Category: Residential Solar

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08/08/14

  09:02:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 799 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Ranting, Net Metering

Do Pro-Solar Policies Hurt the Poor?

smoke from coal-fired power plantThe fossil fuel industry has a problem—its customers hate its product.  We purchase gasoline to fuel our cars and natural gas to heat our homes or cook our food, but we know as we do so that we are making the world hotter and dirtier.  And the electricity that we get from the grid, far too much of it comes from burning coal, and every aspect of that industry, from mining (black lung disease, cave-ins) to burning (think belching smoke stacks like the one on the right) makes one recoil in disgust.

The natural result of that revulsion, is that we are constantly striving to use less of their products.  Which hurts the bottom line, and that is something the fossil fuel industry cannot abide.

Particularly when it comes to solar.  As solar becomes more affordable—and as more advantageous financing mechanisms become available—more and more people “go solar".  Which means less revenue for utilities which drives their rates higher.  Which makes solar more financially viable (if not necessary), thereby driving even more utility customers into the welcoming arms of your friendly, neighborhood, solar installer.  This virtuous cycle for consumers is a vicious cycle for utilities, leading inexorably to their demise unless they change their ways—or solar goes away.

So far most utilities appear to be holding out for option B.

Of course the fossil fuel industry in general, and utilities in particular, are not sympathetic entities with the public so they need a different angle, a better hook if they are going to convince people to abandon solar.

Cue the Koch brothers funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP), and their faux concern for the poor.

In an article titled “How State Solar Policies Hurt America’s Poor,” (h/t Solar Wakeup) AFP Policy Analyst Justin Sykes advances the canard that net metering polices harm poor consumers.  In a piece rife with inaccuracies, Sykes makes a number of misleading statements.  Try this one:

Specifically, the average household income of solar-customers was $91,210, compared to the a median income of $54,283 for non-solar customers. A similar report this month on Nevada’s net-metering policy found  73 percent of solar-customers there have higher median incomes than the statewide average.  Figures like these exemplify how net-metering policy fosters inequality in the way Americans receive and pay for energy. On average, low-income households spend an estimated 37 percent of their income on household energy bills, a burden that grows when coupled with increasing rates due to cost-shifting.

Sorry, but the data simply doesn’t support those statements.

Let’s start with the assertion that solar households have much higher median incomes that non-solar households.

Median household income by zip for solar installations in CaliforniaWe looked at all residential solar installations in California from 2008 to 2013 using data from the California Solar Initiative and ranked them by zip code.  We then compared that to U.S. Census data reporting median household income for those zip codes.  (If you click on the graphic you can actually explore the interactive visualization on our website.)

In every year, whether purchased or leased, the majority of solar was in zip codes where the median household income was at or below $75,000, with only a relative handful in neighborhoods above $125,000.  Indeed, there were more installations in zip codes with a median income of less than $50,000 than there were in zip codes with a median income above $125,000!

Now to be sure, zip code averages are not the same thing as actual customer income, but actual household income of solar customers is not a publicly available piece of data, so this is the best proxy available (and presumably the same proxy available to the likes of AFP’s Mr. Sykes.)

And while we are debunking things, let’s take a look at the statistic about how “low-income households spend an estimated 37 percent of their income on household energy bills."  Seriously?  The link supporting that stat takes you to an article that provides no support for the number.  But more to the point, how could that number even be possible?  According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the 2014 Poverty Guideline for a family of four is $23,850, of which 37% would be $8,824.50, which works out to a monthly energy bill of $735!

Once again, the data tells a very different tale.  According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average U.S. household spends roughly $2,000 per year on all household energy (excluding transportation) and that figure is across all households, not just low income households.  (In California, that average is below $1,500 thanks to energy efficiency measures adopted in the state.)

This is how the battle against solar is being fought: with misleading claims and made-up statistics.

But here is the reality: as solar gets cheaper, and innovative programs like solar loans and HERO PACE financing become widely available, more and more people will realize that they can afford solar and will jump at the chance, rich and poor alike. 

07/30/14

  07:24:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 721 words  
Categories: BWP Rebates, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Ranting

Burbank's Rebate Raffle - Wild, Weird West

The wizards at Burbank Water and Power have announced their solar rebate program will resume, but only for the lucky few who happen to be facing West.  Here’s our take.

Having a stable, predictable solar rebate program is the key to making a solar program successful. Municipal utilities like Pasadena Water & Power, and investor-owned utilities (like SCE) participating in the California Solar Initiative, have had great success with their programs. 

