.