Category: Ranting

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08/20/15

  03:26:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 545 words  
Categories: Ranting

Google: You're Being Evil!

Readers of this blog may recall the serious windstorm that we suffered here in Pasadena back in 2011, and Run on Sun’s efforts to help out one victim of that disaster. We received some very kind words from the son of the disaster victim, and he even took the time to write reviews on some of the major review sites.  So far so good, but then Google decided to get involved, and things took a nasty turn.  Here’s the scoop…

Google local listing

It was brought to our attention that if you did a local search on Google for “Pasadena Solar Installers", the first company name that shows up in the organic (i.e., not paid for) search rankings is Run on Sun - excellent! 

As you can see from the screengrab on the left, in addition to showing where we are on the map, it lets you know our hours, provides a link to our website, and reports that it has four reviews.  When you click on the reviews reference, it pops up our Google+ page and presents the reviews, first by providing a summary that Google generates from three of the reviews, and below that it offers the first paragraph from the first two reviews, allowing the viewer to read more of the excerpted review and/or to click through to the remaining reviews.  It is the Google generated summary that is the problem.

Here is the full (Five-Star!) review as authored by Tom McDade:

Earlier this year my mother’s house was hit with the terrible wind storm in Pasadena and her old solar system was destroyed. She contacted Jim Jenal at Run on Sun and he was very responsive to her call; he quickly came out to assess the damage and he removed the old panels from the roof before they could fly off and possibly do more damage to other property or persons. He then proposed a new system that was not only better then what she had but his price was considerably less expensive than another solar company who tried to take advantage of my 85 year old mother. I live in Ohio and Jim still worked with me closely in order to satisfy my mother and get her new system installed properly. I would not hesitate to recommend him. [Emphasis added.]

Needless to say, as a small business, we live for reviews like that.  It was kind of Tom to take the time to write, and more than one subsequent client has mentioned Tom’s review.

But this is how Google “summarized” Tom’s praise:

“…another solar company who tried to take advantage of my 85 year old mother.”

Holy crap!  Google has transformed us from the hero of the piece to the villian!  How many people have seen that “summary” and fled?

So we contacted Google, followed their procedure for noting problems with reviews, and got nowhere.  The Google rep claimed that because the summary was selected by an algorithm, there is nothing they can do about it!  Hmmm… who wrote that algorithm anyway?  What a lame, even evil, excuse that is!

So if we cannot get Google to clean up their act, the least we can do is publish this clarification so that perhaps people searching for us will understand what is really going on.  Isn’t technology wonderful?

08/14/15

  11:26:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 253 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, Residential Solar, Ranting

Only YOU Can Save Rooftop Solar!

Solar works!Smokey the Bear knew a thing or two about urgency, and appropriating his call to action seems particularly apt right now.  Today, rooftop solar is under concerted attack before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).  If we are to maintain the growth of solar, with its tens of thousands of jobs here in California, as well as its huge benefits in reducing air pollution - particularly greenhouse gas emissions - we need YOU to act now.

Our friends over at Vote Solar, along with the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CalSEIA) are working to beat back the insidious proposals coming from the Investor Owned Utilities - including SCE - to gut net metering and impose taxes on those who invest in rooftop solar.  If those proposals were to be adopted, much of the economic value of solar could be destroyed.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  The CPUC is a poltical entity and like any political entity, it responds to pressure from the public.  We cannot match the economic clout of the IOUs, but we can beat them the old fashioned way - by standing up for solar!

It’s easy - just click on this button:

SIGN PETITION!

When you do, you will go the Vote Solar website where you can add your name to the list of concerned Californians who want to preserve the many benefits of rooftop solar.  Please pass this word on to your friends and colleagues and urge them to get involved too!

We can win this fight - but we need YOU now!

07/22/15

  09:19:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 692 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Safety, Ranting

Will LA County Clean up its Act?

We couldn’t suppress an ironic smile when we read the headline, Los Angeles [County] Assembling Solar Action Committee to Address PV Challenges.  “Physician, heal thy self,” immediately popped into mind given the propensity of LA County to create those very challenges!  Here’s our take on what LA County is up to.

