“Still don’t know what I was waiting for…”
Well, actually I do.
You see, it is a very daunting undertaking to redo a website that you have grown oh, so, comfortable with over the years (yes, years). When some of our strongest supporters started making veiled hints like, “Good grief, when are you going to revise your ugly old website,” well, you might start to think that maybe there was a problem. But change is hard. And the old website, it was like family.
But a few months ago we reconciled ourselves to a harsh reality—it was time to make a change, and not a minor facelift but a total redesign, starting from a clean sheet of paper.
Then something fascinating happened. As we started planning for the new website, we really got excited about the possibilities. A cleaner look and cleaner code. A modern look and modern functionality. This was not going to be just a “lipstick and rouge” job; this was about taking it down to the foundation, redoing the plumbing and electrical, and re-building to LEED Platinum.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at some before and after images, shall we? (Or you can cut to the chase and do your own exploring as the new website is now live.)
Here is the venerable old home page, RIP.
The dominant thing on the page is our logo, which is good for telling you who we are, but you probably knew that since you chose to come here.
There are three columns, a very popular design choice when made years ago, but by contemporary standards, it divides your attention and makes the page look cluttered, constrained and busy.
There are also two different locations for navigation, “important” at the top and less so on the left column.
Now here is the new home page.
The first thing you notice is that we are using the space quite differently. Gone are the three columns, replaced with a more open, single-column layout.
The logo has been trimmed down and the navigation is streamlined. There are five main pages to access from the nav bar (the home page can be returned to by clicking on the logo) and below that are in-page links to help visitors find what is of greatest interest to them on any given page.
Beyond that, however, are the much bigger main images that are found on all six of the major pages. Unlike many sites that have images cycling in a never-ending carousel, we eschewed that after reading research that such devices were conversion killers. Instead, we settled for a single image on all pages except the home page, which is treated differently. It gets four different openings, served at random. That gives me the ability to see what strikes the fancy of our visitors and tweak things accordingly. The font is larger and in a new, embedded typeface with the dominant color a rich green.
The code is HTML5/CSS3 and all of it validates against W3C. We have pulled out lots of clutter and used jQuery throughout, hopefully to good effect. We have also introduced D3 to the site which has allowed us to do some fun things which you will discover as you explore the site.
This is the old sign-up form—every web-based lead that we ever got required someone to fill out this form. There were lots of fields, divided into two sections (required and optional) and while it would have been nice to have all of that data, no one ever filled it all out—and the research suggests that the more fields you have, the fewer people will bother to fill out the form at all.
The form also has a somewhat inelegant “click to send” button and limited intelligence in preventing spammers from submitting the form with garbage data. (Odd thing that; it isn’t as if it did them any good to submit a form full of junk as no one ever saw it but me. Still, dealing with spammers is a pain…)
Here’s the new form.
Actually, this form is part of the Residential solar page—there is another one on the Commercial page and a generic one accessible from every other page.
If you enter your zip code at the top of the page, it takes you directly to this form and it looks up your zip, figures out if your zip is in our service area, and if so, populates the form with your city and puts the name of the utility in the heading.
Over on the left is a widget that lets you adjust a slider up and down to select you monthly electric bill (and get a topical message in return).
Finally, at the bottom we’ve added links to secondary pages on the site, along with a variety of social media related links and our copyright notice.
I could go on, but I would much rather you “turn to face the strain,” go exploring and see what you think. And of course, I would love to hear your reactions in the comments. But be kind… this is family now!
How about this for a great match: Homeboy Industries, that great charity in LA that helps former gang members find a better life, is finally getting solar installed on their HQ in downtown LA! (Sadly not by us, but you can’t have everything.) This is a great story and even better - you can help make it happen! (H/T Carter Lavin.)
LA-based indie rock band, Trapdoor Social is helping to raise the money needed to fund the solar project through its collaboration with Pledge Music. At their dedicated site, Alternative Rock for Alternative Energy, Trapdoor Social is encouraging its followers to make a minimum $10 pledge to help fund the project. But they are offering way more cool ways to support the cause: $50 gets you a custom t-shirt signed by the band, $100 gets you a songwriting session, $200 gets you added as an official sponsor on the solar plaque, and $1,500 will get you a private concert. Pretty cool.
Wonder how cool? Check out this track:
From the press release:
“Our goal is to use our band as a vessel for communication and to convey the urgency of environmental responsibility,” noted lead singers of Trapdoor Social Merritt Graves and Skylar Funk.
Trapdoor Social will work with GRID Alternatives Greater Los Angeles, a nonprofit organization that leads teams of volunteers and job trainees to install solar electric systems exclusively for low-income homeowners, providing needed savings for families struggling to make ends meet, preparing workers for jobs in the fast-growing solar industry and reducing carbon emissions.