Then there are other munis, like Burbank Water & Power (BWP), that just can’t seem to get it right.  BWP, like its similarly misguided neighbor, Glendale Water & Power, has had an on-again, off-again rebate program that baffles all who attempt to make use of it.  Now, for a brief moment, BWP’s solar rebate program is on-again, sort of.  During the month of August, potential Burbank solar customers are allowed to submit rebate applications (submission deadline is August 29 at 5:00 p.m.) for a lottery to be held on September 8th.  The lucky 60 residential and 15 small commercial (<30 kW) customers who make the grade (no details on how the auction will actually be conducted have been released) will be advised of their good fortune by September 12th.  Rebate amounts are $0.96/CEC AC Watt for residential and $0.73 for small commercial.

But wait, there’s more.

Available rebate azimuth rangeFor the first time in our experience, a utility is limiting rebates for solar systems to only those which face in a generally westerly direction.  In fact, systems facing true south are completely ineligible for rebates (as shown in the  image to the left), even though such systems are the most productive! 

BWP is essentially precluding the overwhelming majority of building owners from even having a chance at a rebate in their lottery system.

This continues a trend we have seen with other muni utilities (GWP we are talking about you) where solar programs are designed to be unsuccessful.  It will be interesting to see if we can extract any data from BWP about the results of their lottery.

Justification for west-facing

BWP’s Stated Rationale for Restricting System Azimuth

But why the restriction in the first place?

According to BWP, it is to insure that the power produced comes closest to overlapping with BWP’s peak afternoon demand from 4-7 p.m.  Thus to qualify, systems have to be oriented between 200 and 270 degrees and have a minimum tilt of 5 degrees.

That seemed pretty arbitrary to us. 

While we could understand a utility wanting to limit providing rate payer money to systems that yield the maximum benefit to those rate payers, there is certainly nothing magical about a limit of 200-270 degrees.  In fact, somewhere around 270 should be the sweet spot for afternoon production, with a fall-off on either side.  So why cutoff systems beyond 270 degrees?

We decided to run some models using NREL’s PVWATTS tool.  We assumed a 10 kW system at a 10 degree pitch (a common residential roof pitch) and accepted the other defaults for the model.  We then calculated the hour-by-hour output for systems with azimuths ranging from 200 to 330 degrees.  Here are the results for the critical hours from 4 to 7 p.m.

Energy production vs azimuth

All of the azimuth angles in the green box are acceptable to BWP, whereas all of the azimuth values in the red box are deemed unacceptable for a rebate from BWP.

But here’s the thing… see that green horizontal line?  That represents the 4-7 p.m. output for our hypothetical array with an approved azimuth of 200 degrees.  Yet five out of six azimuth values modeled here that are rejected by BWP, actually produce more power during the critical period than does our approved system at 200 degrees!

So what exactly is going on here?  BWP’s asserted rationale does not hold up to scrutiny.  Which begs the question, why, really, is BWP so seriously limiting who can participate in their lottery?  It certainly is not justified by their desire to maximize 4-7 p.m. production.  If that were truly the case, they should include azimuth angles all the way to 320 degrees.  They would get more timely power production while opening their rebate lottery to many more potential customers.

How about it, BWP, what is going on here? 

If you are a potential BWP customer who falls outside of the “accepted” azimuth band, you might want to contact the Solar Support program managers:

John Joyce: jjoyce@burbankca.gov or

Alfred Antoun: aantoun@burbankca.gov

If you get a response, please add it to the comments.

07/19/14

  07:53:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 146 words  
Categories: Energy Efficiency, Residential Solar, Ranting, Energy Storage

Can Renewables Power the US?

As renewables become an ever larger share of the energy mix on the grid, we constantly hear the naysayers bleating that renewables make the grid unstable.  Indeed, they claim that anything above a tiny fraction of total power demand penetration by solar sources will result in blackouts or worse since such sources are so variable. Besides, they say, what happens when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow?  Renewables will never be reliable enough to fully power the grid.

But is that really true?  Could it actually be possible to power the US using only renewable sources?

Amory Lovins over at the Rocky Mountain Institute thinks the answer is yes, and the short video that they have created makes a pretty compelling case.  Take a look and decide for yourself.  (Hat tip, Climate Denial Crock of the Week.)

Remember: “Whatever exists, is possible.”

06/28/14

  08:36:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 351 words  
Categories: Electric Cars that Run on Sun, Residential Solar

This Charge is on Us!

