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
Consumer watchdog and advocacy organization Consumer Reports is out with an article on the benefits of going solar now! Titled Shedding Light on Solar Power, the article outlines why now may be the time to get off the sidelines, and get solar on your roof.
From the article:
There has probably never been a better time to switch to solar. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have regulations that are solar-friendly enough (and electricity rates high enough) to make residential solar financially attractive (see map below), and last December Congress extended through 2021 the generous federal tax credits on solar projects that had been set to expire at the end of this year. Residential solar installations increased almost 60 percent between 2014 and 2015, and in 2015 America averaged one new residential solar installation about every 100 seconds.
Those who want to wait on the sidelines for further price reductions could be disappointed: The cost of solar panels has started to plateau and, while installation labor and other soft costs continue to fall, the phasing out of state tax incentives and utility rebates and grants has largely offset those savings. Adding an element of urgency to the equation are proposals in a number of states that would radically shrink the utility-bill savings of switching to solar power. Because, generally speaking, existing solar customers haven’t been subject to those changes, getting your deal done before new regulations are implemented could save you hundreds of dollars each year.
Clearly California is one of those states where the combination of high utility rates and favorable policies has combined to make going solar now pretty much a no-brainer!
If you are in Pasadena, there is one more element to add to your sense of urgency - the PWP solar rebate will be cut by 1/3 come August 1!
So you don’t need to take our word for it, Consumer Reports agrees - now is the time to go solar!
As you start your Independence Day holiday, just think how much more fitting it would be if you could declare your independence from high electric bills! So give us a call today, or maybe Tuesday! (Oh and did I mention, when you call Run on Sun you get to work with a NABCEP certified PV professional, just like Consumer Reports recommends? Sweet!)
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!
Its not every day that we get to unveil a beautifully crafted video showcasing just what it is that makes Run on Sun tick. Happily today is different! Our fabulous distributor, Baywa r.e., has partnered with us to create our very own professional marketing video:
Baywa r.e. has been more than just a products distributor for Run on Sun. We began our partnership with Baywa, formerly Focused Energy, back in 2009 when we found them to be a much more detail oriented operation than their competitors. They proved to us they could translate what happens on the roof to ensuring we got all the pieces necessary to make installations run smoothly. Now, our primary reason for continuing to partner with Baywa r.e. has evolved. Their management and staff all share our vision for a solar industry that is better. One that operates with the highest degree of ethics and transparency and a mission to help consumers save money while reducing our impact on the environment. They have supported us, and other small installers, in many ways far beyond the normal functions of a distributor. Case in point is this video which they produced to help us share our message with our community.
I’d also like to point out a few details on the installations featured in this video:
This was our second project with Lincoln Avenue after helping their administrative office go solar in 2011. The 2015 Reservoir project was in partnership with Baja Construction building the ground mount structure to support the 246 LG280 watt panels and Enphase M250 microinverters. Run on Sun installed the solar system to utilize otherwise unused land below the reservoir offsetting nearly 50% of the energy required to run their pumphouse.
While we didn’t end up shooting video at Westridge we really wanted to be sure to include this project as it is near and dear to our hearts. As Run on Sun’s first school installation and Jim Jenal’s (Founder and CEO) daughter’s alma mater we really enjoyed helping them go solar. In 2012 we installed a solar array on their Performing Arts Center consisting of 216 LG250 watt solar panels which were the cream of the crop back then! Working with Westridge School for Girls was a wonderful experience which included our very own Jim Jenal leading a science class tracking a solar eclipse using the Enphase microinverter data! We believe solar at schools offer such great added benefits providing a resource for students to learn about renewable energy as well as math, engineering, environmental issues and more!
In the Fall of 2015 we completed the installation of 147 LG300 watt solar panels on the gym at Chandler School. Chandler was also a fantastic partner to work with partially because we share their values in environmental stewardship. We hope that growing up in an educational environment where solar power is the norm will help students navigate a future where sustainable clean solutions will be the only way forward. We would also like to give a huge shout out to the amazing Trevor Spicer, Director of Operations and Information Technology, for the off-the-cuff cameo and kind words in the video.
This was the most recent Run on Sun installation featured in the video, where a lot of the dialogue with Jim Jenal takes place. This is the second home these particular clients have installed solar with Run on Sun as they recently moved into this beautiful Altadena mid-century modern home. Their roof was a perfect slate for a solar array, and we wouldn’t be surprised if this particular feature was one reason they chose the property! Owning electric vehicles and wanting to offset as much of their electricity as possible we maxed out the space with 44 LG320’s, top of the line panels today! It didn’t hurt that the view from the roof was one to die for, spanning much of the valley with Los Angeles skyscrapers in the distance. Of course, as evidenced by one of the shots in the video, we could also see the smog levels each day we worked at this site further enhancing our resolve to continue to get more solar out there!
Thanks for reading as we share some of the projects we are most proud of. And of course, let us know if you’d like to get a free quote today and share in our commitment towards the belief that the world can be better one roof at a time!
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