Category: Ranting


  03:07:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 680 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Ranting

Problem Solving 101 - "I lost the map!"

At Run on Sun we like to think of ourselves as true Solar Pros - years of experience, NABCEP certified, yadda, yadda, yadda!  But this post is about doing something wrong (nicely done, Jim) and having to figure out a way to fix it (thank you, Sara!).  We recount it here because it might help some of our colleagues who just might make the same mistake!

Run on Sun is a huge Enphase shop, and one of the reasons why is the great monitoring that we get for every installation.  For installers, we can see module-level data that allows us to determine not only if there is a problem with the array, but where that problem is!  (Contrast this with a string array, where determining where a problem resides can be an error-prone and time-consuming process.) 
Check out this sample from one of our systems:

Enphase module-level monitoring

This is from a recent install using LG 360 Watt, back-contact modules with Enphase IQ6+ microinverters. As you can see this is a very consistent array with the output power ranging from 288 to 291 Watts at each module.  But you might ask yourself, how does the system know which module/microinverter is which?  The answer is easy - each microinverter has an associated serial number, and it sends that serial number to the monitoring device (called an Envoy) when it reports its performance.  When the installer “builds” the array in the cloud, she maps the serial numbers from the microinverters to the layout as installed.

To facilitate that mapping, Enphase provides a peel-off label on each microinverter.  The installer removes the sticker and places it on a map, to be pared with the online layout.  When we are doing our installs, I am often the person responsible for collecting the labels onto the map, and then later using that map to build the system online.  I’ve been doing this for years, and never had a problem.

Until the other day.

I got back to the office, ready to build out our array online, only to discover - there’s no map!  Mind you, I remember clearly creating the map, and I would have sworn I put it in the car right after doing so, but it was nowhere to be found!  Yikes!  Now what do we do?

To be sure, the serial number were still on the microinverters, but they could not be read from where they are located on the roof!  Ugh - we could remove the modules (of our otherwise operational system) but that would be a huge amount of work - there has got to be a better way!

Cue Sara - Problem Solver Extraordinaire!

Indeed there was as Project Coordinator, and problem solver extraordinaire, Sara Pavey quickly observed.  We could connect to the Envoy using a smart phone (it has a WiFi hot spot built in), and look at the data coming from the array.  If we were to shade one module at a time, we could see which microinverter’s power output went to zero, and then record the corresponding serial number!

Jim on the roof, paying dues for losing the map!

Jim paying dues on the roof for losing the map!

One module at a time, we covered a portion of the module so that we could detect it’s loss of output, and record that serial number in the proper position.  (The per-microinverter data is not instantaneous, so we had to wait until the Envoy polled each one to detect the change.  Hint to Enphase: it would be nice to be able to get that data in real time, as that would greatly speed up the process!  Maybe as part of a special, troubleshooting-for-idiots mode?)

Nevertheless, with a minimum of fuss and bother, after an hour we had mapped all twenty-six microinverters, without having to unbolt a single module.  Well done, Sara, you more than earned your keep that day!

(Oh, and we now take a picture of the map as soon as it is completed!)

So there you go folks, live and learn!  If anyone out there has faced this problem in the field, how did you resolve it?  We would love to hear from you in the comments below!


  05:42:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 688 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Ranting

Down the Rabbit Hole - Two Years Later

Back in 2016 we wrote about a tangled series of misleading solar advertisements under the title of Down the Rabbit Hole. Seems it struck a chord with readers - it is the 4th highest ranked blog post since we wrote it.  The conclusion to that post went as follows: 

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.

Alas, that Rabbit Hole is still there, as my online encounter today demonstrated all too clearly.  Follow along, dear reader…

Much of our work is done in Pasadena, where we are based.  So this got my attention while I was wasting time on the Internet:

Pasadena offers no cost solar to SCE customers???

I suspect this will come as a surprise to the City of Pasadena!

First off this is sponsored content, which means that our old friends, The Solar Institute, paid for this to appear on the webpage I was reading - from my office in Pasadena.  But here’s the rub, Pasadena, of course, has its own municipal utility - Pasadena Water & Power - so why would it be subsidizing SCE rate payers with “no cost solar"?  Easy - they wouldn’t!

Second, is this really “no cost"?  Wow, what a deal!  Who wouldn’t jump at that opportunity?  And so down the Rabbit Hole we go…

SCE customers can no go solar at no costClicking on that link takes you to this site, which looks astonishingly like their site from nearly two years ago.  The main difference?  This is now just ever so slightly less deceptive as it now says it is an advertisement - that disclaimer wasn’t there in 2016.  But they have doubled down on their Tesla/Elon Musk appropriation - previously they just had his alleged quote in the upper right, now they have added the Solar City/Tesla solar roof image to bolster their bona fides
Attention, Tesla legal department, you might want to have a chat with these folks as they are tarnishing your brand!

