Category: Ranting


  03:48:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 857 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Safety, Ranting

The Biggest News at SPI 2017 - B3 Bypass

We just got back from Solar Power International 2017 and it featured all the usual players with lots of cool stuff on the (gigantic) floor of the Convention Center at Mandalay Bay.  But the biggest deal of the show, from our massively solar geek perspective, came from a tiny booth that no doubt many folks missed altogether.  But for many of the potential clients that we see, this was a really big deal!  Here’s our take…

The Sad State of Play

Here in SoCal, we find a great many center-fed service panels - that is, a service panel where the main breaker is located in the middle of the bus.  Now in a truly rational world, that wouldn’t matter, but around here, the prevailing view is that you cannot use the “120% Rule” on a center-fed panel.  (I know this is totally in the weeds, but the 120% Rule says that the sum of all breakers supplying a service panel cannot exceed 120% of the bus rating, and that the solar breaker has to be at the opposite end of the bus from the main breaker.)  So, on a 200 A bus, with a 200 A main, the PV breaker is limited to 40 A.  All fine and good, but it is that “opposite end of the bus” that causes some AHJs misery - like LA County - who insists that with a center-fed panel, there is no “opposite end of the bus"!  (Ignore for the moment that if I have a center fed panel with 10 slots above and below the main, I’m out of luck.  But I could have a main panel with a total of 10 slots below my 200 A main, and no one would have a problem with my putting my PV breaker in the bottom slot!)

So, we are presently stuck with an ignorant interpretation of the Code and it has meant that some folks needlessly were forced to upgrade a perfectly good center-fed service panel just to go solar.

GMA ring installedMore recently, SCE allowed the use of the so-called Generation Meter Adapter (GMA) ring, that consists of a spacer between the utility meter and the meter socket, that allowed for a whip connection to the PV system’s AC disconnect.  That got around the 120% Rule since there is no breaker landing on the bus.  BUT - you have an unprotected connection all the way from the pole to that disconnect - which creates a serious hazard, especially in a residential environment.

You can see the interconnection on the right - and the scary danger sticker that we added to provide a suitable warning.  (Interestingly, while we have to add all manner of stupid signage - like that directory plaque that provides no useful information whatsoever - there is no requirement for a warning about the hazard presented by that interconnection.)  To be extra cautious, we also install a lock on the disconnect door to discourage the curious.

Oh, and it costs just under $500 to have SCE install the ring (and their service tech has to suit up to reduce the risk that he gets lit up like a Christmas tree while doing the install).  Geez, all this because of a bad code interpretation!

To the Rescue - B3 Bypass!

Fortunately, there is now an alternative to this madness!  A California-based outfit that goes by the not-so-catchy name of QFE002, has come up with a revolutionary product - that is now UL listed!  (They have been coming to SPI for years, but they just got UL!)

B3 Bypass breakerSo what is this game changer?  It is the B3 Bypass breaker and it taps directly onto the main conductors going into the main breaker.  Because the PV does not go through the bus at all, the 120% rule does not apply.  This means that the amount of current that could be backfed by the PV array is only limited by the main conductors feeding that breaker.

In the picture on the left, the 200 A main breaker is on the bottom and the B3 Bypass breaker is above.  The B3 Bypass clamps down onto two of the four conductors feeding the main.  (They have a nifty tool that strips the insulation off without otherwise modifying the conductors, or unscrewing them from the main breaker.  Per UL, this does not constitute a modification of the panel, so its UL listing is unaffected - meaning that there is no need for a field certification.)

The B3 Bypass comes in various configurations - the dual, twin-pole 20’s shown here  can actually be as high as twin 60’s - meaning that you could install 120 A of solar - triple what could be normally connected to a 200 A service, and twice the 60 A rating of the GMA ring!  It is even 50% more than you could install on a 400 A service!  Yeah, this could be big!

They are taking order requests on their website, although we don’t yet have pricing or timing for potential deliveries.  (My guess is that they are just now trying to move into production mode, now that UL is behind them.)  We passed along their info to both BayWa and CED Greentech - hopefully they will get a distribution deal going so that they can make this available far and wide!

