Category: Residential Solar

09/19/17

  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!

08/28/17

  11:53:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 575 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Solar Storage

Why I'm Going to Sacramento

These may be the dog days of summer, but it is the height of our busy season: multiple projects underway, lots of site evaluations and proposals to manage, and a growing backlog of repair requests on legacy systems that were built by installers who are no longer around. But instead of doing any of that, tomorrow I will be in Sacramento. Let me explain why…

Back in June we wrote about a bill that was then pending in the California legislature, SB 700.  Had it passed, that legislation would have created a predictable, comprehensive rebate program for energy storage throughout the state.  As last week’s eclipse made clear, solar power is having a large (and getting larger) effect on the grid, and the best way to smooth the path of that integration is to add energy storage.  But even on non-eclipse days, there is a substantial need for energy storage to time-shift the availability of solar - which peaks at noon - with the demands of the grid, which peak hours later.  Moreover, as more and more utilities force consumers onto evening-weighted Time-of-Use rates, it will become harder to make the economic case for solar without storage.

But the fly in the ointment is cost - storage today is just too expensive for most consumers. 

We are with storage today where we were with solar itself in 2007.  Back then, solar installations cost around $8.00/Watt - and next to no one had solar!  When the California Solar Initiative kicked off that year, it provided incentives starting at $4.00/Watt that would gradually step down as enough MWs were installed.  The theory then - and experience proved it to be sound - was that by incentivizing the installation of solar, the cost of solar would come down.  Today, the CSI incentives are gone, but the cost of solar is now below $4.00/Watt!  We cut the cost in half, and now solar is commonplace.  Success!

So why not repeat that process with storage?  Why not indeed?

One argument is that we already have a program in place for incentivizing storage, called SGIP.  But SGIP is massively bureaucratic, and operates as a lottery, meaning there is no guarantee that an applicant will get funded.  While neither of those conditions might be a deal-breaker for utility-scale projects (and utility-scale developers), they are a terrible fit for a program that is targeted at residential, commercial, and non-profit installations.  What is needed there is transparency, an easy application process, and a predictable - that is, marketable - rebate amount.

California state capitol

SB 700 died in Committee - I want to know why!

SB 700 would have done all of that.  Instead, it died in committee, without even getting a hearing, let alone a vote.  It died because the Chair of that committee - my very own Assemblymember, Chris Holden - decided to put it in his pocket.  Why did he do that?  I don’t know - he didn’t say.

I’m going to Sacramento to find out.

I should be staying here in Pasadena, helping folks get solar on their homes.  Instead, I will be getting on a plane first thing and flying to the Capital to meet up with other solar installers from around the state. Our mission - to try and impress upon the legislature how this bill would be good for the grid, good for their constituents, and good for local jobs.

We hope to do some educating, and at the same time, learn some important lessons ourselves.  I will let you know how it goes.  Watch this space…

07/18/17

  10:17:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 459 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, SCE, Residential Solar, Net Metering

NEM 2.0 is Here - Now What?

Net Energy Metering 2.0, or NEM 2.0 for short, is now the law of the land, at least in SCE territory.  So what does that really mean for potential solar clients?  Here’s the scoop…

NEM 2.0 brings three changes to how new solar clients will be treated by SCE (customers of PWP, LADWP, or any other muni utility are unaffected).  Let’s take a quick run through each one:

  • A one-time application fee - new solar clients will be charged $75 as part of the interconnection application process.  (In the past there was no charge.)  Not a big deal, just another annoyance from SCE.
  • Switch to Time of Use rates - this is a much bigger deal.  Most residential customers are on a two-tiered rate structure with a “penalty” tier for users who exceed 4x baseline allocation.  Under that rate structure the maximum cost for energy is 31.224¢/kWh.
    Going forward, new solar customers will be charged based on when they use energy, not how much energy they use, with a Summer, on-peak energy cost of 44.665¢/kWh!  Ouch!  Peak hours are weekdays (holidays excepted) from 2-8 p.m.
  • Non-Bypassable Charges - Under the old rules, energy that was imported from the grid could be entirely offset by energy exported onto the grid.  Now, for every kilowatt hour imported, regardless of exports, the customer will pay a small (for now) non-bypassable charge of 2.25¢/kWh.  Again, the utilities were pressing for this to be a much higher number, but for now this is a relatively minor surcharge.

So what does this all mean?  The answer is, it varies.  For some clients, particularly those with west-facing roofs, they may actually do better under TOU rates than they would have staying on the old, tiered rate plan.  But to answer that question requires a proper analysis, and this is where potential solar clients need to do their homework and look closely at their solar bids. 