And check out the blatantly misleading headline - because NO, SCE customers cannot go solar at no cost.  (Neither can anyone else, for that matter!)  The body text is just as bad:

There is a new Solar Program available in Southern California and it’s got Southern California Edison(SCE) shaking in their boots. This new solar program qualifies SCE customers, who live in specific zip codes, to receive $1000’s in Government rebates and tax breaks. Homeowners are shocked to learn that subsidies and rebates cover 99% of costs associated with installation. With the option to put $0 down, you’ll start saving immediately.

Where to start?  I doubt that SCE is losing much sleep about this since there is no “new solar program” - just the same old scam that The Solar Institute has been running since 2016.  There are no “Government rebates,” and the federal tax break is not dependent on your utility or your zip code - and it certainly isn’t dependent on you going through these bozos.

Instead this is nothing more than a lead-generation site, pushing solar leases on unwitting consumers, and using other people’s names and intellectual property to lend credibility to their scam.

If you scroll down to the bottom of their page they have a link seeking solar companies  to “Partner with us” - and there is the problem, solar companies continue to purchase leads from scam artists like this.  Shame on them.

If you are a consumer, caveat emptor - if a deal sounds too good to be true, walk away!  There are plenty of reputable solar companies out there - you can find many of them in the Member Directory of the California Solar & Storage Association.


  03:15:00 pm, by Sara Pavey   , 358 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Ranting

Cinematic Solar is Bad - Run on Sun is Here to Help!

We live and work in a town full of interesting architecture. Perhaps you’ve heard of Greene & Greene? And, if you aren’t local, you may not realize that we are this close to Hollywood, which really means Burbank, and that means we are frequently hosting film crews for TV and movies.

On any given day we can expect to pass a small to large encampment of unmarked white box trucks, yellow and black signs, and the trailer of port-a-potties that look much nicer than what you see on a construction site.

This gives us ample opportunity to muse about the next award-winning masterpiece filming in our backyard. Sometimes we pass someone on the sidewalk and realize, belatedly (being not-so-good at facial recognition), that we just passed so-and-so, that actress who is in everything! Neat! And then we wonder, “is Solar being accurately represented in this project?”

Well, look no further for advice on that topic. How should you incorporate solar into your dystopian post-apocalyptic nightmare drama movie show?

  1. Point the panels toward the sun. Yes. They need sunlight. Point them south if you can.
  2. Put them where it is sunny, which means not under a tree.
  3. Put them up high, not on the ground. The higher they are, the fewer shadows they have to deal with.
  4. Don’t put them on cars. It’s bad math. Bad electromechanical bad engineering bad math. Not smart. Someone at Run on Sun has run the numbers. Trust us.

Why does it matter? Because the solar industry has grown like crazy and solar geeks are watching your shows. And we are pointing at the TV and saying “nope!”

This is not the way to feature solar!Someone at Run on Sun felt that The Walking Dead took some gross artistic liberties with distantly-spaced panels sitting on the ground in Woodbury. Too much shade, and the voltage drop would make the solar almost not worth the trouble. Also, they never seemed to be getting direct sunlight. What is happening here?

So, to that end, we are here to help. If you want us to come to your award-winning awesome amazing filming location and give you a few pointers, we are at your service. 


  10:20:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 491 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Ranting

How NOT to Advertise for Solar

We see lots of ads for solar companies - most banal, some clever, some downright fraudulent.  Sadly, it is the last of those three that concerns us today.  Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t try to get us to sign on to their lead generation campaign, and we tell them we don’t buy leads.  Here’s why…

Consider this ad that we came across on Facebook:

Misleading solar facebook ad

There is so much wrong with this that it is hard to know where to begin.  This is a sponsored post, which means that it is an advertisement - but for whom?  They have a Facebook page, and a link to a website, but no information about who they are, or where they are located.  As of this writing they have 744 reviews, 723 are 5 star, but oddly the bulk of those came on the same day!  

But moving on, let’s check out the lede: “Attention CA Homeowners: There’s a new 2018 policy your energy provider does not want you to know!”

No, actually, there is no such “new ” policy in  2018, at least as it relates to solar.

Then the ad veers into making claims about Tesla’s (not really a product) Solar Roof, so the reader would be forgiven if they assumed that this was a Tesla/SolarCity ad - but it is not.  (And the weird picture next to a Tesla PowerWall has nothing to do with the (not really a product) Solar Roof, so why is it there, other than to get the name Tesla before the reader.)

But here’s the real tease: “First 300 Qualified Applicants Even Have FREE Install. Click to see if qualify!"  Well, who doesn’t love free?  Boy, I wonder if I can qualify?  Let’s click and see…

Do you qualify?

Okay, kinda creepy that it knows I’m in Pasadena, but I wonder what that Solar Panel Program might be?  How about this gem of mangled syntax: “California Government has categorized the Solar Energy in one of its key campaigns, and now you can reap the benefits."  What does that even mean?

In case your sense of urgency is not high enough, they’ve got this incentive:

“Solar programs are so popular that the California resident-only fund is running out of money.”

Let’s be perfectly clear - there is no such “California resident-only fund” for solar. 

