09/19/17

  03:48:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 857 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Safety, Ranting

The Biggest News at SPI 2017 - B3 Bypass

We just got back from Solar Power International 2017 and it featured all the usual players with lots of cool stuff on the (gigantic) floor of the Convention Center at Mandalay Bay.  But the biggest deal of the show, from our massively solar geek perspective, came from a tiny booth that no doubt many folks missed altogether.  But for many of the potential clients that we see, this was a really big deal!  Here’s our take…

The Sad State of Play

Here in SoCal, we find a great many center-fed service panels - that is, a service panel where the main breaker is located in the middle of the bus.  Now in a truly rational world, that wouldn’t matter, but around here, the prevailing view is that you cannot use the “120% Rule” on a center-fed panel.  (I know this is totally in the weeds, but the 120% Rule says that the sum of all breakers supplying a service panel cannot exceed 120% of the bus rating, and that the solar breaker has to be at the opposite end of the bus from the main breaker.)  So, on a 200 A bus, with a 200 A main, the PV breaker is limited to 40 A.  All fine and good, but it is that “opposite end of the bus” that causes some AHJs misery - like LA County - who insists that with a center-fed panel, there is no “opposite end of the bus"!  (Ignore for the moment that if I have a center fed panel with 10 slots above and below the main, I’m out of luck.  But I could have a main panel with a total of 10 slots below my 200 A main, and no one would have a problem with my putting my PV breaker in the bottom slot!)

So, we are presently stuck with an ignorant interpretation of the Code and it has meant that some folks needlessly were forced to upgrade a perfectly good center-fed service panel just to go solar.

GMA ring installedMore recently, SCE allowed the use of the so-called Generation Meter Adapter (GMA) ring, that consists of a spacer between the utility meter and the meter socket, that allowed for a whip connection to the PV system’s AC disconnect.  That got around the 120% Rule since there is no breaker landing on the bus.  BUT - you have an unprotected connection all the way from the pole to that disconnect - which creates a serious hazard, especially in a residential environment.

You can see the interconnection on the right - and the scary danger sticker that we added to provide a suitable warning.  (Interestingly, while we have to add all manner of stupid signage - like that directory plaque that provides no useful information whatsoever - there is no requirement for a warning about the hazard presented by that interconnection.)  To be extra cautious, we also install a lock on the disconnect door to discourage the curious.

Oh, and it costs just under $500 to have SCE install the ring (and their service tech has to suit up to reduce the risk that he gets lit up like a Christmas tree while doing the install).  Geez, all this because of a bad code interpretation!

To the Rescue - B3 Bypass!

Fortunately, there is now an alternative to this madness!  A California-based outfit that goes by the not-so-catchy name of QFE002, has come up with a revolutionary product - that is now UL listed!  (They have been coming to SPI for years, but they just got UL!)

B3 Bypass breakerSo what is this game changer?  It is the B3 Bypass breaker and it taps directly onto the main conductors going into the main breaker.  Because the PV does not go through the bus at all, the 120% rule does not apply.  This means that the amount of current that could be backfed by the PV array is only limited by the main conductors feeding that breaker.

In the picture on the left, the 200 A main breaker is on the bottom and the B3 Bypass breaker is above.  The B3 Bypass clamps down onto two of the four conductors feeding the main.  (They have a nifty tool that strips the insulation off without otherwise modifying the conductors, or unscrewing them from the main breaker.  Per UL, this does not constitute a modification of the panel, so its UL listing is unaffected - meaning that there is no need for a field certification.)

The B3 Bypass comes in various configurations - the dual, twin-pole 20’s shown here  can actually be as high as twin 60’s - meaning that you could install 120 A of solar - triple what could be normally connected to a 200 A service, and twice the 60 A rating of the GMA ring!  It is even 50% more than you could install on a 400 A service!  Yeah, this could be big!

They are taking order requests on their website, although we don’t yet have pricing or timing for potential deliveries.  (My guess is that they are just now trying to move into production mode, now that UL is behind them.)  We passed along their info to both BayWa and CED Greentech - hopefully they will get a distribution deal going so that they can make this available far and wide!

