Category: Residential Solar


  03:07:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 680 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Ranting

Problem Solving 101 - "I lost the map!"

At Run on Sun we like to think of ourselves as true Solar Pros - years of experience, NABCEP certified, yadda, yadda, yadda!  But this post is about doing something wrong (nicely done, Jim) and having to figure out a way to fix it (thank you, Sara!).  We recount it here because it might help some of our colleagues who just might make the same mistake!

Run on Sun is a huge Enphase shop, and one of the reasons why is the great monitoring that we get for every installation.  For installers, we can see module-level data that allows us to determine not only if there is a problem with the array, but where that problem is!  (Contrast this with a string array, where determining where a problem resides can be an error-prone and time-consuming process.) 
Check out this sample from one of our systems:

Enphase module-level monitoring

This is from a recent install using LG 360 Watt, back-contact modules with Enphase IQ6+ microinverters. As you can see this is a very consistent array with the output power ranging from 288 to 291 Watts at each module.  But you might ask yourself, how does the system know which module/microinverter is which?  The answer is easy - each microinverter has an associated serial number, and it sends that serial number to the monitoring device (called an Envoy) when it reports its performance.  When the installer “builds” the array in the cloud, she maps the serial numbers from the microinverters to the layout as installed.

To facilitate that mapping, Enphase provides a peel-off label on each microinverter.  The installer removes the sticker and places it on a map, to be pared with the online layout.  When we are doing our installs, I am often the person responsible for collecting the labels onto the map, and then later using that map to build the system online.  I’ve been doing this for years, and never had a problem.

Until the other day.

I got back to the office, ready to build out our array online, only to discover - there’s no map!  Mind you, I remember clearly creating the map, and I would have sworn I put it in the car right after doing so, but it was nowhere to be found!  Yikes!  Now what do we do?

To be sure, the serial number were still on the microinverters, but they could not be read from where they are located on the roof!  Ugh - we could remove the modules (of our otherwise operational system) but that would be a huge amount of work - there has got to be a better way!

Cue Sara - Problem Solver Extraordinaire!

Indeed there was as Project Coordinator, and problem solver extraordinaire, Sara Pavey quickly observed.  We could connect to the Envoy using a smart phone (it has a WiFi hot spot built in), and look at the data coming from the array.  If we were to shade one module at a time, we could see which microinverter’s power output went to zero, and then record the corresponding serial number!

Jim on the roof, paying dues for losing the map!

Jim paying dues on the roof for losing the map!

One module at a time, we covered a portion of the module so that we could detect it’s loss of output, and record that serial number in the proper position.  (The per-microinverter data is not instantaneous, so we had to wait until the Envoy polled each one to detect the change.  Hint to Enphase: it would be nice to be able to get that data in real time, as that would greatly speed up the process!  Maybe as part of a special, troubleshooting-for-idiots mode?)

Nevertheless, with a minimum of fuss and bother, after an hour we had mapped all twenty-six microinverters, without having to unbolt a single module.  Well done, Sara, you more than earned your keep that day!

(Oh, and we now take a picture of the map as soon as it is completed!)

So there you go folks, live and learn!  If anyone out there has faced this problem in the field, how did you resolve it?  We would love to hear from you in the comments below!


  03:14:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 347 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, SCE, Residential Solar, Net Metering

Beware SCE's Attempt to Switch Solar Customers to TOU Rates!


Attention SCE customers who installed solar before the NEM 2.0 deadline (that is, you installed solar before July 1, 2017) - we just learned that SCE is sending around notices suggesting that you switch over to a Time-of-Use rate. You do not need to make that switch, and you most likely don’t want to!
Here are the facts…

SCE customers who installed solar systems prior to the transition to Net Energy Metering 2.0 rules ("NEM 1.0 Customers") are grandfathered into their existing tiered rate structures for 20 years following their go-live date.  While the costs under that rate structure may change, the basic design - a tiered rate where you pay more the more you use, versus a time-of-use rate where what you pay is tied to when you use it - is locked in.  For most solar system owners, that is a better deal.

But we just learned that SCE is trying to convince NEM 1.0 Customers to switch to TOU rates.  (You can find their oh-so encouraging web page for the transition here.)  For the vast majority of solar system owners, such a transition is NOT IN YOUR BEST INTEREST!  The TOU rates have their highest charges either from 4-9 or 5-8, and their lowest charges between 8 a.m. and 4 or 5 p.m.  That means that any energy exported back to the grid will be compensated at the lowest rate (unless your system happens to be exporting after 4 or 5 in the evening, not very likely), whereas energy you need to use in the evening will cost you the most!  