According to the article at Solar Industry magazine’s website:

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Works (DPW) has created a Solar Energy Action Committee (SEAC) to facilitate an expansion of residential and commercial solar photovoltaic power in the region.

According to the DPW, there are many challenges that are preventing the state and local governments in California from meeting aggressive renewable energy goals. Many of these challenges relate to the interpretation and application of codes and regulations in both the private and public sectors. Furthermore, solar technology is evolving so quickly and with such variety that jurisdictions are having problems determining how to apply codes and standards.

Oh heavens, don’t get me started!  Well, ok, too late. 

How about this for just one example (from many): we recently completed a commercial project in LA County.  When we submitted our single line drawing to DPW (prepared and stamped by a licensed electrical engineer), it came back with nine “corrections".  Ultimately we were able to demonstrate to DPW that seven of the nine did not even relate to our project since they all were focused on either the DC side of a PV system (and our Enphase-based system had no such components) or they related to the size of a non-existent load-side breaker.  It took three iterations to whittle those bogus objections away, until we got down to the final nut: bonding.

Now one of the two remaining concerns was legit - DPW wanted our plans to call out two grounding rods.  Fine, easy, done.  But the remaining sticking point was a killer.  We were using Everest Solar racking, which has UL 2703 listed splices for its rails that bond those splices together.

Redundant bonding thanks to DPW

DPW refused to accept the splices for bonding, requiring bonding jumpers (like you see in the picture) across each splice.  Which begs the question: what is the point of manufacturers building products to meet a national spec, if a local jurisdiction like DPW can simply say, “not in my backyard?”

Everest also had at the time an approved mid-clamp with WEEB solution for bonding between modules.  In Pasadena, just across the street, that combination would have been approved without comment.  But not DPW, which  rejected the WEEB solution, requiring us to run a continuous #6 wire from module to module - all 246 of them!

Now when you talk to the folks at DPW they insist that this is all about safety.  To which we respond - rubbish!  What is the failure scenario that we are actually protecting against?  In theory, you are trying to ensure that no metallic part becomes energized without a pathway to ground.  That way if there is a fault, and someone touches the affected metal surface, current will not flow through them to ground (causing injury) because it has a lower resistance path to ground via the system bonding.

That is certainly a noble goal, but did the changes DPW insisted upon improve safety in the real world?  This array is on a free standing structure, 14′ above the ground so it isn’t likely that someone would ever casually come in contact with a metal surface to begin with.  But even if they did, what would that failure mode have to be?  On the one panel that happens to develop a fault, a minimum of two, and in most cases four, WEEB clips would have to fail at the same time!  Call me cynical, but I find that a highly unlikely event.

In contrast, the economic consequence of what had to be done to placate DPW was very real, adding thousands of dollars in parts and labor to the cost of the project, for an at best marginal improvement in safety.

So we are all for DPW taking steps to eliminate “PV challenges", but we would suggest they look at cleaning up their own act as the proper place to start.

05/10/15

  04:49:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1451 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, Residential Solar, Ranting, Energy Storage

Elon Musk's 3-Biggest Powerwall Whoppers

Elon Musk is a visionary and a showman, but occasionally his enthusiasm for his vision gets way out ahead of reality.  Nowhere was that disconnect more on display than this past week when he made his much talked about announcement of the Tesla Powerwall battery storage system.  While we share the vision for the potential of battery systems (such as the one Enphase Energy is set to release later this year, albeit in a far more understated fashion), when 38,000 people go online to order a product that doesn’t yet exist, it is time to debunk some of the more exorbitant claims made by Musk. 

Here are the three biggest whoppers that Musk made during his Powerwall presentation (video below).

Whopper #3 - Power for an ice storm or other significant grid failure event

Musk touted the “peace of mind” that would come from having the Powerwall, and said, “if there’s a cut in the utilities you’re always gonna have power, particularly if you’re in a place that’s very cold, now you don’t have to worry about being out of power if there’s an ice storm.” (See video at 8:35.)