We are definitely fans!


  12:24:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1036 words  
Categories: Ranting

Mr. Jenal Goes to Sacramento

As promised a couple of days ago, I went to Sacramento to lobby our state legislators about the value of solar and storage. Here is my report…

Our state trade group, the California Solar Industries Association (CALSEIA), organized (thanks to the awesome - and very loud voiced - Carter Lavin, et al., for the heavy herding) more than 150 cats, er, solar professionals, to descend upon the state Capitol and provide legislators with not only a human face behind the solar industry, but some of the passion for solar that makes this industry special.

CALSEIA Solar & Storage Contractors at CA Capitol building

The mighty team assembled on the Capitol’s West steps.

We were divided into 20 teams that went to - in my case - five different legislative offices.  We had a number of agenda items, and our goal was to let legislators and their staffs know what we belive to be important going forward. 

Here are the folks from my team:

  • Mark Miles - Team Leader - head of MMCI, a startup looking to improve solar thermal technology;
  • Jason Johnson - Synthesis Construction in South LA - a solar thermal/PV guy bringing the power of the sun to less-advantaged communities;
  • Harry Cartwright - Synthesis Construction - doing the sales/advocacy in South LA;
  • Stella Isbell - WESCO Distribution - a solar equipment distributor;
  • Felicia Lee - TerraVerde Renewable Partners - an energy analysis consulting firm.

Our first stop was the office of Pasadena’s own Democratic Assemblymember Chris Holden, but he was nowhere to be seen.  Nor was the person scheduled in his place.  Instead, we met - in the hallway - with his Senior Assistant Elle Hoxworth, who despite the title, is very young.  She was polite, but her answers about the fate of SB 700 - which would have created a rational rebate program for storage, but was killed by her boss earlier this year - were not helpful.  While she insisted that Assemblymember Holden supported storage, he wanted to wait for a series of reports to be issued by the CPUC before acting - and those reports aren’t even scheduled to be completed until the end of next year!  It would be irresponsible to act now without the benefit of receiving those reports, she implied, and an unfair burden on ratepayers.  In other words, precisely the utility’s line.

Felicia pointed out that the ratepayers are going to pay either for incentivizing storage, or for more transmission lines to bring in the needed power from far away.  Moreover, Assemblymember Holden should be on the side of the future, not the past.  (Felicia was a passionate voice for the future all day!)

Bottom line here - our vision is not Holden’s, and he is not likely to be swayed by us. 

Oddly enough, we had more success at our next stop, at the office of Republican Assemblymember Harper from Huntington Beach.  When Mark Miles talked about extending the rebate program for solar thermal, Assemblymember Harper shot back that if the price of natural gas was going to continue to climb, then no other incentive would be needed and the market would solve the problem on its own.  (Ah yes, let’s hear it for the “Invisible Hand!")  I pointed out that the incentive is important because it empowers the consumer to take control over their economic future - they know what they will pay for their solar system (be it PV or thermal) and that insulates them from the whims of the marketplace.  He at least nodded at that thought, and told us that he had enjoyed the meeting, and that we had given him some “new perspectives” to consider.  Hard to know if that can morph into votes, but you have to start somewhere.

Next stop was Democratic Senator Portantino, who also represents Pasadena.  We met, again in the hallway, with his Legislative Aide, Tara McGee.  Tara assured us of the Senator’s support for pretty much all things solar and took all of our information about our legislative agenda and promised to share it with her boss.  This was the only meeting we had where we were assured of full support. (It was also the shortest.)

