07/23/16

  12:57:00 pm, by Laurel Hamilton, Projects Coordinator, Run on Sun   , 1594 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Ranting, Energy Storage, Net Metering, Intersolar 2016

Intersolar 2016 - Bests & Worsts of the Hottest Solar Event of the Year

Its been a week since we returned from the most epic solar event of the year - Intersolar North America in San Francisco. Now that we are caught up on the backlog of emails and calls we can take a moment to reflect on key highlights from the event. 

Top 2 New Innovative Products to Watch

  1. BeamReach SolarBeamreachWhere do I start with this truly innovative new company?? Beamreach Solar unveiled a product called Sprint that includes the attachments, racking, and panel all in one. The panel frame and “racking” is entirely made of a composite plastic (material tested in automotive and other outdoor conditions for 20+ years). They demonstrated the installation of 6 panels in about 5 minutes! Designed for flat roof commercial projects, the tilt up back end pops out to click into a base which also pops out and sticks with a roofing adhesive to the roof. The front of the next panel then clicks into the base of the first panel and so on. The whole system is obviously much lighter (including a handle in the middle of the panel) and way faster to install than conventional ballasted systems. Best of all, no grounding required since there’s no metal to ground!
    While this is an awesome new product we have to wonder about a few things… 1) Do we have to powerwash the roof first for the adhesive to work? 2) What if a footing is incorrectly placed?! According to the great sales rep we spoke with… while the panels can be removed and replaced easily for maintenance, the footing is solid once it adheres to the roof so you’d have to essentially re-roof if you want to get rid of them. And 3) most roofs are nowhere near as flat as the surface Beamreach demonstrated on. How does the system deal with irregularities on the roof given the sticky feet are basically a flat square? We look forward to following this company as they work out the kinks in their exciting product. Keep your eyes peeled for a blog post where we dig in a little deeper on this.

  2. Photon - While we didn’t get to actually talk to the masterminds behind this new start-up the idea is spot on. Photon is a subscription based app whereby your smartphone (with the addition of a cheap lens from Amazon) can take a shade analysis on a roof. I don’t think many installers would shed a single tear giving up their SunEye or Pathfinders. We may just have to try this innovative new app out. 

Top 3 Developments from Existing Partners

  1. Energy Toolbase - These guys are the kings of data. We have been working with them since last year’s Intersolar to help us show our clients how solar will offset their electric bills with the greatest confidence possible. They are constantly adding more of the dozens of complex rate models around the country to their system. And now they’ve built in net metering 2.0 in anticipation of this huge change to California rates coming next year as well as storage into their models. Staying ahead of all the rate changes nation-wide is a huge undertaking but these guys are on top of it! 


  2. Life’s Good (LG) - While LG didn’t have a booth this year, Run on Sun’s CEO Jim Jenal enjoyed a breakfast where LG showed off their mammoth 375 watt, 72 cell panel. This is no surprise as LG continues to churn out higher wattage panels every year with their successful R&D department. Currently 320 watt, 60 cell panels (standard for residential solar) are available to us but it sounds like we can expect even higher efficiency coming within the year.  

  3. Enphase Energy - Storage beta installations are taking place in Australia where they recently mounted 4 units in just 45 minutes! Can’t wait to get our hands on them as many of our clients have expressed interest in storage. Looks like we may be able to get beta Enphase batteries in the coming year! Interested clients (especially those in SCE territory) please let us know if you want to be one of the first!

Top 2 Companies Trying too HardSmartFlower POP

  1. Smartflower POP - There was a lot of hubbub around this giant solar flower thingy. While I like that it has integrated storage and the dual axis tracker is great for increasing output in a big way…we couldn’t help but feel like this was way over engineered. There are actually several other solar flowers out there and I think solar-integrated art is a fantastic way to showcase to the public and get the social benefit when a solar system may be hidden on a rooftop. But take a look at this Smartflower. There’s some serious mechanics going on to make the thing open in the morning, track the sun, then close at night. Why it needs to open and close is beyond me and just seems overly complicated, heavy, and probably costly. (To be fair, we didn’t get the full spiel from the sales guys.)

  2. Ten K Solar - Sometimes its a fine line between being innovative and being overly complicated. When you decide to roll three “innovative” products into one maybe that’s a sign that you’ve crossed the line. I’m not sure if I’m more excited about the concept of wiring in series and parallel - making each “half” cell operate independently, or more confused as to why they orient the system north/south and eliminated MC4’s. To be sure there are some exciting things about this product and the people at Ten K definitely have thought outside the box. Will be keeping an eye on them for sure.