The Powerwall unit that Musk was talking about that was designed for “daily cycling” was a 7 kWh unit that is priced at $3,000.  The average home in the Run on Sun service area uses 25 kWh/day.  So a single Powerwall unit provides roughly one quarter of the energy demand of an average home.  If your desire for “peace of mind” means running your home for a full day in normal fashion, you will need to purchase 4 Powerwall units (assuming you have the wall space to mount them) and that will cost you $12,000.

Of course, many outages last longer than a day.  The longer you want to stay powered, the more units you will need.

Whopper #2 - Powerwall will work with existing solar systems

Musk insisted that Powerwall has been designed to work with solar systems, “right out of the box."  (See video at 8:25.)

Except… that the Powerwall is designed to fit between existing solar panels and the DC-AC inverter(s) in the system (i.e., on the DC side of the system).  But here’s the thing - the vast majority of inverters are what are known as “grid-tied,” which means if the grid goes down, the inverter shuts off, and stays off until the grid comes back.  If the Powerwall is on the DC side, there is no way for it to “mimic” the grid (which, of course, is on the AC side), and so the inverter will shut off.  While the inverter could certainly be replaced with a hybrid inverter (that can work both independently and tied to the grid) such a replacement is a pricey undertaking and certainly not a plug-and-play installation.

But Musk, like the true showman that he is, saved his biggest Whopper for the end…

Whopper #1 - You can go off grid… for $3,500!

Warming to his subject, Musk really brought down the house with his most outrageous claim of all:

You could actually go, if you want, completely off-grid.  You can take your solar panels, charge the battery packs and that’s all you use.  So it gives you safety, security, and it gives you a complete and affordable solution.  And the cost of this is $3,500."  [Gasps and applause from audience.] (Video at 8:55.)

No.  No you cannot.

Let’s unpack his statement.  There’s two major claims here, neither of which is true.  The first is that you could go completely off-grid, and the second is that it would cost you $3,500.  So let’s start with the easy one to disprove, indeed, we already did above: this won’t cost $3,500.  The Powerwall provides 7 kWh of storage.  The average house uses 25 kWh/day.  If the battery has to run your house for just one day, you would need 4 Powerwall units at a cost of $12,000.  (The 7 kWh unit is the one designed for daily cycling - what you need to go off-grid, and it costs $3,000 - if you could actually purchase one, which you can’t.)

So that’s easy to debunk.  But what about the second, more fundamental question.  Can I use this Powerwall system to go off-grid without changing my middle-class, suburban lifestyle?  For most folks the answer is simply, no.  Here’s why.  When you go off-grid you need to be able to meet all of your energy needs all the time without assistance from your local utility.  To do that, you need a battery system large enough to last you during the longest typical shortfall of available energy (i.e., how many stormy/cloudy days in a row will you see), plus a solar array large enough to charge that battery on sunny days while meeting the household needs.  Turns out, that is quite a lot of both.

Folks who design off-grid systems (very few of which are found in areas like Pasadena), typically design for three (or more) days of self-sufficiency (or autonomy, as they put it).  For our typical, 25 kWh/day home, that would require storage of a minimum of 75 kWh.  But according to Tesla, you can only stack a maximum of nine Powerwall units, which limits you to 63 kWh.  Sometime around noon on that third day without sun, your house will shut down.  Oh, and that much storage will cost you $27,000.

What about the solar array side of the equation?  Let’s start by asking how big an array can you fit on an average house?  House sizes have trended bigger in the past couple of decades, so more recently built houses are an overstatement of the average house out there.  Still, to have a starting point (and to give Musk the benefit of the doubt), let’s assume that our average house is 2,400 square feet (a fair estimate based on US Census data), and that it is optimally designed to maximize solar production: a near perfect square with a true south face, pitched at latitude (34° here in Pasadena), with no shading.  Of course, we still have to give the Fire Marshall the desired setoffs so that gets us to 1,115 square feet of roof space (math available upon request), enough for 62 LG 305 solar modules, but because we need to use a hybrid inverter with fixed string sizes, we will drop that down to 60 solar modules. That yields an 18.3 kW system which at $3.50/Watt would cost a cool $64,000 - and be bigger than our biggest ever residential installation. 