We then went to the office of Senator Steven Bradford, a Democrat from Gardena.  We met with his Chief of Staff, Sue Kateley, who is the former head of CALSEIA!  Needless to say, that makes her very well informed about solar issues, but it also means that she has strong views and can be difficult to persuade.  One interesting exchange occurred when she observed that she didn’t like tankless water heaters.  That brought an illustrated response from Jason Johnson (he brought a binder of project images) who explained that the problem was with having the heater and solar thermal system properly sized - and that he has an engineer handle that for his company, not a plumber.  “You use an engineer on every job?", Sue questioned  “Every job,” was Jason response.  As we were leaving, I thanked her for her past service with CALSEIA, and she seemed taken aback before saying we were welcome.

Our final stop was at the office of Democratic Assemblymember Mike Gipson, and his Legislative Director, Jay Jefferson.  While we were waiting for the meeting - we had been allotted exactly 15 minutes starting at 4:15 - a group of suits walked out of his office.  The contrast between their corporate uniform and our colorful diversity was striking.  Assemblymember Gipson was cordial, but it was getting to the end of the day and he was nodding off a bit. Felicia brought him back to the room with some powerful comments about the future, I made a pitch for supporting SB 700 next year, and Jason and his colleague Harry were able to explain to him the benefits of extending the thermal rebate program, and how that would be a boon to the poorer constituents in his South Los Angeles district.  He was supportive, and Mr. Jefferson was taking notes about the points that we made.  It was a positive way to end our round of meetings.

The day ended with a reception and the award of CALSEIA’s Legislator of the Year to Democratic Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, for helping to lead the way on a number of important bills this year.

All-and-all, it was a long but productive day, and it was great to see old friends and make new ones from the solar tribe.



  11:01:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 390 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Ranting

Court to SolarEdge: DENIED!

Judge bangs gavel on SolarEdge's claimsWe wrote last month about the ill-conceived lawsuit filed by SolarEdge against Enphase Energy over a video comparing the new Enphase AC Module’s install time with that of systems using the SolarEdge optimizers.  SolarEdge initially asked for a Temporary Restraining Order - which was denied, but the court set an accelerated hearing schedule for a Preliminary Injunction.  If granted, Enphase would  have been prohibited from airing the video - either via YouTube or at next month’s SPI trade show.

Well this just in: SolarEdge’s motion has been denied in full.  (You can read the court’s order here.)

SolarEdge had whined in their complaint that the video wasn’t fair because they too have embedded optimizers, and that is the comparison that should be shown.  But that is just silly.  First of all, the ad isn’t aimed at consumers, it is aimed at installers - and they very well know the difference.  (A point the judge noted as well.)  Furthermore, here at Run on Sun, we are exclusively an LG shop when it comes to our solar modules.  SolarEdge doesn’t have an embedded optimizer with LG - but Enphase has an AC Module built on the LG 330 Watt Neon module!  For us, the comparison in the video is exactly the comparison that matters.

SolarEdge also whined about the use of their logo in the video, but that was equally bogus.  No one looking at the ad would think for a moment that SolarEdge was endorsing the Enphase product.  Rather the video makes it clear that Enphase is only using it to identify the competing product, a “nominative fair use” that can be invoked where “the use of the trademark does not attempt to capitalize on consumer confusion or to appropriate the cachet of one product for a different… and where a defendant uses the mark to refer to the trademarked good itself."  That is precisely what was done here.

In finding that SolarEdge was unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claims the court cleared the way for Enphase to promote their video far and wide.  We are happy to help!  In case you missed it before, here’s the video that SolarEdge tried, but failed, to keep you from seeing:

PS: Note to SolarEdge’s lawyers - from my old firm of OM&M - you really need to do a better job of managing your client!  Just sayin!


  08:42:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 494 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Ranting

SE Takes the Leap, Highlighting Enphase's Superior Product - UPDATE!

UPDATE: The court has denied SolarEdge’s motion - read about it here.

In an earlier life I was a big firm lawyer, mostly handling hi-tech and intellectual property litigation.  Every now and then a client would get steamed over what they thought a competitor was doing, and would demand that we sue them - even though there was no merit in the case.  The competitor had a legal right to do what they were doing, even if it annoyed our client. 