“This is an exciting project that brings music and sustainability together for the community in a smart innovative way,” said GRID Alternatives Greater Los Angeles Executive Director Susie Chang. “As a partner of Homeboy Industries we’re thrilled to be asked to install solar panels on their building.”
Homeboy Industries, which was founded in Los Angeles by Father Greg Boyle, serves high-risk, formerly gang-involved men and women with a continuum of free services and programs and operates seven social enterprises that serve as job-training sites. Homeboy Industries covers tuition and supply costs for its clients who wish to enroll in the Photovoltaic Training program at East Los Angeles Skills Center. Homeboy also offers additional tutoring to help students pass a national credentialing test that makes its clients competitive candidates for employment in the green industry.
Join us in helping make this worthwhile project a reality - pledge today!
We have been teasing out bits and pieces of our new book, Commercial Solar: Step-by-Step, all summer as we neared the end of the publication process. Well today we can formally announce that it is available both at the Run on Sun Publishing eStore (where we get a better royalty - hint, hint!) and on Amazon.com!
Commercial Solar is intended for two primary audiences:
As the title suggests, the book provides an overview of the process by which an interested party - say, a facilities manager - can go from knowing next to nothing about commercial solar to identifying appropriate contractors to provide bids, analyzing those bids to make meaningful comparisons, determining financing options that are appropriate and even overseeing the actual installation process.
The book features a Foreword written by Boaz Soifer, VP of Sales at Focused Energy:
The material could be dry (much of the reading on this subject is), but is instead casual but precise, clearly laid out, and made accessible through handy use of a narrative in which the Facilities Manager of a fictional company undertakes a commercial solar project himself…
In his typical style—approachable, honest, quirky, and occasionally scathing—Jim has thoughtfully flattened out the complex world of commercial solar PV into an understandable roadmap that anyone can follow to project success.
Interested? You can download a two-chapter excerpt of the book for free, here. Better yet, you can purchase the book today from either our eStore or Amazon for just $9.95. If you are interested in bulk sales (i.e., ten or more copies), discounts are available. Please contact us at Bulk Sales for more information.
And of course, we welcome your comments either here on the blog or at Amazon. Thanks for your support.
In Part One of this three-part Case Study we learned how Westridge School chose Run on Sun as their solar contractor. Part Two followed the actual Construction and Installation process from the client’s perspective. Now we conclude with Part 3 - Advice to the Solar Reluctant.
A true and long-tenured operations man, Williams understands not every business has the same confidence in the value of large-scale solar installations and their ability to save real dollars. Sometimes, people on the ground are convinced of the legitimacy of solar but may run up against superiors still reluctant to make a long-term investment. To those people, Williams gives this advice:
“Don’t think short term, think big picture,” he says. “Look at the numbers in a way that you’re truly aware of the value of sustainable energy and how important it is.”
The facilities director advises others in his position to help decision-makers understand having a solar installation is a way to add value to a company and separate a business from competitors in a way that is meaningful to customers. People will likely support that company by continuing to give it business, especially if the cost savings can be passed on to them.
Addressing the upfront costs is one of the biggest challenges, Williams admits, but it’s large-scale projects that offer the best and fastest ROI. When talking to a supervisor, or whoever is responsible for making the decision to invest in a system, speak to the facts. Have your data prepared and on-hand, and be prepared to show concrete evidence that solar would be a worthwhile investment, he says.
Even after a business decides to go solar, there are several more opportunities to remind higher-ups that the decision was a wise one. After installation, data collected from monitoring the system can show the direct benefits to others in the company and create a culture of awareness about the overall benefits of moving toward sustainability. When Williams receives the PWP rebate, he plans to take the paperwork straight to the school’s asset management department.
“Once you estimate the legitimacy of it, don’t let people forget about it. Remind them it’s still working,” he suggests.
When Westridge School for Girls was first founded in 1913, women were not allowed to vote. Despite that fact, founder Mary Lowther Ranney, a well-known architect and teacher way ahead of her time, envisioned a place where young women could rise to new heights. Today, a full 100 years later, Westridge’s motto, “surgere tentamus,” Latin for “We strive to rise,” says a lot about the legacy of its founder.
The decision to make sustainable improvements to the campus stems from that vision, and in that way, Williams says, the new solar installation is the perfect bridge between the school’s rich founding principles and its desire to bring state-of-the-art green technology to the campus and the classroom.
He acknowledges how fortunate Westridge was to have students and parents who supported bringing solar to campus and were willing to give funds to the school for completion of the project. Now, when students lead group tours, they point to the south-facing roof of the Fran Norris Scoble Performing Arts Center and proudly let visitors know a fully-operational mini-power plant is running, unseen, above their heads.