Top 4 Most Amazing Moments

Battle of the Bands

Kendra Hubbard, Jim Jenal, Jeff Spies, and me at BotB

  1. BayWa r.e. Customer Appreciation - As many of you know, Baywa r.e. is our fabulous distributor for many reasons. Namely they share a similar ethos and dedication to quality solar and an accountable honest industry that we do. But beyond sharing similar missions they also treat us really well!
    This year BayWa hosted a customer appreciation “chill out” area throughout Intersolar. Anytime the crowds and meetings were too much we could go sit outside in the shade, get a chair massage, and enjoy a cold beverage or lunch! Yeah, you heard me…Chair Massage. Best distribution partners EVER!

  2. Solar Summerfest - It wouldn’t be Intersolar without an epic party or two! This year’s Solar Summerfest did not disappoint. From the variety of food spreads (loved the veg options!) and bars (wine, margaritas AND whiskey?!) to the awesome entertainment provided by professional break dancers… this was such a fun time to relax and get to know our solar friends and partners. As the night went on the real highlights were seeing BayWa’s Scott Snyder rock the karaoke stage and CalSEIA’s Bernadette del Chiaro cut a serious rug on the dance floor. And according to Jim’s pedometer Jim and I danced an impressive 7216 steps with our friends at Everest Solar

  3. DeloreanBattle of the Bands - And then there was the Battle of the Bands where solar companies show off their employees’ musical talents (and the Solar Tribe hangs out, like the four of us in the picture above). Solar folks really know how to party!  Special thanks to Jeff Spies for hooking us up with invite only tix!

  4. Delorean! - Did I forget to mention the Back to the Future Delorean was on display…and I got to sit in it? That was a pretty cool moment for an 80’s kid like myself. 


Top 2 Most Annoying Moments

  1. When that guy I met at SolarFred’s Solar Tweetup (which was a great event by the way) asked me how Run on Sun was different than SunRun and couldn’t wrap his head around how installation companies can be so different. Even when given the most perfect metaphor… “We are like a microbrewery making delicious quality beer for the benefit of the people in the most sustainable thought-driven way, and SunRun is like Coors. NOT THE SAME.” He still didn’t get it, sigh. 

  2. TalesunWhen I casually walked the exhibition floor looking for current and future partners working for the betterment of the solar industry and the world at large…and was confronted with a booth filled with girls dressed in what looked like playboy bunny costumes. Jim already described his take on Talesun’s display choices and their obvious lack of understanding for why they received such a negative reaction in another blog. But as a woman working in this industry with a rare position including answering phones, designing layouts, pulling permits, AND torquing bolts on the roof… I felt personally offended by Talesun’s decision to use misogynistic objectification to try to sell their product. Due to my many roles I feel I represent, or have an understanding of, a lot of different people in this industry.
    And I’m not alone, according to the 2015 Solar Foundation National Census women represented 24% of solar jobs, surely even more today! When a quarter of your clientèle are women why in the world would you use booth babes to market your products? Solar is supposed to be different than other male dominated construction industries.
    This is supposed to be an industry that makes the world a better place and values everyone equally for their contributions. That booth did not speak to me positively on any level in any of my roles as installer, administrator, customer service representative, saleslady, health and safety officer, or general solar ninja. On the bright side I was pleased to hear that the majority of Intersolar participants made it very widely known how unacceptable Talesun’s display was. This only solidifies my feeling that this is a great industry for women, despite a few bad apples who may never “get it".  

07/16/16

  04:21:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 405 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Ranting

Recom Redux: Talesun brings "Booth Babes" to Intersolar

In a throwback to Recom’s disastrous use of “caged” women to promote its booth, Talesun Solar revisited that PR debacle, featuring young women in Playboy-bunny costumes at Intersolar in San Francisco this past week. 

The response on the Internet was immediate and unforgiving in its damning of Talesun’s sexist display:

Talesun sexist booth babes

Talesun sexist booth babes

Kevin Christy implores, “Next year I hope you do better than this.” Tom (@SolarCurator) tweeted in amazement, “Talesun? Booth bunnies? What year is this? Didn’t u get the memo?” And Jigar Shah voiced what many of us hoped, “Glad to hear it, sounds like a sanction is in order for them and InterSolar organizers.”

To say that such a display has no place in the solar industry, should be self-evident, but apparently it (still) needs saying, so here I go:  This has got to stop.