As a small business, Run on Sun is often approached about novel means of marketing, the vast majority of which we simply turn down.  Part of that is the sense that we really wouldn’t be reaching our target audience very effectively—do people think about solar standing in the supermarket checkout line? Nah, we didn’t think so either.

Run on Sun EV charge station ad

But then, along came Volta and a marriage perhaps made in heaven: an ad for Run on Sun on an EV charging station! Even better, a free to the driver EV charging station at Whole Foods market here in our home town of Pasadena!!!

Voila—we present the first ever, Run on Sun EV charging station in the wild.

The car being charged is a Tesla (natch) and what we really loved about this marketing opportunity was that when the driver gets out of that car they are looking right at our ad. Pretty close fit to a target demographic too: EV drivers shopping at an upscale market in our geographic center.

Are the stars aligned here or what?

Run on Sun EV charge station ad close up

 

Well, actually, time will tell (the ad just went live on Thursday), but it certainly feels right.

The ad features one of our charming and talented clients (thank you, M!) posing before her Leaf with our solar installation in the background.

The message is simple and direct: Your car should Run on Sun!  Indeed, for those of you taking advantage of the free charge at Whole Foods, your car is, at least for that charge!

The QR code in the lower right corner takes you to our newly minted, EV page on our website, where folks can learn more about solar charged driving and us.

And of course, since Whole Foods prides itself on providing locally sourced produce, we got in a reminder that Run on Sun is your local source for solar.

If you make it to Whole Foods (on Arroyo Parkway) check it out.  If you are driving an EV and you don’t have solar yet, we hope this will inspire you to take the plunge.  In the meantime, this charge is on us!

06/23/14

  10:44:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 565 words  
Categories: PWP, Electric Cars that Run on Sun, Residential Solar

Pasadena's Electric Rates Spark Concern

Pasadena Water and Power (PWP) is set to roll out an entirely redesigned Residential rate structure that could spark serious concerns if you are a big user of energy. Here’s our analysis.

PWP customers have been pretty smug (something we are apparently famous for) as we sit back and watch our neighbors in SCE territory suffer through significant rate increases.  Well, no more.  Now you too, fellow PWP customers, are about to feel the bite of a double digit rate increase.  And here’s the thing—the more you use, the bigger that rate increase will be!

PWP has a somewhat hybrid rate structure, meaning that while the pure energy charges are the same no matter  how much energy you use (in contrast with SCE’s four-tier rate structure), other components, most notably the customer and distribution charges, are actually tiered.  In the newly revised rate structure the customer charge is now split out and is a flat fee of $7.76/month.  The distribution charge, however, remains tiered under the new structure, albeit in an odd fashion.  The first 350 kWh of energy per month see a low distribution charge of just 1.5¢/kWh.   The next 400 are really jacked up: to 11.65¢/kWh before subsiding to 8.5¢/kWh for every kWh thereafter.  Which raises the question: if you want to incentivize people to reduce their usage, why is the third tier lower than the second?

As a result of the change in structure as well as the rate components, the impact on your bill varies a lot depending on your usage, as you can see from the following chart:

 PWP Rate Increase by Daily Energy UsageThe gray bars are the old rates, the red bars are the new rates and the red line tracks the percentage annual increase over the range of 15 to 100 kWh of energy usage per day.

As you can see, two bars (at 15 and 25 kWh) actually show rate decreases and the percentage increase continues to swing back and forth until you get to 35 kWh per day when the increase is monotonically upward.

Indeed, if you are sucking down 100 kWh/day, your rates will go up by nearly 50%!

Fortunately, very few customers are in such rarefied air as that; but a homeowner who had an average usage of about 25 kWh/day who then goes out and purchases an EV that she drives a lot, could bump into the 50 kWh range and she would see a 19% rate increase.  Have a big house with a pool and a jacuzzi and a couple of EVs? If that gets you to 80 kWh/day your rate increase will be 40%!

In fact, it is actually worse than what we are showing here since this is only looking at the energy services part of your bill.  On the left-hand-side of your bill you will find the Public Benefit Charge (tied to how much energy you use) and it is going up by 19%.  On top of that are taxes that you pay on those energy services amounts and you can see that PWP customers, except on the lowest end of the scale, are in for some serious rate hikes starting July 1.

Of course, solar is the perfect hedge against these rate increases (and others sure to come in the future) and PWP still is offering the highest rebates around: $0.85/Watt.  But in all likelihood we will see those rebates step down soon so now is the time to act!  Give us a call at 626-793-6025 and let’s get started.

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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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