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04/18/14

  07:33:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 541 words  
Categories: Ranting

Open Letter to LG: Life's Not So Good!

When I was a kid, my Father subscribed to something called the Reader’s Digest, a magazine that excerpted articles from a variety of publications and compiled them into one, convenient, pre-Internet source.  A very handy source except for one downside—the publisher’s penchant for promoting never-ending contests.  Every week our mailbox would be besieged with yet another fabulous opportunity to win something grand—just fill this out (and maybe subscribe to yet another magazine?) and you, too, could win the prize of a lifetime.

Finally, my Father could abide the deluge no more. He famously (at least within our household) wrote to the subscription department and threatened to cancel his subscription if they would not halt their assault.  As he put it, “Either finally give me the Moon, or leave me in peace to buy my own green cheese.”

Which brings me to our friends at LG.

We love solar modules from LG; in fact, we have been using them exclusively since 2012.  We installed the first of their NeON modules anywhere in the world, and LG are the only solar modules that you see featured on our website.  We are absolute fans, and so are our clients.  We consistently deal with folks who want to maximize the amount of power on their roofs and the 300 Watt NeON modules are the way to go.

Except for one thing… we can’t get them.

Despite getting emails from LG on a weekly basis, with messages like this one:

 Please sell LG's NeON modules…the NeONs are not available for love or money.

So, no, the LG MonoX NeON is not the right module for us since it makes no sense to sell a job with a product we cannot get!

From what we hear, it is like this all across the country.  A friend and colleague of ours in PA had tweeted about a project he just completed—with LG 300’s!  So we asked him about it and he replied: “I lucked out on this batch, LG300s are just a rumor anymore. Back to Solar World 275s for now.”

Ouch.

Just the other day we got an email with this banner across the top:

When will we get these?

(If we were to caption this photo it would be something like, “We will be getting these WHEN?  Uhnnnh. Thud.")

 Let’s be clear:

It is NOT reliable to market a product to installers and then not make the product available.

It is NOT reliable to build a network of installers across the country who have faithfully and enthusiastically promoted and installed your modules, only to leave them with six month delivery times for your product.

And it certainly is NOT reliable to urge us in constant emails to sell, sell, sell, when you know full well that you aren’t going to be able to deliver on those sales.

It is not reliable at all.  The word you are searching for is: disrespectful.

So here is the question for our friends at LG: What are you going to do about it?  Frankly, until you are ready to provide reasonable delivery times for module orders, we really don’t need to see any more emails touting what a great partner you are. 

Either supply us with product in a respectful manner or leave us alone. 

We’ll buy our cheese somewhere else.

04/12/14

  08:49:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 322 words  
Categories: Residential Solar

Help Improve Solar - Take this Survey

One of the best known names in the field of solar market research, Paula Mints, is conducting a survey of residential solar customers.  She is looking to gather data about the solar process: what did you like, what didn’t you like, were things well explained, etc., with an eye toward educating solar companies on how to do a better job with their clients.

There are two different survey forms depending upon how you financed your system.  We would encourage everyone who reads this blog and who has a solar system installed to please take a moment to fill out the appropriate survey form. The data that you provide will be kept completely anonymous and no one will call or harass you after the fact.  From Paula’s website:

You can make a difference by helping our industry get smarter!

SPV Market Research is looking for people who have purchased, leased, or engaged in a residential solar installation power purchase agreement to help with a survey about consumer buying experience.  With your participation SPV Market Research hopes to improve the buying/leasing/PPA experience of people like yourself by providing an education for solar installers as well as providing installers with information that they need for their businesses. The participants will also receive a summary of the report as will the installers who help. Your privacy (and that of your installer) will be protected, you will only be identifiable by a code. No one will contact you after the survey is over. The survey is expected to conclude by June and your help is needed in order for it to be a success!

Here are the links to the two surveys:

Thank you for taking the time to help improve the industry that we love.