Calmly, we would try to talk them down off the ledge less they draw more attention to the issue by suing than the activity ever would have on its own.  Apparently the folks at SolarEdge never got such advice as they have filed a frivolous lawsuit against competitor Enphase Energy over the video below.  Here’s our take…

SE is complaining that this video is “false and misleading” since it doesn’t illustrate the installation comparison that SE thinks is proper.  But that isn’t the standard.  Enphase says that they are comparing the install time on the roof between an Enphase-LG AC module and a SE optimizer system with separate modules.  Does that comparison exist in the real world of solar installations?  Of course.  In fact, if a solar installer wanted to use LG modules with SE, this is exactly the comparison that would be at issue! To suggest that such a comparison is false and misleading is to simply ignore real-world conditions. 

If SE wants to highlight a different, equally factual comparison, they are free to produce that ad, but that doesn’t give them the right to enjoin the factually accurate comparison that Enphase chose to highlight.

(SE also complains about the use of their logo in the video, but this is equally frivolous - that would be like saying that you couldn’t show a Pepsi can in a Coke ad.  Good luck with that.)

So far the court has not been too impressed with SE’s claim, denying a motion for a Temporary Restraining Order ("TRO"), saying:

Preliminary injunctive relief, whether in the form of a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction, is an “extraordinary and drastic remedy,” that is never awarded as of right.  In order to obtain such relief, a plaintiff must establish four factors: (1) he is likely to succeed on the merits; (2) he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of  preliminary relief; (3) the balance of equities tips in his favor; and (4) an injunction is in the public interest.
Here, with respect to the request for a temporary restraining order in advance of a hearing for a preliminary injunction, plaintiffs have wholly failed to establish a likelihood of immediate irreparable harm to justify the issuance of a temporary restraining order at this time.

Apparently SE is afraid that Enphase will show the ad during SPI.  But thanks to this ill-begotten lawsuit, probably everyone who would have seen it at SPI, will see it now!  Way to take the leap, SE, nicely done.


  07:19:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 403 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, Utilities, Ranting

Solar Boom Devolves to Power "Glut"

The LA Times today is out with an article titled, “Energy goes to waste as state power glut grows“.  The article describes how as solar power has grown dramatically in the Golden State, it has lead to a problem that has caused the state to actually pay neighboring Arizona to take our surplus energy!  Meanwhile the IOUs are badgering the CPUC to allow them to spend billions on additional natural-gas-fired power plants!  This is crazy town, and points to the need to radically redesign the incentives provided to utilities in the state.  Here’s our take…

Utility-scale pv

Utility-scale PV in Kern County (Image: LA Times)

According to the LA Times report, as recently as 2010, solar accounted for less than 1% of the electricity produced in California.  Fast-forward to last year and solar provided 13.8% of California’s electricity, with 9.6% from utility-scale projects like the one on the right, and an estimated 4.2% from residential and commercial installations.

Surely that is a good thing, as California continues on its path to getting 50% - and ultimately 100% - of its energy from renewables. But we aren’t going to get there paying our neighbors to take our surplus energy.  And it certainly makes no sense for utilities that are already overbuilt, to be spending ratepayer money on even more fossil-fueled generation capacity.

The perverse incentive here is that the IOUs - SCE, PG&E, and SDG&E - earn their money by building stuff, whether that stuff is used or not.  So it would seem that the trick here is to get them to build The Right Stuff, which certainly isn’t another natural gas peaker plant.  Instead, the clear winner here should be storage, particularly storage at utility scale. Bring enough intelligent storage into the mix and goodbye “Duck Curve” and hello a fossil-fuel-free future.

The CPUC should be providing the same rate-making incentive to build vast amounts of storage, even if at a premium price, rather than non-renewable generation capacity.  No renewable facility should ever have its output curtailed (as has happened 31% of the time in the first few months of this year), and no renewable energy should ever be exported to a neighboring state, except when such an export serves the economic interest of California ratepayers.

California is going to get to 100% renewables, we have to, as does the world.  We can and should show the way, but we will need to change the way utilities approach the problem if we are to get there anytime soon.

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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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