Everything about this ad is misleading, and intentionally so.  What happens if you finally click to “See if you qualify?"  They harvest your contact information and sell it to solar companies who purchase scammy leads like this.  And then your phone will start ringing, from both real people and robocallers, trying to convince you to buy solar from a company whose ethics are so sketchy that they agree to do business with these folks.

If you are thinking about going solar, please avoid traps like these.  They are plenty of real, honest, local solar companies that would love to help and not rip you off.  And hey, if you are here, you’ve already found one!


  11:15:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 947 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Ranting, Solar Policy, CALSSA

Solar Policy Progress!

CALSEIA Staff and Members lobbying in Sacramento

CALSEIA Staff and Members lobbying in Sacramento, August 2017.

We wrote the other day that securing sustainable solar policy is not a spectator sport, that it requires all of us to roll up our sleeves and do the work needed.  Leading that charge here in California are our friends over at CALSEIA, and I think it is helpful to motivate others to join in when they can see positive results. 

After all, winning begets winning (well, ok, maybe it didn’t in Game 7, but wait ’til next year!), and recently CALSEIA published a list of policy victories this year that I thought you would like to see. 

So check it out, so much winning!

AB 1070 - Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego)

Currently solar installers decide what information they will provide to potential clients, and it varies all over the lot, with many companies simply providing “generic” solar system quotes (i.e., this will be a 4.5 kW system for $4.50/Watt).  On the other end of the continuum are the quotes that we provide, calling out all of the equipment we propose to use, how much each line item will cost, a detailed analysis of your savings (using Energy Toolbase, the most sophisticated tool available) and payback over time.  We disclose all of our assumptions (such as energy costs increasing by 3%/year), and lay it all out in a clear and easy to follow format.

AB 1070 will drag some of those less forthcoming companies into the light.  From the legislative counsel’s digest:

This bill would require the [CSLB], in collaboration with the Public Utilities Commission, on or before July 1, 2018, to develop and make available on its Internet Web site a disclosure document that provides a consumer with accurate, clear, and concise information regarding the installation of a solar energy system, as specified. The bill would require this disclosure document to be provided by the solar energy systems company to the consumer prior to completion of a sale, financing, or lease of a solar energy system, as defined, and that it, and the contract, be written in the same language as was principally used in the sales presentation and marketing material. The bill would also require, for solar energy systems utilizing PACE financing, that the financing estimate and disclosure form satisfy these requirements with respect to the financing contract, as specified. The bill would also require the board to post the PACE Financing Estimate and Disclosure form on its Internet Web site.

The bill would require the Contractors’ State License Board to receive and review complaints and consumer questions, and complaints received from state agencies, regarding solar energy systems companies and solar contractors. The bill would, beginning on July 1, 2019, require the board annually to compile a report documenting complaints it received relating to solar contractors that it shall make available publicly on the board’s and the Public Utilities Commission’s Internet Web sites.

This is something we have been advocating for a long time.  Hopefully the CSLB and the CPUC will craft an easy-to-understand document that will help consumers make meaningful comparisons between competing quotes.  We are also pleased that this requires the contract language to track the language of the sales presentation and marketing materials - which in many cases they do not.  On top of that is the requirement for the CSLB and the CPUC to document complaints against solar contractors and to publicize those complaints on their website for all to see.

This bill won’t solve the problem of shady solar contractors, but it is a giant step in the right direction.

AB 1414 - Laura Friedman (D-Glendale)

It used to be that local jurisdictions could charge whatever they liked for solar permits, and getting those permits could take weeks, even for the smallest resi-install.  That was changed a few years ago and permit fees for small PV systems were capped at $500, although realistically, they are supposed to be limited to the actual cost of providing the service.  Some jurisdictions have done a lot to live up to the spirit of the requirement, and both the City of Los Angeles and LA County now have very reasonable permit fees.  Other jurisdictions, however, magically charge that $500 maximum no matter what.   Funny about that.

The cap on those fees was due to expire come January 1, 2018, but AB 1414 extends the cap for seven more years, and lowers the cap from $500 to $450, and extends the cap for both ground-mounted systems as well as solar thermal systems.  Big win.

Other Wins

Some other victories include:

  • AB 634 - Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) - prohibits HOAs from establishing a general policy that forbids the installation or use of a rooftop solar energy system for household purposes on the roof of the building in which the owner resides, or a garage or carport adjacent to the building that has been assigned to the owner for exclusive use.
  • AB 1284 - Matthew Dababneh (D-Calabasas) - Requires PACE lenders to make a “reasonable good faith effort” to ensure borrowers have the ability to repay their loans based on income, assets and current debt obligations.  Too often shady contractors prey on low-income and/or non-native English speakers to sign up for PACE loans that they really do not understand.  This law should help curb that practice, along with…
  • SB 242 - Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) - Mandates that PACE providers have calls with all homeowners before they take out the loan to ensure they understand the terms.

Collectively these measures strengthen the solar industry in California, while providing important consumer protections.  CALSEIA’s work - and that of its members - was key in achieving these results. 

But there’s lots left to do - CALSEIA’s legislative analysis list has many “Failed” entries on it where vital measures were either stalled or defeated outright.  So get involved - this is not a spectator sport!

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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.
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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