EnergyToolbase screenshot

Here’s what to look for.  Your potential installer should be requesting that you provide them with SCE’s “interval data” for your home.  This hour-by-hour data for the entire year allows for a proper analysis of your usage, and makes it possible to compare that historical usage with the modeled output of your proposed PV system.  If they aren’t asking for interval data, they are taking shortcuts with their savings analysis - likely in ways that inflate your potential savings on paper, only to result in disappointment down the road.

Run on Sun uses UtilityAPI to access SCE data securely, and we employ EnergyToolbase (pictured above) to do our analysis of your potential savings - two of the most highly respected and sophisticated tools in the solar industry.  We have the tools and the expertise to give you the most accurate projection of your future savings from solar - so let’s get started!

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05/24/17

  06:58:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 230 words  
Categories: Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Non-profit solar

Support KPCC and Save on Solar with Run on Sun!

KPCCHere at Run on Sun we are big NPR fans, and particularly our own, Pasadena-based affiliate, KPCC.  Great local programming, as well as all those wonderful NPR shows that we live for!  (And hey, Kai Ryssdal, we are still waiting to do that interview on the business of solar!)

But between  now and the end of May, KPCC is having their annual Online Auction with over 500 cool things to bid on!  Well, we believe that Run on Sun is Pasadena Solar, so of course we had to get in on the action with not one, but two items for a lucky listener!  Check these out!

Residential Solar

For one lucky listener, Run on Sun will give you $500 off on your residential solar installation!  The bidding starts at $150, so you have a shot at tripling your money, all the while helping to make your local NPR affiliate that much stronger!  Bid on your Residential Solar Discount here!

Commercial/Non-Profit Solar

For that commercial facility or non-profit considering solar, have we got a deal for you!  $1,000 off your commercial/non-profit solar installation, 20 kW or larger.  (New client contacts, only.)  Bidding starts at $300, so again, you could end up tripling your money, and provide a big boost to KPCC.  Bid on your Commercial/Non-Profit Solar Discount here!

But you have to ask fast - the auction closes May 31 at 7:00 p.m. - so don’t miss out, start bidding now!

05/04/17

  05:11:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 497 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, SCE, Residential Solar, Ranting, Net Metering

NEM 2.0 is Coming - But Not Before July 1

As a solar installer working in SCE’s territory, we get messages from them on a regular basis, including those regarding the upcoming transition to NEM 2.0.  But the email we received today (actually two copies of it!) was a bit, how shall we say, high-strung?  Here’s our take.

NEM 2.0 will occur when the first of two events occurs: SCE interconnects enough residential and commercial solar projects to reach 5.0% of its total aggregate power demand, or July 1.  We have written before that SCE will never get to the 5% beforehand, so the deadline is 23:59:59 on June 30. 

So we were a tad perplexed to see this email today - here’s a sample:

417 MWs Remaining in NEM 1.0

As SCE gets closer to its Net Energy Metering (NEM) 1.0 Cap, we want to remind everyone of the importance of submitting complete and accurate interconnection request(s) (IRs). You should be receiving similar notifications within the online application system (i.e., PowerClerk).

Why is the 417 MWs remaining important?

For those applicants and customers with an existing IR moving through the interconnection process, we are sharing this information so that you may plan accordingly as SCE approaches its NEM 1.0 Cap. Once the cap is reached, the existing NEM tariff will close to new customers and the NEM 2.0 (NEM Successor) tariff will become available. With approximately 417 MWs remaining in the NEM 1.0 cap, this is a friendly reminder to please submit all documentation necessary for receiving service under NEM 1.0 and do so as soon as possible.

(Emphasis in the original.)

Wow - you would think that this might happen any day now, based on that language.  Except that it won’t - not even close.

Here are the underlying numbers:  SCE’s total cap is 2,240 MWs - a target it has been building toward since 2007!  As of today, in SCE’s territory, 1,823 MWs has been installed.  That means it has taken roughly  3,595 days to install that capacity, which works out to roughly half a Megawatt per day.  With 417 MWs left under the cap, and just under 58 days before July 1, we would have to be installing at the rate of 7.2 MWs/day!  Uh, no.  Just Not Going To Happen!

(If you would like to see exactly how much time we have before we hit the actual deadline, check out the Doomsday Clock on our Residential Solar page.)

However, the reality of that deadline does have consequences.  For potential commercial clients, sorry, but you are out of luck - there is just not enough time to get a new commercial project designed, permitted, constructed, and approved before July 1.

Potential residential clients are in a slightly better position, but only slightly as your window of opportunity is rapidly closing.  For example, we are already booked solid for the entire month of May with just SCE projects (we have pushed everyone else back to try and help as many as possible in SCE territory meet the deadline), and we can only guarantee an approved interconnection for NEM 1.0 by mid-June.  If you’ve been thinking about solar in SCE-land, please don’t wait, call or email us today!

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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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