What’s up with the buzz about solar? Checking in with Applied Energy Innovations


Applied Energy Innovations is a Longfellow-based company that installs solar panels and other energy efficient technology in homes and businesses. Thanks to a My Broadsheet reader, we heard that they recently moved to a new space on Minnehaha. We thought it would be a good time to check in with AEI to learn more about solar power use in Minnesota, solar rebates and bulk buy programs, and where solar is headed in the future.

MB: You’ve recently moved from 44th and Minnehaha to 40th and Minnehaha. Why the new location?

AEI: We had outgrown our space on 44th. With the growth of our Bulk Buy program and other projects, we needed additional room for our sales team, project managers, and a larger space for meetings. We were glad to find another great space on Minnehaha – we like being in Longfellow and near so many of our partners. We are hosting an open house on June 26th from 5-7 for all interested in seeing the space, learning more about our projects, or just having some free ice cream.

MB: AEI is a relatively new company that specializes in solar panel installations. What was the catalyst that launched a company focused on solar power and energy efficiency?

AEI: Applied Energy Innovations was founded in 2010, with a goal to use our numerous years of trade experience and training to invest in our communities by installing energy efficient and accessible technologies, while educating the public about renewable energy products. This was a natural fit with our strongly held values around making our community a better place to live and truly this is the direction our city and country is heading.

MB: The Star Tribune recently reported that solar installations in Minnesota doubled in 2012. Why do you think solar has seen such a boost?

AEI: There are a few reasons. There has been significant growth in solar across the world and that has created a public dialogue around climate change and the value of solar for the greater good. There has been capacity added to the manufacturing and technology for solar installations – making solar a more affordable option. There was (and still are) monetary incentives available through the government and utilities – this investment created education about solar as well as incentivized installations. Those incentives won’t last forever – but AEI has worked to great affordable models (e.g. Solar Bulk Buy) so that the average consumer can still install solar without the rebates.

MB: When solar panels are installed on a residential property, how do you determine how many solar panels the home needs? Is it by current energy usage or some other metric?

AEI: We examine current energy use and we can custom design on most houses up to 120 of their power consumption, which means they will produce 20% more than they currently consume. Xcel is required by net metering laws to issue a check for any over production. About 70% of our installed systems will be net-neutral or produce a return check form Xcel.

MB: How long do solar panels generally last?

AEI: The industry standard is a 25 year power production guarantees. Most systems when properly installed will live long past this date. We have satellites in space powered by Solar PV panels that have been operating without incidence for over 25 years.

MB: In general, how long does it take for solar panels to pay for themselves?

AEI: Depending on rebates, tax incentives and bulk buy programs, most paybacks are within 7-10 years with a large amount of early adopters within the 5 year mark. Utility rebates are very competitive and often over-subscribed with many individuals waiting on a waiting list, first come first serve.

Innovative programs such as Bulk Buy programs offer incredible incentives similar to utility rebates. AEI has developed the state’s largest bulk buy program for residential and commercial properties. Property owners can see a realized savings utilizing ‘Bulk Buy’ of up to 30% compared to just three years ago. These systems take advantage of the MN made TenKsolar.

While return on investment is a great question, the same should than be applied to any other major purchase you make. What is the pay back on your car? boat? snowmobile? unlike your traditional purchases, when solar is paid off it, it can generate you revenue. Can your car do that once it is paid off?

MB: This past January there were several rebates available from the State and Federal Governments and Excel Energy for homeowners. Do you expect more will be available in the future?

AEI: There are still rebates available through Xcel and the 30% Federal Tax Credit – plus the potential for local rebates, however there is of course a high demand for the rebates and highly competitive. We anticipate the 2013 program will be fully subscribed in the first days of the offering (sometime in February) And potentially over-subscribed for 2014 and 2015 with most projects being on a waiting list for up to three years, depending on how Xcel will manage the applications going forward.

Due to uncertainty around future rebate offerings, AEI has worked to develop the Solar Bulk Buy program to get away from what we call the “Solar Roller Coaster,” of rebates.

MB: Looking ahead, where do you see solar technology headed?

AEI: Module efficiency and watt density continues to improve month over month. Think of our industry similar to cell phones and laptop computers. The technology and benefits increase continually. Our industry will see more modules embedded with micro-inverters for ease of install moving away from traditional centralized string inverters. This will be cost driven based on labor and other factors.

MB: If people aren’t quite ready to make the leap into solar panels for their home but are interested in reducing energy consumption, where do you suggest they begin?

AEI: There are great organizations out there that help you figure out what your steps could or should be. Cooperative Energy Futures (one of our partners for the Solar Bulk Buy in Minneapolis) offers products, workshops, and services around weatherization and insulation. Metro Clean Energy Resource Teams (MetroCerts) provides education, workshops, and other resources. Neighborhood Energy Connection (Just across the bridge in St. Paul) offers home energy programs, financing, and education as well.

Applied Energy Innovations is located at 4000 Minnehaha Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55406.