After the firestorm, Talesun issued an awkward non-apology apology press release, resorting to that oldest of ploys, suggesting that they were shocked, shocked I tell you that anyone might have been offended. 

Talesun’s Marketing Team Manager was quoted as saying:

Having attractive booth girls for our booth in the solar energy industry is considered something normal, just look at the exhibition in Bangkok a few months ago, many major companies, were also hiring attractive booth girls.  We thought it wouldn’t be a problem here in North America since we considered it was even more open minded than Asia.  I guess we made a mistake and we just learned the lesson.  We apologize for this misunderstanding and we want people to remember what we did and how much we contributed to protecting our earth.

Actually, no, I don’t think you have “learned the lesson.” Let’s be clear, hiring attractive women (or men) to staff a booth is not the problem.  Dressing them up in sexist costumes is. 

And it isn’t that those of us complaining about what you did are somehow less “open minded” - it’s just that we reject sexist conduct in the solar industry. 

If Talesun really wants to tout all the alleged good they have done “protecting our earth” I have a marketing suggestion for them - produce a clever and engaging video and run that at your booth.  But dress your booth staff in a manner consistent with members of the professional organization you claim to be.  Then, and only then, will you have learned the lesson. 

Frankly, the rest of us are tired of having to teach it.

07/01/16

  02:14:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 378 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar

Consumer Reports: Now is a good time to consider solar

solar housesConsumer watchdog and advocacy organization Consumer Reports is out with an article on the benefits of going solar now!  Titled Shedding Light on Solar Power, the article outlines why now may be the time to get off the sidelines, and get solar on your roof.

From the article:

There has probably never been a better time to switch to solar. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have regulations that are solar-friendly enough (and electricity rates high enough) to make residential solar financially attractive (see map below), and last December Congress extended through 2021 the generous federal tax credits on solar projects that had been set to expire at the end of this year. Residential solar installations increased almost 60 percent between 2014 and 2015, and in 2015 America averaged one new residential solar installation about every 100 seconds.

Those who want to wait on the sidelines for further price reductions could be disappointed: The cost of solar panels has started to plateau and, while installation labor and other soft costs continue to fall, the phasing out of state tax incentives and utility rebates and grants has largely offset those savings. Adding an element of urgency to the equation are proposals in a number of states that would radically shrink the utility-bill savings of switching to solar power. Because, generally speaking, existing solar customers haven’t been subject to those changes, getting your deal done before new regulations are implemented could save you hundreds of dollars each year.

Clearly California is one of those states where the combination of high utility rates and favorable policies has combined to make going solar now pretty much a no-brainer!

If you are in Pasadena, there is one more element to add to your sense of urgency - the PWP solar rebate will be cut by 1/3 come August 1!

So you don’t need to take our word for it, Consumer Reports agrees - now is the time to go solar!

As you start your Independence Day holiday, just think how much more fitting it would be if you could declare your independence from high electric bills!  So give us a call today, or maybe Tuesday! (Oh and did I mention, when you call Run on Sun you get to work with a NABCEP certified PV professional, just like Consumer Reports recommends?  Sweet!)

06/29/16

  02:37:00 pm, by Laurel Hamilton, Projects Coordinator, Run on Sun   , 872 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Climate Change

Solar Power - Doctor's Orders!


LaurelWhen I came to the solar industry I had just completed my Master in Public Health. Some of you may be thinking, “Thats an odd career move! What does solar have to do with public health?” I still get this exact response when I tell people my background. But to me, solar power is one of the most exciting and valuable solutions to a myriad of public health challenges! Think about it. Traditional sources of energy like coal and fossil fuels are the primary causes of climate change. They emit more greenhouse gasses and use much more water than solar. The global public health impacts of climate change are enormous and well documented…extreme weather events, flooding, draught, and heat waves all take a toll on our ability to live full and healthy lives. On top of that, the more immediate and local impacts of air pollution from traditional energy plants include asthma, COPD, and other respiratory illnesses. 

While this simple logic proves to me that solar power is a vast improvement over burning fossil fuels, quantifying the environmental and health impacts of solar energy is not a straightforward task. However, determining the value of these external benefits is imperative to understanding the true costs and benefits of solar compared to other sources of energy. Thankfully the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (LBNL) recently published a technical report on this very topic! “The Environmental and Public Health Benefits of Achieving High Penetrations of Solar Energy in the United States.” was commissioned by the Department of Energy as part of the On the Path to Sunshot series of studies to assess the progress of the SunShot Initiative at its midway point.