04/11/14

  08:13:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 445 words  
Categories: Ranting

Solar's Top 10 Women - and then some!

While it is true that in terms of raw numbers, women are underrepresented in the solar industry, that does not mean that there aren’t amazing women making major contributions to the growth of solar.  Recently the folks over at PVSolarReport highlighted their Top 10 Women of Solar. Here’s our take.

The list of women compiled by author Lisa Ann Pinkerton is certainly laudable, with founders of major corporate players, leaders of trade associations, commentators and activists.  Here’s a brief summary of who’s who on the list:

  • Lynn Jurich – CEO and Co-Founder, Sunrun (@Sunrun)
  • Erica Mackie, P.E. – CEO and Co-Founder, GRID Alternatives (@GRID)
  • Laura E. Stachel, M.D., M.P.H. -  Co-Founder and executive director of WE CARE Solar (@lestachel)
  • Katherine Lucey – Founder and CEO, Solar Sister (@Solar_Sister)
  • Raina Russo – Visionary of #SolarChat, Co-Founder and President, EcoOutfitters.net (@RainaRusso)
  • Julia Judd Ham – President and CEO, Solar Electric Power Association (@UtilitySolar)
  • Kristen Nicole – Founder and Executive Director, Women in Solar (@kristenmnicole)
  • Claudia Wentworth – CEO, Quick Mount PV (@quickmountpv)
  • Eden Full – Founder, Roseicollis Technologies and inventor of the SunSaluter (@edenfull)
  • Bernadette Del Chiaro – Executive Director, California Solar Energy Industries Association (@CALSEIA)

We have added the Twitter handles where we could identify them (or that of their company/association when we could not), and given that this is #FollowFriday, what could be more appropriate that to follow all of these impressive women?

Of course, one list begets another and it only seemed fair to toss in a few additional names.  We limited ourselves to only one person from a given organization (otherwise we would have a huge list just from those terrific women at Enphase) and by definition this list is far more personal in nature. 

So, in no particular order, here are some of our Top Women in Solar:

  • Christine Bennett, Global Corporate Communications Manager at Enphase Energy (@Enphase)
  • Nicole Litvak, Solar Analyst at GTM Research (@nicolelitvak)
  • Glenna Wiseman, Founder Identity3 Communications Agency marketing solar to women (@GlennaWiseman)
  • Felicity Carus, free lance journalist extraordinaire (@FelicityCarus)
  • Jodi White, CFO and Founder, Focused Energy
  • Jennifer Runyon, Chief Editor, Renewable Energy World (@jennrunyon)
  • Kathie Zipp, Managing Editor, Solar Power World (@SolarKathieZ)
  • Jane Pulaski, Social Communications at Interstate Renewable Energy Council (@IRECUSA)
  • Velvet Dallesandro, Chief Electrician at Run on Sun, NABCEP Certified PV Installation Professional

Heck, no way we could leave Velvet off this list, even if she isn’t on Twitter!  And while our list is heavily weighted toward the journalism side of things,  every one of these women is making a difference in solar, and we think they are awesome!

So, who would you include?  One list does beget another so please, after you finish following all of these amazing women, let us know who we missed!

04/09/14

  10:09:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 834 words  
Categories: PWP, GWP, Feed-in Tariff, Ranting

Feed-in Tariff Wrap-up: Also Rans and a New Entry

In our first two posts this week recapping the state of solar feed-in tariffs in the Run on Sun service area, we focused on what is happening with the biggest FiT around, that run by LADWP.  But that isn’t, nominally at least, the only game in town so this post will summarize the progress, or lack of same, at the other FiT programs around: Glendale, Anaheim and Riverside.

Glendale

We have written at great length about the problems with the FiT program that Glendale Water & Power designed to meet their state mandate.  We noted that the prices being offerred—which were actually even 10% lower than what was presented to the Glendale City Council when they approved the program—were way too low to pencil out for a project, and that other uncertainties made it highly unlikely that anyone would participate.  In other words, as we told the Glendale City Council, they were approving a program that was designed to fail.

