One of the oldest names in electricity is going solar.
Westinghouse, the big conglomerate that made alternating current more than a fad, has licensed its brand name to Akeena Solar. As a result, Akeena's solar panels, including the all-in-one Andalay panels, will now be sold under the Westinghouse name.
Westinghouse Solar panels will then be marketed and installed by Akeena and its network of installers, as well as Lowe's, the home improvement chain. A few months ago, Lowe's and Akeena inked a solar installation alliance.
The deal, along with the earlier Lowe's deal, marks another step in the maturation of the solar industry. To date, solar installers have mostly operated locally and at best have had local brands. Solar panels, meanwhile, have achieved almost no brand equity with consumers. Marketing, to put it nicely, is not a strong point of solar companies, a problem that has in turn exacerbated the price competition and commodification of the industry.
Westinghouse and Lowe's, ideally, will bring a level of trust and comfort when it comes to buying solar. It's no panacea, but it's something.
Just as important, both companies bring a wealth of contacts, sales channels and logistical support to the table. Lowe's is concocting a variety of energy programs, according to sources. It has already teamed up with Recurve, the energy efficiency retrofitter/software developer, in the Bay Area. With its Akeena/Westinghouse deal, Lowe's now can provide a full complement of energy services. Expect to see more. (SolarCity, meanwhile, bought a energy retrofitter recently and so did GridPoint, so the era of the full-service energy efficiency service provider is here.)
Westinghouse has also shown it can adapt to the modern world. Back in 2004, when LCD TVs began to come down in price, Westinghouse launched a line of TVs and digital picture frames. So did Polaroid, Motorola and other dusty brands. While many succumbed to the inevitable, Westinghouse is one of the few still out there.
How much participation and cooperation that will occur between Akeena and Westinghouse remains to be seen, but the company doesn't loan out its name lightly. Here's the air quote:
"Since George Westinghouse founded the Westinghouse Electric Corporation in 1886, the world's electric grid has operated on AC power," said James F. Davis, vice president, Westinghouse Electric Corp. "For over 100 years, Westinghouse has literally set the standard for reliable electric power and home appliances. We approached Akeena when our research indicated that their integrated solar-panel technology could help make solar mainstream. Akeena's safe and reliable AC solar panels are a perfect complement with Westinghouse's heritage. We are pleased to introduce Westinghouse Solar as the newest member of the exclusive Westinghouse family."
"Formally, it is a licensing deal, but there is a lot involved to make sure it fits the Westinghouse guidelines," Akeena CEO Barry Cinnamon said in an interview. "They approached us. They said, 'We really want to be in solar.'"