Williams encourages others in positions like his to research the many potential benefits of solar. Seriously consider the different providers available, and choose the one who can give you the best value for your investment, because quality means more efficiency, more power and more savings.
In his case, he acknowledges his good own good fortune in finding support for solar. “There are a lot of smart people here,” he says. “When you speak intelligently to smart people, good decisions tend to be the result.”
The preceding is an excerpt from Jim Jenal’s upcoming book, Commercial Solar: Step-by-Step, due out this summer.
In Part One of this three-part Case Study we learned how Westridge School chose Run on Sun as their solar contractor. Here in Part Two we focus on the actual process of the installation as seen from the client’s perspective.
With the paperwork filed and the rebate secured, Run on Sun had a very tight window — less than two weeks in April 2012 — in which to install and connect all 209 solar modules and get the monitoring software up and running. The goal was for the project to be completed and operational by the time Westridge students returned from Spring break, so time was of the essence.
For the rooftop display Run on Sun used a microinverter system supplied by Enphase Energy, which allows customers and solar installers to track the output of the modules, individually or collectively, from the convenience of their computers, iPads or smartphones. This software was a selling point for the school, because it would make the technology accessible to students and allow teachers to creatively incorporate aspects of the solar system’s performance into classroom instruction.
The modules were grouped into three sub-arrays that formed a larger circuit. Under each module, a microinverter was installed to convert DC energy gathered from the module into AC power, which could be combined and fed back into the school’s electrical service. The 1:1 ratio of microinverters to modules allows for a more detailed readout that lets users know the output of each module and gives an easy-to-read display should anything ever go amiss, from a connection issue to dirt on the module’s surface.
Throughout the installation Williams remained on hand to oversee the work, though there were no delays and no change orders requesting funds beyond what had been originally estimated. Within the assigned two-week period, Run on Sun had completed the project on time, and everything was in working order.
“I’ve worked with a lot of contractors, and I can honestly say, in this situation, this was one of the most seamless projects we’ve ever completed,” Williams recalls. “They were here early on the first day and, boom, they got it. It was done on schedule, at the price they said and signed off by the city. I wouldn’t hesitate to do a project like that again.”
April 2013 marked the one-year anniversary of Westridge School’s solar installation, and Williams reports the system is running smoothly. The Enphase software makes it easy for officials, teachers and students to monitor the activity of all 209 modules, but Run on Sun also keeps a close eye on the operations and reaches out if and when an anomaly is detected. In the event that an outage or a decline in energy production should occur, the company promptly notifies the school.
For example, when one of the modules stopped reporting and apparently needed to be replaced, Run on Sun immediately contacted Williams to schedule a visit. The rest of the modules were still in full working order, and upon close inspection it was revealed that a connection had come loose. Still, to ensure maximum performance, the company replaced the microinverter at no cost to the school.
Another time Williams received a notification email from Run on Sun after the campus Internet connection had been temporarily cut during some service upgrades. And when the energy dipped from its norm of exceeding system predictions to 98 percent of anticipated, a call came in with a recommendation to check the array for accumulated dirt. After a brief spray with a hose, the system was back to producing at maximum capacity.
At the one-year mark, the school became eligible to receive its first annual rebate from Pasadena Water and Power. This is the first of five annual rebates it will receive, the dollar amounts directly correlated to the system’s actual production.
When a technician came from the city to assess the energy output of the system, the school was excited to learn the results. The city’s readings gave some very welcome news, indeed — the energy generated by the installation was above and beyond the original estimate provided to PWP, and it looked like the first rebate would be larger than anticipated.
“He said, ‘You’re over your estimate,’ and that’s all we could ask for,” says a thoroughly pleased Williams. “To date, everything that was promised to us was delivered — plus.”
In terms of the amount of energy generated, the rooftop system has continued to outpace expectations. The school expected to see a return on its investment in seven years, but it’s shaping up to come in as few as six. Because of the installation, Westridge is using 30 percent fewer kilowatt hours and is seeing its bills reduced by thousands of dollars each month, in addition to the rebate. The overall savings is far greater than the cost of running the air-conditioner in the gym, the initial impetus for bringing solar to campus. To Williams, making the decision to go solar was a “no-brainer.”
“The neat thing about this is it runs itself. If somebody walks onto campus, they don’t know we have a 52 kilowatt solar system on campus,” he adds. “They don’t see it. It doesn’t impact anything. All you do is save money.”
We will conclude this three-part Case Study with Part Three - Advice for the Solar Reluctant.
The preceding is an excerpt from Jim Jenal’s upcoming book, Commercial Solar: Step-by-Step, due out this summer.