Nine months into the experiment, where do things stand today?  Let’s take a quick look at the FiT queue as of today:

 GWP FiT queue - Q214Ouch. 

All that empty space is just hard on the eyes.

In nine months, GWP has not received a single application for their FiT program—and contrary to how GWP officials refer to their defunct commercial solar incentive program as a “victim of its own success,” this program is a victim of GWP’s design.

Given the failure to attract a single project application, you might think that GWP would take steps to address their failure by increasing the offer price for energy, but you would be wrong.  This table summarizes the progression on GWP’s FiT offer price for energy:

GWP Offer Price for Energy FiT

The “City Council” price is what GWP suggested to the City Council the offer price might be when the program went live and that is the price the Council had before it when they approved the program.  The “Program Start” price is what was actually offered to potential project developers when the program went live last July. 

The “Q214″ price is what is being offered today—a reduction of 5.5% for Peak and 4.8% for Off-Peak deliveries.  That’s right, in response to offering a price that was already so low that no one was willing to put forward an application, GWP has responded by cutting its offer price by 5%.  Genius.

GWP will no doubt say that they have no choice, that the formula approved by the City Council for setting the offer price mandates this result, but that’s merely self-referential nonsense.  GWP designed the formula and the City Council confessed that they had no way to assess the technical merit of what was before them.  The formula is supposed to be based, in part, on avoided costs—but guess what?  So is the offer price for the LADWP FiT and yet it is twice what GWP is offering.  Are we to believe, therefore, that GWP’s costs are half of those incurred by LADWP?  If so, we suspect the customers of GWP would be surprised then that there rates are as high as they are.

It is high time that the Glendale City Council call GWP to task and insist that they re-create this FiT program so as to achieve what the state law intended—the actual installation of solar power in the City of Glendale.

Anaheim

The representative from Anaheim Water & Power had told us last year that their program to date, despite being started in 2010, had yet to attract a single application.  Checking in on Anaheim’s FiT website confirms that unbroken string of failure continues to this day with no projects in the queue.

Anaheim’s offer price tells us why: it ranges from 3.883¢/kWh for Off-Peak to 6.472¢/kWh for Mid-Peak to a summer On-Peak price of 9.708¢/kWh.

Riverside

Last year Riverside’s representative told us that they knew that their price was so low no one would bite and that was fine because they didn’t want solar installed in Riverside anyway.  Today, Riverside’s “we don’t want anybody to participate” price for energy is 6.2¢/kWh—exactly the same as GWP’s off-peak price.  Looks like GWP is playing follow the (non)leader.

Pasadena?

Which brings us to our friends at Pasadena Water & Power.  At a meeting yesterday we learned that PWP is considering a Feed-in Tariff program of its own.  Now we are fans of PWP, indeed, we think they are the easiest and best utility around to work with (and for, for that matter).  So that begs the question: What sort of FiT will PWP create?  They could base their program on what has been done at LADWP (with necessary tweaks to make small projects viable) and thereby insure a successful program that reduces pollution, creates local jobs and helps to green PWP’s energy mix.  Or they could follow the misguided path of GWP and its ilk, creating a program in name only, that guarantees that not a single kWh of clean energy will ever be generated.

Needless to say, we will follow FiT development at PWP closely.  Watch this space.

04/08/14

  11:26:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 866 words  
Categories: LADWP, Commercial Solar, Feed-in Tariff

2Q14 LADWP FiT Progress Report

Yesterday we provided a recap of the results from the third tranche of LADWP’s Feed-in Tariff (FiT).  Today we are going to look at the status of the program overall, based on the newly instituted FiT Dashboard found on DWP’s FiT website.