The SunShot Vision

The SunShot Initiative was launched in 2011 as a result of the Obama administration’s goal to make solar electricity cost-competitive with conventional sources of electricity by 2020. In the first five years, the initiative has invested in education, policy analysis, and research and development of solar technologies as well as programs fostering more highly skilled U.S. based jobs. Since SunShot’s launch, solar installations have grown more than tenfold with more than one million solar installations producing power across the U.S. and the cost of solar energy has dropped drastically. As a result, the industry is approximately 70% of the way toward meeting the SunShot 2020 goal to achieve $0.06 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) installed cost for solar energy systems.

Results

The researchers sought to unveil the cumulative environmental and public health benefits of the solar power that has already been installed, and what future benefits would result if SunShot’s targets - 14% of US electricity by 2030 and 27% by 2050 - are met. They found that health and environmental benefits could add approximately 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour to the “true” value of solar energy! Lets break down that number…

Compared with fossil fuel generators, photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar produce far lower lifecycle levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other harmful pollutants including fine particulates (PM2.5), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and nitrogen oxides (NOx).

Benefits of Solar

Department of Energy

Greenhouse Gases: Achieving the 14% by 2030 and 27% by 2050 targets could reduce our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the power sector by 10% between 2015 and 2050. This may not sound like a lot, but in dollars and cents this means 238-$252 billion in savings, or 2.0-2.2 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) of solar installed. These savings add to the 17 million metric tons of CO2, or $700 million, saved annually by solar already installed by 2014. 

Other Air Pollutants: Meeting the same targets through solar expansion would also reduce other power sector cumulative emissions of PM2.5 by 8%, SO2 by 9%, and NOx by 11% between 2015 and 2050. The monetary value of which they estimated at $167 billion in savings from reducing health and environmental costs, or 1.4 cents per kilowatt hour of solar. Not to mention avoiding 25,000-59,000 entirely preventable premature deaths! This builds on 2014 solar installations providing annual reductions in air pollutants worth $890 million. 

Water: Often we forget that traditional sources of electricity are also big water hogs. I even wrote a blog about the ways solar helps to conserve water. The researchers found reaching SunShot’s goals could result in cumulative water savings of 46 trillion gallons of avoided withdrawl (4% of total power-sector withdrawls) and 5 trillion gallons of avoided water consumption (9% of total power-sector consumption) between 2015-2050. This is definitely a non-trivial benefit given much of the big solar states are also arid states where water conservation is imperative. 

Dept of Energy

Environmental and health benefits from achieving SunShot vision. - DOE image

Put it all together and you get to the estimated 3.5¢/kWh-solar, equivalent to more than $400 billion in benefits due to SunShot-level solar deployment! Existing solar in 2014 provided $1.5 billion in annual benefits due to health and environment effects. Given the cost of going solar for residential properties in our neck of the woods is currently between 8 and 11 ¢/kWh, adding 3.5 ¢/kWh of value is a pretty big deal. The LBNL researchers noted that this is approximately equal to the additional LCOE reduction needed to make unsubsidized utility-scale solar competitive with conventional power generation today. 

Improving public health and the environment is a lofty goal near and dear to my heart and truly an important aspect of solar’s many benefits. Hopefully quantifying the magnitude of solar’s “external” impacts will help inform policy decisions by making the “true” costs and values of solar and its economic competitiveness with other energy options more explicit.

06/27/16

  04:03:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1072 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Ranting

Down the Solar Rabbit Hole

We recently wrote about the perils of click-bait, solar lead generation sites in our post, Researching Solar? Careful Where You Click!  Over the weekend it became clear to me just how pernicious this can be.

While wasting part of my Sunday morning on Facebook, I came across an ad from something calling itself The Solar Institute which was making the claim that “California Approves Program to Help Middle-Class Families Make the Switch to Solar at No Cost".  Wow, that was news to me, but gee maybe The Solar Institute - a name that seemed awfully familiar - knew something I didn’t.  I had better check this out. 
And down the rabbit hole I went…

Things are not as they seem…

The Solar Institute's deceptive webpage

Screen grab from http://thesolarinstitute.org/real-stimulus-for-middle-class/ - Visited 6/26/2016


First and foremost, it is important to point out that the image to the left is not the website for The Solar Living Institute which is entirely legit, and which helps train solar professionals.  But it certainly seems that the attempted name confusion is entirely intended.