We are definitely fans!

08/31/17

  12:24:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1036 words  
Categories: Ranting

Mr. Jenal Goes to Sacramento

As promised a couple of days ago, I went to Sacramento to lobby our state legislators about the value of solar and storage. Here is my report…

Our state trade group, the California Solar Industries Association (CALSEIA), organized (thanks to the awesome - and very loud voiced - Carter Lavin, et al., for the heavy herding) more than 150 cats, er, solar professionals, to descend upon the state Capitol and provide legislators with not only a human face behind the solar industry, but some of the passion for solar that makes this industry special.

CALSEIA Solar & Storage Contractors at CA Capitol building

The mighty team assembled on the Capitol’s West steps.

We were divided into 20 teams that went to - in my case - five different legislative offices.  We had a number of agenda items, and our goal was to let legislators and their staffs know what we belive to be important going forward. 

Here are the folks from my team:

  • Mark Miles - Team Leader - head of MMCI, a startup looking to improve solar thermal technology;
  • Jason Johnson - Synthesis Construction in South LA - a solar thermal/PV guy bringing the power of the sun to less-advantaged communities;
  • Harry Cartwright - Synthesis Construction - doing the sales/advocacy in South LA;
  • Stella Isbell - WESCO Distribution - a solar equipment distributor;
  • Felicia Lee - TerraVerde Renewable Partners - an energy analysis consulting firm.

Our first stop was the office of Pasadena’s own Democratic Assemblymember Chris Holden, but he was nowhere to be seen.  Nor was the person scheduled in his place.  Instead, we met - in the hallway - with his Senior Assistant Elle Hoxworth, who despite the title, is very young.  She was polite, but her answers about the fate of SB 700 - which would have created a rational rebate program for storage, but was killed by her boss earlier this year - were not helpful.  While she insisted that Assemblymember Holden supported storage, he wanted to wait for a series of reports to be issued by the CPUC before acting - and those reports aren’t even scheduled to be completed until the end of next year!  It would be irresponsible to act now without the benefit of receiving those reports, she implied, and an unfair burden on ratepayers.  In other words, precisely the utility’s line.

Felicia pointed out that the ratepayers are going to pay either for incentivizing storage, or for more transmission lines to bring in the needed power from far away.  Moreover, Assemblymember Holden should be on the side of the future, not the past.  (Felicia was a passionate voice for the future all day!)

Bottom line here - our vision is not Holden’s, and he is not likely to be swayed by us. 

Oddly enough, we had more success at our next stop, at the office of Republican Assemblymember Harper from Huntington Beach.  When Mark Miles talked about extending the rebate program for solar thermal, Assemblymember Harper shot back that if the price of natural gas was going to continue to climb, then no other incentive would be needed and the market would solve the problem on its own.  (Ah yes, let’s hear it for the “Invisible Hand!")  I pointed out that the incentive is important because it empowers the consumer to take control over their economic future - they know what they will pay for their solar system (be it PV or thermal) and that insulates them from the whims of the marketplace.  He at least nodded at that thought, and told us that he had enjoyed the meeting, and that we had given him some “new perspectives” to consider.  Hard to know if that can morph into votes, but you have to start somewhere.

Next stop was Democratic Senator Portantino, who also represents Pasadena.  We met, again in the hallway, with his Legislative Aide, Tara McGee.  Tara assured us of the Senator’s support for pretty much all things solar and took all of our information about our legislative agenda and promised to share it with her boss.  This was the only meeting we had where we were assured of full support. (It was also the shortest.)