Check out these numbers:

SCE's 4-9 p.m. TOU rate      SCE's 5-8 p.m. TOU rate
SCE’s 4-9 p.m. Time-of-Use Summer Rates   SCE’s 5-8 p.m. Time-of-Use Summer Rates

Yikes!  That’s a whopping 49¢/kWh if you select the 5-8 p.m. rate - but you will only earn 23¢/kWh for energy that you export from your solar system!  Not a good deal at all!

The good news is you don’t have to make this switch!  And if you mistakenly were convinced to switch, you have the right to switch back.  (Similar scams are underway in PG&E and SDG&E territory as well.)  If you have questions, give us a call and we will help you to sort this out.


  05:42:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 688 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Ranting

Down the Rabbit Hole - Two Years Later

Back in 2016 we wrote about a tangled series of misleading solar advertisements under the title of Down the Rabbit Hole. Seems it struck a chord with readers - it is the 4th highest ranked blog post since we wrote it.  The conclusion to that post went as follows: 

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.

Alas, that Rabbit Hole is still there, as my online encounter today demonstrated all too clearly.  Follow along, dear reader…

Much of our work is done in Pasadena, where we are based.  So this got my attention while I was wasting time on the Internet:

Pasadena offers no cost solar to SCE customers???

I suspect this will come as a surprise to the City of Pasadena!

First off this is sponsored content, which means that our old friends, The Solar Institute, paid for this to appear on the webpage I was reading - from my office in Pasadena.  But here’s the rub, Pasadena, of course, has its own municipal utility - Pasadena Water & Power - so why would it be subsidizing SCE rate payers with “no cost solar"?  Easy - they wouldn’t!

Second, is this really “no cost"?  Wow, what a deal!  Who wouldn’t jump at that opportunity?  And so down the Rabbit Hole we go…

SCE customers can no go solar at no costClicking on that link takes you to this site, which looks astonishingly like their site from nearly two years ago.  The main difference?  This is now just ever so slightly less deceptive as it now says it is an advertisement - that disclaimer wasn’t there in 2016.  But they have doubled down on their Tesla/Elon Musk appropriation - previously they just had his alleged quote in the upper right, now they have added the Solar City/Tesla solar roof image to bolster their bona fides
Attention, Tesla legal department, you might want to have a chat with these folks as they are tarnishing your brand!

And check out the blatantly misleading headline - because NO, SCE customers cannot go solar at no cost.  (Neither can anyone else, for that matter!)  The body text is just as bad:

There is a new Solar Program available in Southern California and it’s got Southern California Edison(SCE) shaking in their boots. This new solar program qualifies SCE customers, who live in specific zip codes, to receive $1000’s in Government rebates and tax breaks. Homeowners are shocked to learn that subsidies and rebates cover 99% of costs associated with installation. With the option to put $0 down, you’ll start saving immediately.

Where to start?  I doubt that SCE is losing much sleep about this since there is no “new solar program” - just the same old scam that The Solar Institute has been running since 2016.  There are no “Government rebates,” and the federal tax break is not dependent on your utility or your zip code - and it certainly isn’t dependent on you going through these bozos.

Instead this is nothing more than a lead-generation site, pushing solar leases on unwitting consumers, and using other people’s names and intellectual property to lend credibility to their scam.

If you scroll down to the bottom of their page they have a link seeking solar companies  to “Partner with us” - and there is the problem, solar companies continue to purchase leads from scam artists like this.  Shame on them.

If you are a consumer, caveat emptor - if a deal sounds too good to be true, walk away!  There are plenty of reputable solar companies out there - you can find many of them in the Member Directory of the California Solar & Storage Association.


  04:28:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 689 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar

Solar Tariffs - What Does this Mean for You?

After months of discussion, the Trump administration imposed 30% tariffs on imported solar cells and completed solar modules (like the LG modules that we use exclusively). The news made a pretty big splash, but it has mostly left potential solar clients confused about what it really means. We are still sorting through this ourselves, but here are our preliminary thoughts.

How did we get here?

Last April, bankrupt panel manufacturer Suniva—operating out of Georgia, but actually a subsidiary of China’s Shunfeng International—filed a trade case claiming it was damaged by the “dumping” of inexpensive solar modules from China and elsewhere.  They sought trade protection in the form of tariffs to drive up the cost of competitor’s products, so that their panels would be cheap enough for people to purchase.  We wrote at length about this at the time: Suniva - the Tail Wagging the Dog

Shortly thereafter, SolarWorld—another manufacturer operating in Oregon, but German owned—joined the case.  The irony here is that some of the modules targeted by this trade case - like our LG modules - are already considerably more expensive than those made by Suniva or SolarWorld!