Credit where its Due

We are often critical of issues with utilities, whether its undue roadblocks to installing solar or outright hostility to the entire concept of net metering.  So it is equally important to give credit where it is due, and the introduction of the solar “Dashboards” that are now featured at the DWP website is a great step forward in transparency and one that deserves to be widely imitated by DWP’s peers.  Here is how DWP explains the purpose of their FiT Dashboard:

LADWP is implementing the largest FiT program of any municipal utility in the nation. As it goes through growing pains, we continually work to improve the experience of customers and businesses who participate in it. The goal is to achieve the target level of solar energy, catalyze the solar industry and create jobs, and streamline the process to increase efficiency. This Dashboard outlines the issues, actions taken, and plans for improvement. The graphs show the current and targeted FiT processing timelines, schedule, and status of projects from each allocation.

The data discussed below is from the Dashboard update as of April 7, 2014.

FiT Processing Durations

While the complete flow chart for LA’s FiT program is more than a shade Byzantine, the Dashboard highlights processing times associated with three key bottlenecks in that flow: the initial Technical Screening that takes place when a project application is first submitted, the interconnection study which determines the cost for the proposed project to tie into DWP’s grid, and contract execution for the PPA between the project developer and DWP.  For each of these milestones, DWP has a goal of completing the work in four weeks.  In each case, DWP is missing those targets by a lot.

As of this writing, DWP is taking, on average, 6 weeks to complete the initial technical screening, 12 weeks (3x the goal) to complete the interconnection study and 14 weeks (3.5x the goal) to execute the contract!  Unfortunately, the Dashboard does not reveal how much of that delay reflects internal DWP processing times versus delays caused by the developer—breaking these delays down to reveal how that works out would be an important modification to the Dashboard.

While we can understand how incomplete applications and general, technical complexity could add delays to the first two milestones, we are baffled by the 14 weeks of delay in executing the contracts.  These are standard form contracts which, at least according to the program guidelines, are not subject to negotiation.  What could possibly cause a three-and-a-half month delay in getting those contracts signed?  Alas, the Dashboard does not reveal an answer to that question.

FiT Active Project Status

Which brings us to the status of all project applications in the queue.  Here’s DWP’s chart (click for larger):

FiT Active Project Status

The chart shows all 22 applications from the third tranche in the initial technical review as would be expected.  Shockingly, there are still 13 projects from the first tranche, over a year ago, that are still hung-up in that initial review!

Missing from this chart is the number of projects that are designated as cancelled.  By our count, there are 47 projects that made it through the lottery but have been cancelled for whatever reason.  (The most likely reason would be due to learning that the cost to interconnect to DWP’s grid—the major wild card in the whole process—turned out to be too expensive.  However, according to the data, only 21 of those 47 projects ever had the interconnection study completed, which means the majority of the cancellations had to be due to other, unreported, reasons.)

Seven projects from the first tranche are still waiting for the interconnection study to complete along with 37 from the second tranche.  Thirty-four projects, 17 each from the first two tranches, are undergoing the mysterious contract review process.  Only 9 projects have managed to get contracts executed and just two, both from the first tranche, have been commissioned.  (The blue bars represent projects from the demonstration phase.)

That’s a lot of solar in the pipeline—hopefully DWP can get the cancellation rate down and the completion rate up in the coming months.

Issues and Actions

Again to its credit, the Dashboard acknowledges that the program’s overall status is: “Needs Improvement” and steps are underway to improve the process.  Perhaps the most significant development is that DWP has assigned seven additional engineers to help work through this backlog.  But the Dashboard makes clear that to get to target goals, DWP needs to climb a very steep hill: “To achieve target turn-around schedule, staff must complete 10 interconnection studies per week over the next 7 weeks and 10 contracts per week over the next 10 weeks.”

Bottom line - DWP is working on a big and complex program and the performance to date has been less than desired, but the institutional attitude seems better than expected. Hopefully DWP will be able to deliver on its targets in the next 10 weeks. 

Of course, DWP looks positively stellar compared to the FiT performance of its neighbors, a topic we will return to tomorrow.

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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
In addition, Run on Sun offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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