Category: Ranting

07/23/16

  12:57:00 pm, by Laurel Hamilton, Projects Coordinator, Run on Sun   , 1590 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 thermoplastic (material tested in 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.

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.

06/13/16

  10:02:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1208 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Ranting

Scared of Solar?

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:

scared of solar - points of concern

Let’s take these concerns one at a time.

Cost concerns

Perhaps the greatest overall concern turns on cost and its counterpart, value.

Affordability

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!

Bang for the buck

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.

Taking on debt or signing a lease

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!

Reliability & Maintenance

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.

Equipment quality and reliability

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.)

Performing regular maintenance

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.

Harm to your home

Properly flashed solar penetrations

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.

Damaging the roof

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! 

Detract from curb appeal

Ugly solar

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.

Make it harder to sell

Beautiful solar curb appeal

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!

Fear Not!

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!

06/10/16

  02:56:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 142 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Pasadena Solar, Ranting

Happy Birthday Pasadena... and Run on Sun!

Everyone knows that when it comes to Pasadena, Run on Sun is the premier installer of solar PV systems for residential, commercial, and non-profit clients (if you doubt it, just ask us!).  But we have one other cool thing in common - we are both marking milestone birthdays this year!

Happy Birthday, Pasadena!

While our hometown is turning 130, Run on Sun is turning 10 years old this year!  (Which, if you think about it, is nearly 130 in solar-installer years!)  So when we heard that the folks at Pasadena Weekly were looking to feature ads that wished the City a Happy Birthday, we just had to get into the act!  (If you are in the Pasadena area, you will find the ad - with art work by that Solar Kid Julia who will soon be a college sophomore - on page 42.)

Happy Birthday to us both, and many happy returns!

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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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