Moreover, solar module manufacturing tends to be highly automated, meaning there just aren’t that many jobs at issue; whereas rising prices could seriously impact solar installation jobs, which are far more numerous (and which can’t be outsourced, for that matter!). 

Despite all of that, the Administration imposed tariffs in the name of protecting American jobs.

What will this do to the cost of solar?

Which brings us to the obvious question of what will this cost consumers.  First and foremost, for our clients, if you have signed a contract with us, your cost will not change at all.  Indeed, our pricing changes on February 7, so contracts signed before then will be unaffected as well.

But we aren’t going to see a full 30% price increase on modules because prices have been mostly flat for the past six months.  That means that the normal price decreases we have grown accustomed to haven’t happened while LG, and every other manufacturer, waited to see what would happen.  In fact, it looks like our most popular module, the LG 335’s, will only increase in price by 13%.  Moreover, module costs are no longer the driving number in our solar installs, accounting for between 20 and 25% of the total system cost.  That means that a module increase of 13% translates into something like a 3-4% overall increase.  A useless waste of money to be sure - but not a game changer.

Exempt Me!

LG makes a premium product that is substantially different than the product offerings from either Suniva or SolarWorld.  For example, the LG 335’s that we have been installing lately are N-type modules, compared to the P-type modules sold by Suniva.  Beyond that, the LG 360’s that we are installing are back contact N-type modules, making them doubly more sophisticated that what the complainants offer.  These are premium products that do not directly compete with the more standard, commodity offerings that they are accused of harming.  Bottom line - people choose the LG modules that we are offering because they are a clearly superior product, albeit at a premium price.

While I’m no expert here, it is my understanding that a manufacturer can petition to be exempted from the tariffs if they can demonstrate that they do not directly compete with the complainants’ products.  LG is pressing that point, and it is possible that they will prevail in their argument and be exempted entirely from the tariff, although we won’t know that for some time.

Stay Calm - and Go Solar!

The bottom line here is that as short-sighted and ham-handed as this decision was, it will not radically change what we do and how our clients will be charged.  If you were considering going solar, there will be little economic impact to the value of going forward due to this new tariff. 

So let’s all take a breath, stay calm, and continue to do what we’ve been doing for more than a decade - helping people by putting the highest-value solar systems on their roofs, providing them with clean, affordable energy for years to come.


  10:20:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 491 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Ranting

How NOT to Advertise for Solar

We see lots of ads for solar companies - most banal, some clever, some downright fraudulent.  Sadly, it is the last of those three that concerns us today.  Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t try to get us to sign on to their lead generation campaign, and we tell them we don’t buy leads.  Here’s why…

Consider this ad that we came across on Facebook:

Misleading solar facebook ad

There is so much wrong with this that it is hard to know where to begin.  This is a sponsored post, which means that it is an advertisement - but for whom?  They have a Facebook page, and a link to a website, but no information about who they are, or where they are located.  As of this writing they have 744 reviews, 723 are 5 star, but oddly the bulk of those came on the same day!  

But moving on, let’s check out the lede: “Attention CA Homeowners: There’s a new 2018 policy your energy provider does not want you to know!”

No, actually, there is no such “new ” policy in  2018, at least as it relates to solar.

Then the ad veers into making claims about Tesla’s (not really a product) Solar Roof, so the reader would be forgiven if they assumed that this was a Tesla/SolarCity ad - but it is not.  (And the weird picture next to a Tesla PowerWall has nothing to do with the (not really a product) Solar Roof, so why is it there, other than to get the name Tesla before the reader.)

But here’s the real tease: “First 300 Qualified Applicants Even Have FREE Install. Click to see if qualify!"  Well, who doesn’t love free?  Boy, I wonder if I can qualify?  Let’s click and see…

Do you qualify?

Okay, kinda creepy that it knows I’m in Pasadena, but I wonder what that Solar Panel Program might be?  How about this gem of mangled syntax: “California Government has categorized the Solar Energy in one of its key campaigns, and now you can reap the benefits."  What does that even mean?

In case your sense of urgency is not high enough, they’ve got this incentive:

“Solar programs are so popular that the California resident-only fund is running out of money.”

Let’s be perfectly clear - there is no such “California resident-only fund” for solar. 

Everything about this ad is misleading, and intentionally so.  What happens if you finally click to “See if you qualify?"  They harvest your contact information and sell it to solar companies who purchase scammy leads like this.  And then your phone will start ringing, from both real people and robocallers, trying to convince you to buy solar from a company whose ethics are so sketchy that they agree to do business with these folks.

If you are thinking about going solar, please avoid traps like these.  They are plenty of real, honest, local solar companies that would love to help and not rip you off.  And hey, if you are here, you’ve already found one!

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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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