We then went to the office of Senator Steven Bradford, a Democrat from Gardena.  We met with his Chief of Staff, Sue Kateley, who is the former head of CALSEIA!  Needless to say, that makes her very well informed about solar issues, but it also means that she has strong views and can be difficult to persuade.  One interesting exchange occurred when she observed that she didn’t like tankless water heaters.  That brought an illustrated response from Jason Johnson (he brought a binder of project images) who explained that the problem was with having the heater and solar thermal system properly sized - and that he has an engineer handle that for his company, not a plumber.  “You use an engineer on every job?", Sue questioned  “Every job,” was Jason response.  As we were leaving, I thanked her for her past service with CALSEIA, and she seemed taken aback before saying we were welcome.

Our final stop was at the office of Democratic Assemblymember Mike Gipson, and his Legislative Director, Jay Jefferson.  While we were waiting for the meeting - we had been allotted exactly 15 minutes starting at 4:15 - a group of suits walked out of his office.  The contrast between their corporate uniform and our colorful diversity was striking.  Assemblymember Gipson was cordial, but it was getting to the end of the day and he was nodding off a bit. Felicia brought him back to the room with some powerful comments about the future, I made a pitch for supporting SB 700 next year, and Jason and his colleague Harry were able to explain to him the benefits of extending the thermal rebate program, and how that would be a boon to the poorer constituents in his South Los Angeles district.  He was supportive, and Mr. Jefferson was taking notes about the points that we made.  It was a positive way to end our round of meetings.

The day ended with a reception and the award of CALSEIA’s Legislator of the Year to Democratic Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, for helping to lead the way on a number of important bills this year.

All-and-all, it was a long but productive day, and it was great to see old friends and make new ones from the solar tribe.

Tags:

08/28/17

  11:53:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 575 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Solar Storage

Why I'm Going to Sacramento

These may be the dog days of summer, but it is the height of our busy season: multiple projects underway, lots of site evaluations and proposals to manage, and a growing backlog of repair requests on legacy systems that were built by installers who are no longer around. But instead of doing any of that, tomorrow I will be in Sacramento. Let me explain why…

Back in June we wrote about a bill that was then pending in the California legislature, SB 700.  Had it passed, that legislation would have created a predictable, comprehensive rebate program for energy storage throughout the state.  As last week’s eclipse made clear, solar power is having a large (and getting larger) effect on the grid, and the best way to smooth the path of that integration is to add energy storage.  But even on non-eclipse days, there is a substantial need for energy storage to time-shift the availability of solar - which peaks at noon - with the demands of the grid, which peak hours later.  Moreover, as more and more utilities force consumers onto evening-weighted Time-of-Use rates, it will become harder to make the economic case for solar without storage.

But the fly in the ointment is cost - storage today is just too expensive for most consumers. 

We are with storage today where we were with solar itself in 2007.  Back then, solar installations cost around $8.00/Watt - and next to no one had solar!  When the California Solar Initiative kicked off that year, it provided incentives starting at $4.00/Watt that would gradually step down as enough MWs were installed.  The theory then - and experience proved it to be sound - was that by incentivizing the installation of solar, the cost of solar would come down.  Today, the CSI incentives are gone, but the cost of solar is now below $4.00/Watt!  We cut the cost in half, and now solar is commonplace.  Success!

So why not repeat that process with storage?  Why not indeed?

One argument is that we already have a program in place for incentivizing storage, called SGIP.  But SGIP is massively bureaucratic, and operates as a lottery, meaning there is no guarantee that an applicant will get funded.  While neither of those conditions might be a deal-breaker for utility-scale projects (and utility-scale developers), they are a terrible fit for a program that is targeted at residential, commercial, and non-profit installations.  What is needed there is transparency, an easy application process, and a predictable - that is, marketable - rebate amount.

California state capitol

SB 700 died in Committee - I want to know why!

SB 700 would have done all of that.  Instead, it died in committee, without even getting a hearing, let alone a vote.  It died because the Chair of that committee - my very own Assemblymember, Chris Holden - decided to put it in his pocket.  Why did he do that?  I don’t know - he didn’t say.

I’m going to Sacramento to find out.

I should be staying here in Pasadena, helping folks get solar on their homes.  Instead, I will be getting on a plane first thing and flying to the Capital to meet up with other solar installers from around the state. Our mission - to try and impress upon the legislature how this bill would be good for the grid, good for their constituents, and good for local jobs.

