I love conducting solar site assessments and having that first conversation with a potential client. Often we spend far more time discussing all the ins and outs of going solar with the property owner than is necessary for the solar assessment measurements. One of the questions we always spend some time on is: “How exactly is Run on Sun different than other solar companies?” Here in sunny Southern California this is an important question as there are so many people offering PV solar services. Of course I describe how the products we use are selected for their high quality, warranties, and trust in the manufacturers. I also explain how as a small company with a mission focus, we take a very honest and ethical approach to helping people green their energy. But one of the major ways we stand above all the rest is also a feature that is hard to convey in that first conversation. Hence, the theme of this blog post…
My best answer to the above question, “We have Velvet Dallesandro as our Chief Electrician.”
The work that Velvet does connecting the power of the sun to your electric meter is akin to an art form. But alas, the art of a solar electrician is often hidden behind dead plates and easy to overlook if you’re not paying attention. So here are a few examples of Velvet’s work. She may not be in a Los Angeles art gallery but her work is providing people with beautiful, safe, and emission-free energy across the county!
If you’ve ever looked behind the dead plate on your electric bus (where all your breakers are) you likely were frightened by what you saw. A mess of cables, cobwebs, and sometimes outright dangerous circumstances - like the time I saw one missing its main breaker entirely. However, if Velvet is re-wiring your service panel it may look more like something you could put on your wall with rainbows of color coded wires and perfect 90 degree bends. (Service panel shown at left by Velvet, solar AC disconnect work at right by Ralph Carillo.)
Wiring is far from Velvet’s only art form. How do installers bring solar power from the roof to the electrical service? While the most visually appealing is to hide the magic completely by going thru an attic space and inside walls but sometimes that just isn’t possible.
Velvet doesn’t just throw flex conduit around willy nilly to get the job done quick like some installers. It takes a lot of creativity to make the wiring run as attractive as possible. First and foremost, she always uses galvanized conduit for outside wiring as opposed to flex - it lasts for the long run and it is much more difficult to punch a fire axe through than flex, making it much safer. Second, Velvet avoids piecing together conduit as much as possible. Her goal is to make whatever crazy runs are necesssary as seamless as possible - think avoiding possible leaky weak spots at seams. This means she has become a jedi master at bending conduit. Eight bends in one stick of conduit paralleling windows, gutters, or that pretty bush you don’t want to disturb? Not out of the question when Velvet is on the job (or her prodigy apprentice Ralph for that matter).
Beyond the art she’s also an all around rock star. Check out this classic; pulling wire for a 45kW job at Chandler School…(Thats her on the right pulling wire through at least 30 feet of conduit on a 100+ degree summer day.)
She more than pulls her weight! So if you’re looking into going solar take note, there is an art that goes into the details. And the details really do count! Velvet’s wiring is the safest you will find and truly built to last. A rarity in an industry where most companies are trying to race through projects at lightning speed. Bottom line…we are so thankful to have Velvet on our team!
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.
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!
Kendra Hubbard, Jim Jenal, Jeff Spies, and me at BotB
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:
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.
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…
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…
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:
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:
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.
Advocates of solar, such as the crew at Run on Sun, take it for granted that going solar is win-win for our clients, such as the folks at Chandler School. But sometimes we forget that non-adopters have real concerns about putting solar on their roofs. In this, our last cut on the data that we received from NREL (read our two earlier posts on who chooses Run on Sun and what generally keeps people away from solar), we wanted to address the greatest concerns that people have so that they don’t need to be scared of solar.
First off, here’s our last chart:
Let’s take these concerns one at a time.
Perhaps the greatest overall concern turns on cost and its counterpart, value.
The greatest concern expressed was over the affordability of going solar. The good news is that solar has never been more affordable. Back in 2007 when we were first doing installations, solar systems cost more than $8/Watt installed. Today we are at half of that cost, and even though most rebate programs have ended, the federal tax credit is still at 30%, meaning that more and more people can now afford to go solar!