So the Sixty-four Thousand Dollar question becomes: How well will that do on meeting our needs?  Per the CSI calculator, this maximal system will produce roughly 29,000 kWh in Year 1, or an average daily output of 79.5 kWh.  (Less in the winter, of course, when you are most likely to see those cloudy days.)  After providing for my daily needs of 25 kWh, I have 54.5 kWh to spare, not quite enough to fully charge my batteries (which require 63 kWh).  A scenario where I have two cloudy days, followed by one partly sunny day, followed by two more cloudy days could easily leave you in the lurch.  And for this you paid a total of $91,000!  If you live somewhere with poorer weather than what we find in the Run on Sun service area (i.e., pretty much the entire rest of the country!) your performance will be even more dismal.

The true value of storage

The sad part of this whole thing is that battery storage combined with solar is going to be huge, but not for the reasons Musk alluded to in his speech.  The future of utility rates is the shift to time-of-use rate structures - a fact already well and painfully known by our clients in SCE territory, and soon to be seen by everyone.  Time-of-use rates, where utility customers pay more for energy during the peak part of the day, are the only way to match utility costs with customer charges.  (It is the head of the Duck in the famous Duck Curve below.)

The famous duck curve

That “overgeneration” that drives down demand at noon is presently fed back to the grid, where the grid operator has to modify the power mix to accommodate it - in essence, it is wasted.  (Although presently, net metering customers get full retail credit for it - something, that in all likelihood, will soon go away.)

But add storage to the mix, and you shift that overgeneration from the middle of the day, to the evening peak hours, benefiting the time-of-use customer as well as the utility.  It is the way to bring about a peaceful end to the utility-solar wars, and it is the true benefit of storage to solar customers - without oversizing either your solar array or your storage system.

So let’s all get excited over solar with storage, but for the right, and much more cost-effective reasons - and not the nonsensical hype being spewed by that super showman, Elon Musk.

03/28/15

  04:00:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 361 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Ranting

Who has the Edge? 3 Reasons to Pick Enphase over SolarEdge

SolarEdge has gotten a fair amount of buzz this week thanks to their IPO, but it made us think that maybe it was time to revisit the question—who really has the edge: DC-to-DC “optimizers” like SolarEdge or Enphase microinverters?

Enphase Microinverter Which would you choose? Solar Edge Optimizer
 Enphase Microinverter    SolarEdge Optimizer

 

In our view this is a bit of a “no-brainer” and it really comes down to the following three reasons:

Reason #3 - Integrated Grounding — In every solar array, all metal surfaces have to be grounded for safety.  Enphase microinverters now feature integrated grounding, which eliminates the need for a separate equipment grounding conductor.  SolarEdge does not have this feature and, depending on the jurisdiction, may require the use of a dedicated copper conductor to be run from one unit to the next.  This increases both labor costs as well as part costs (copper is expensive these days!).  Far better to have that grounding built-in at the factory than assembled on the roof.

Reason #2 - Easier Installation — Beyond the need for that equipment grounding conductor, the SolarEdge system requires the installer to not only mount the optimizers on the roof beneath each panel, but it also requires the installer to mount one or more heavy (51 to 88 pound) inverter(s) on the wall.  In contrast, Enphase combines everything into one unit, so there are no heavy inverters to mount to the side of the client’s house.

Reason #1 - Greater Reliability —The number one reason for us at Run on Sun is the greater reliability you get from using Enphase.  Frankly, the SolarEdge approach combines the worst of both alternative approaches (i.e., string inverters versus microinverters).  You are still putting power electronics in the demanding environment of a roof, AND you have combined that with a single point of failure with the inverter back on the ground!  When you use Enphase microinverters you eliminate that single point of failure and you are going with the industry leader in creating reliable, roof-mounted power systems.

Put all of that together, and we think Enphase microinverters provide the greatest value to our clients, which is why we feature them in all of our solar power systems, despite the occassional “buzz” other approaches might generate.

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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.
In addition, Run on Sun offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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