We hope to do some educating, and at the same time, learn some important lessons ourselves.  I will let you know how it goes.  Watch this space…

08/11/17

  11:01:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 390 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Ranting

Court to SolarEdge: DENIED!

Judge bangs gavel on SolarEdge's claimsWe wrote last month about the ill-conceived lawsuit filed by SolarEdge against Enphase Energy over a video comparing the new Enphase AC Module’s install time with that of systems using the SolarEdge optimizers.  SolarEdge initially asked for a Temporary Restraining Order - which was denied, but the court set an accelerated hearing schedule for a Preliminary Injunction.  If granted, Enphase would  have been prohibited from airing the video - either via YouTube or at next month’s SPI trade show.

Well this just in: SolarEdge’s motion has been denied in full.  (You can read the court’s order here.)

SolarEdge had whined in their complaint that the video wasn’t fair because they too have embedded optimizers, and that is the comparison that should be shown.  But that is just silly.  First of all, the ad isn’t aimed at consumers, it is aimed at installers - and they very well know the difference.  (A point the judge noted as well.)  Furthermore, here at Run on Sun, we are exclusively an LG shop when it comes to our solar modules.  SolarEdge doesn’t have an embedded optimizer with LG - but Enphase has an AC Module built on the LG 330 Watt Neon module!  For us, the comparison in the video is exactly the comparison that matters.

SolarEdge also whined about the use of their logo in the video, but that was equally bogus.  No one looking at the ad would think for a moment that SolarEdge was endorsing the Enphase product.  Rather the video makes it clear that Enphase is only using it to identify the competing product, a “nominative fair use” that can be invoked where “the use of the trademark does not attempt to capitalize on consumer confusion or to appropriate the cachet of one product for a different… and where a defendant uses the mark to refer to the trademarked good itself."  That is precisely what was done here.

In finding that SolarEdge was unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claims the court cleared the way for Enphase to promote their video far and wide.  We are happy to help!  In case you missed it before, here’s the video that SolarEdge tried, but failed, to keep you from seeing:

PS: Note to SolarEdge’s lawyers - from my old firm of OM&M - you really need to do a better job of managing your client!  Just sayin!

08/08/17

  11:23:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 354 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Events

Let's not be Fuelish During the Eclipse!

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you know that there is a total eclipse of the sun set to cross the United States from Oregon to South Carolina on August 21st. This is a Really Big Deal as the next total eclipse to come to the U.S. won’t be until 2045!

Total solar eclipse

Baily’s Beads effect taken Dec. 4, 2002. Credit: Arne Danielson.

So there is a great deal of excitement around this event, but might there also be a “dark side"?  (Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.)  Here’s our take…

The eclipse in California will not be total (unlike for our friend and former colleague, Laurel Hamilton, who is now up in Bend), with coverage ranging from roughly 76% in Northern California to 62% here in SoCal during the hours of roughly 9 to Noon.  But that will still have an impact on solar energy production in the state, and that could mean that the California Independent System Operator (CalISO) might have to rely on more fossil fuels during the two-plus hour eclipse window.

How big an impact will this have?  It is 10:30 as I write this and according to the CalISO website, at this moment, solar is producing 9,119 MW (at utility-scale plants - that total does not count rooftop solar) which amounts to 27% of the total load being served.  That means that on the 21st, solar production could be reduced by as much as 6,930 MW, leaving it up to gas-fired plants to fill that gap.  Unless…

Unless we find a way to cut our usage by a similar amount during that period.  Given that we are talking about an August day, that might be tough, but every bit helps.  That is why the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has set up a pledge page to encourage Californians to take steps both before and during the eclipse to lower their demand.  (We just made our pledge - we are shutting off unneeded lights and the A/C during, and swapping out to more LEDs before.)

As of now, we are the 259th pledge to be made.  Let’s drive that number up, shall we? It’s easy, just click on the button below!

Take the Pledge!

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 ... 120 >>

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

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