Still, some consumers are concerned about getting enough bang for their buck - they wonder if solar really provides value commensurate with its cost. To that we reply - it depends. It depends on the quality of the equipment that you choose and the quality of the installer who puts that equipment on your home. But how can a consumer know if they are getting quality? It starts by taking the time to do your research - get multiple bids so you have a basis for comparison. Be wary of low-ball bids - prices below market are a clear sign that there will either be nasty surprises by way of change orders down the road, or that your contractor is cutting corners.
As to the quality of the contractor doing the work, ask for references and check them. In California, look at the Contractors State License Board website to see if there are complaints against the contractor, and see if they are certified by NABCEP, the gold-standard for quality in the solar industry. Review sites like Yelp and Angie’s List can also help.
Going solar is a significant financial investment and it should be treated as such. We have written at great length about the problems with solar leases, but even a favorable loan, like a home equity line of credit, carries costs. Ideally, savings from your lower electric bill should offset the cost of financing the system, and once the system is paid off, you will continue to derive those savings for the lifetime of the system.
When you get a proposal for going solar, it should clearly spell out what your savings will be in Year 1, and provide a reasonable projection for your payback period over time. But be careful about proposals with overly rosy projections based on unrealistic assumptions (like energy costs going up 7% each year for 25 years), or ones that don’t disclose their assumptions at all!
Another general area of concern turns on how well a solar power system will hold up over time, and what it will cost you to maintain it.
In solar, like most everything else, you get what you pay for, if you’re lucky! Every day we get emails inviting us to purchase cut-rate panels at a fraction of the price we pay for top-of-the-line panels from LG. We delete those emails without a second thought because we have no interest in dealing with junk. But someone is buying those panels, and they are ending up on the homes of consumers. Again, get multiple bids and do your research. Selecting quality products from established manufacturers is your best assurance that you will have reliable equipment that will last. (We install LG panels and Enphase microinverters because we believe that they are the best value for our clients.)
We are always a bit baffled by this one, since a solar power system is largely maintenance free. We think this concern arose because leasing companies promised to perform all maintenance needed for the system, but this is a hollow promise since there is really nothing to do! At Run on Sun we provide a ten-year warranty on our work, and we support the manufacturer’s warranties for the parts - so if something does go wrong, it will be fixed with no hassle for our clients.
The final category of concerns centers around harm to your most valuable asset, your home. Solar, when done right, will improve that value, but that is not guaranteed.
One obvious point of concern has to do with damage to your roof. After all, a solar array on a pitched roof is held in place by lag bolts driven into the roof rafters so that means lots of holes being put into your roof. However, when done correctly, as shown in the photo on the right, all of those penetrations are covered by a flashing that guarantees that water cannot penetrate.
The other issue to consider is the status of your roof - if it is nearing the end of its usable life you will want to re-roof before you put solar on it!
Image from the very cool Solar Hall of Shame page by
Green Sun Energy Services, LLC. (Used w/permission)
Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder and we love seeing solar on a home. (Although not when it is installed like the bozos did in the photo on the left!)
Still, not everyone wants to see solar panels, and many of our installations are done so as to make the installation as inconspicuous as possible. (In the photo below the only way to see that lovely layout is to go up on the roof.) A properly designed and installed system should look clean and neat. We take pride in our craftsmanship and we work very hard to make our systems as visually appealing as they are economically beneficial.
Finally, there is the concern that adding solar will make it harder to sell your home, which can be true if you have leased the system since the new owner has to assume that lease as part of the deal. We have written at length about the perils of solar leases, and making it harder to sell your home is just one of many reasons to give them a wide berth.
But if you were smart enough to avoid a lease, the latest research indicates that having a solar power system installed increases the value of your home. How much? Roughly $4.00/Watt for a typical installation - which pretty much means that the cost of the system is offset by the increase in resale value! Try doing that with granite countertops!
Consumers need not be scared of solar, provided that they choose a reputable installer and pay for quality equipment. At Run on Sun we specialize in both, so give us a call today!
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