No, this is quite the clever site - notice that they managed to slip in an Elon Musk quote to borrow some of that special magic.  It starts by claiming that it will cost you $32,000 to install solar which overstates the initial expenditure by about 100%  on an average 4 kW project (to say nothing of the fact that you then get 30% of that cost back in the form of the Federal tax incentive).

But then it gets to the point: “A novel initiative is, however, looking to change that."  Wow, really?  This must be the program that California “approved,” right?  So what is this incredibly novel initiative?

From the website:

Alternative Energy Solar Project has been made promotional manager over the Middle Class Affordable Solar Homes (M-CASH US) project, one of the country’s first dedicated solar repayment system for middle class families. The goal is to install solar arrays to over 32,000 homes by the end of 2016…

The state government in  California has talked about how they can contribute through raising money to be able to provide more rebates. In the attempt to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and move toward installing solar arrays. In total, the solar program has totted up to an impressive movement.

By ploughing at least 30% of the money from government incentives and using private investors to back the solar installation, the project aims to kill two birds with one stone – saving Middle-Class families money, while also making big fossil fuel polluting companies help to cut energy emissions in the state even further.

Anyone who is currently living in a neighborhood in California that is classed as middle-class is qualified to apply to get the arrays installed. The sun sets on the initiative as the year ends in 2016, so if you’re living in the state, you might want to jump on board soon.

Indeed, better jump right on board.  They sure make it sound official, what with references to the “state government in California” and all, but who are these people?  The website says nothing about who they are and their contact information gives only an 855 number but no address, or license number or anything else.  (Doing a whois on the domain name is equally fruitless.) Calling that number gets you to something identified as “Free Solar Quotes” - a lead gen website.

But since it identified Alternative Energy Solar Project as the “promotional manager” for this “M-CASH” program we decided to Google them, going farther down the hole…

Now isn’t that special?

Turns out that wasn’t as easy as we expected, though we did find a Reddit asking whether the company was a scam (and concluding it was, after determining that the photo of the alleged CEO was, in fact, a stock photo!)  Ultimately we found their website - but no more CEO photos, or any info about who they are, which is odd for a government-ordained program.  In fact, the home page is nothing more than a sign-up page, but some additional sleuthing led us to some landing pages within the site.  There we came across this:

m-cash-ca program text

Screen grab from: http://aesproject.org/index.php/m-cash-ca/ - Visited: 6/27/2016.

There is some sly stuff going on here.  Perhaps my personal favorite is the reference to the Private Utilities Commission - cause, that’s a thing.  Or how about “…helps connect companies who have set aside private funds raised for the California Solar Initiative be set aside for programs assisting middle-class households in accessing solar technology."  I have no idea what that word salad is supposed to mean, other than to somehow try to associate this scammy offering with the California Solar Initiative (which went out of business in 2014)

So yeah, lucky us, California, this great program has made it “all the way to California” - now don’t you feel special?  Well maybe not so special, since we then found this:

m-cash-njprogram text

Screen grab from: http://aesproject.org/index.php/m-cash-nj/ - Visited: 6/27/2016.

What do you know, this exact same program made it “all the way to New Jersey” from Maryland, too!  (Though Delaware just isn’t very big there - with apologies to Delawarians everywhere.) In fact, for sport you can replace the -ca or -nj with other state postal abbreviations to see what other poor states are being targeted by this scam!

So what, at the end of the day, is this all about?  Leases.  Yeah.  All this nonsense alluding to state-sponsored programs is nothing more than lead-gen gymnastics to lure in consumers and stick them with a lease (or PPA).

These are the sorts of deceptive business practices that are giving the solar industry such a black eye, and one can only hope that the FTC and state AG’s are paying attention.  But we in the industry have an obligation to shut this sort of thing down.  If you purchase leads you need to know how those leads are generated and not support lead generators who are engaged in these sorts of practices.  Make no mistake - these lead-gen operators are making money because solar companies are buying what they are selling!  We can help ensure consumers are better served simply by refusing to participate - or we can wait for the regulators to step in and make all of our lives more difficult.

For the record, there are legit entities trying to connect solar customers with reputable solar installers, with everyone from NABCEP to Sunmetrix, to even this fellow in Australia.  But we need to make sure that the scammers aren’t carrying the day, and we do that by refusing to participate.

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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.
Laurel Hamilton is Run on Sun's Projects Coordinator, and together they author this blog.
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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