Category: Residential Solar

11/02/17

  11:15:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 947 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Ranting, Solar Policy, CALSEIA

Solar Policy Progress!

CALSEIA Staff and Members lobbying in Sacramento

CALSEIA Staff and Members lobbying in Sacramento, August 2017.

We wrote the other day that securing sustainable solar policy is not a spectator sport, that it requires all of us to roll up our sleeves and do the work needed.  Leading that charge here in California are our friends over at CALSEIA, and I think it is helpful to motivate others to join in when they can see positive results. 

After all, winning begets winning (well, ok, maybe it didn’t in Game 7, but wait ’til next year!), and recently CALSEIA published a list of policy victories this year that I thought you would like to see. 

So check it out, so much winning!

AB 1070 - Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego)

Currently solar installers decide what information they will provide to potential clients, and it varies all over the lot, with many companies simply providing “generic” solar system quotes (i.e., this will be a 4.5 kW system for $4.50/Watt).  On the other end of the continuum are the quotes that we provide, calling out all of the equipment we propose to use, how much each line item will cost, a detailed analysis of your savings (using Energy Toolbase, the most sophisticated tool available) and payback over time.  We disclose all of our assumptions (such as energy costs increasing by 3%/year), and lay it all out in a clear and easy to follow format.

AB 1070 will drag some of those less forthcoming companies into the light.  From the legislative counsel’s digest:

This bill would require the [CSLB], in collaboration with the Public Utilities Commission, on or before July 1, 2018, to develop and make available on its Internet Web site a disclosure document that provides a consumer with accurate, clear, and concise information regarding the installation of a solar energy system, as specified. The bill would require this disclosure document to be provided by the solar energy systems company to the consumer prior to completion of a sale, financing, or lease of a solar energy system, as defined, and that it, and the contract, be written in the same language as was principally used in the sales presentation and marketing material. The bill would also require, for solar energy systems utilizing PACE financing, that the financing estimate and disclosure form satisfy these requirements with respect to the financing contract, as specified. The bill would also require the board to post the PACE Financing Estimate and Disclosure form on its Internet Web site.

The bill would require the Contractors’ State License Board to receive and review complaints and consumer questions, and complaints received from state agencies, regarding solar energy systems companies and solar contractors. The bill would, beginning on July 1, 2019, require the board annually to compile a report documenting complaints it received relating to solar contractors that it shall make available publicly on the board’s and the Public Utilities Commission’s Internet Web sites.

This is something we have been advocating for a long time.  Hopefully the CSLB and the CPUC will craft an easy-to-understand document that will help consumers make meaningful comparisons between competing quotes.  We are also pleased that this requires the contract language to track the language of the sales presentation and marketing materials - which in many cases they do not.  On top of that is the requirement for the CSLB and the CPUC to document complaints against solar contractors and to publicize those complaints on their website for all to see.

This bill won’t solve the problem of shady solar contractors, but it is a giant step in the right direction.

AB 1414 - Laura Friedman (D-Glendale)

It used to be that local jurisdictions could charge whatever they liked for solar permits, and getting those permits could take weeks, even for the smallest resi-install.  That was changed a few years ago and permit fees for small PV systems were capped at $500, although realistically, they are supposed to be limited to the actual cost of providing the service.  Some jurisdictions have done a lot to live up to the spirit of the requirement, and both the City of Los Angeles and LA County now have very reasonable permit fees.  Other jurisdictions, however, magically charge that $500 maximum no matter what.   Funny about that.

The cap on those fees was due to expire come January 1, 2018, but AB 1414 extends the cap for seven more years, and lowers the cap from $500 to $450, and extends the cap for both ground-mounted systems as well as solar thermal systems.  Big win.

Other Wins

Some other victories include:

  • AB 634 - Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) - prohibits HOAs from establishing a general policy that forbids the installation or use of a rooftop solar energy system for household purposes on the roof of the building in which the owner resides, or a garage or carport adjacent to the building that has been assigned to the owner for exclusive use.
  • AB 1284 - Matthew Dababneh (D-Calabasas) - Requires PACE lenders to make a “reasonable good faith effort” to ensure borrowers have the ability to repay their loans based on income, assets and current debt obligations.  Too often shady contractors prey on low-income and/or non-native English speakers to sign up for PACE loans that they really do not understand.  This law should help curb that practice, along with…
  • SB 242 - Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) - Mandates that PACE providers have calls with all homeowners before they take out the loan to ensure they understand the terms.

Collectively these measures strengthen the solar industry in California, while providing important consumer protections.  CALSEIA’s work - and that of its members - was key in achieving these results. 

But there’s lots left to do - CALSEIA’s legislative analysis list has many “Failed” entries on it where vital measures were either stalled or defeated outright.  So get involved - this is not a spectator sport!

10/28/17

  11:56:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 836 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Ranting, Solar Policy

Solar Litigation Primer - Lessons Learned as an Expert Witness

I was recently asked to serve as an expert witness in a lawsuit against a super-shady solar installer.  After some soul-searching I agreed to take the job, in part as a way to help the solar industry police itself.  It was an interesting experience, and so I wanted to share some of my “lessons learned.”

Why Me?

Picture of me from my lawyer days

Jim Jenal,
trial lawyer!

In addition to having degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science, I also earned a law degree, and practiced as a trial lawyer for 13 years in the litigation department of O’Melveny & Myers.  Much of that time I spent working with expert witnesses: running teams of consulting experts, overseeing the production of expert reports, taking and defending expert witness depositions, as well as presenting and cross examining experts at trial.  So I understand how the whole “expert witness” gig works.

Of course, more recently, I have been in charge of Run on Sun, and I have been NABCEP certified since 2010.  I have also written at length about problems in the solar industry and the need for us to do a better job at self-policing, or we will face the inevitable backlash.  Lawsuits, of course, are part of that backlash, and as the industry continues to grow, and shady operators continue to proliferate, the number of lawsuits will grow accordingly.

Key Lessons Learned

The case in which I participated, Mandt v. American Solar Solutions, et al., involved a homeowner who was defrauded into purchasing an over-priced, under-performing solar system from a “contractor” who didn’t have a license (he was renting a license number from a retired plumber), and lied repeatedly about what the system would do.  The sleazy contractor is now facing criminal charges in Riverside County.  Clearly if we are going to assist in getting bad actors out of the industry, this was a good place to start.

It was interesting to be involved in litigation as an expert witness, and here are some key takeaways from that experience.

Engage your Expert Early

I was retained relatively late in the process, and I think that was a mistake.  If you are a trial lawyer dealing with your first solar case, it is highly likely that you lack the technical knowledge to know what the process of developing a proper quote and then following through on the install should look like.  For example, lawyers generally lack expertise in analyzing utility bills, or interpreting the results of a shade analysis.  If you lack that type of knowledge - and why would you possess it? - it will be hard for you to depose the shady contractor thoroughly.

Engaging the expert early - and setting out clear guidelines as to how much time should be spent (more on that below) - will allow you to approach discovery in a more focused manner, and ensure that you aren’t leaving important factual issues undeveloped.

Is it Fraud or just Mismanaged Expectations?

Not all apparent cases of fraud are; sometimes what we are actually dealing with is a case of mismanaged expectations.  (That emphatically wasn’t the case here!)

Not all solar installers are good at explaining the fine points of what living with a solar system will be like, and some solar clients hear what they want to hear!  (See, e.g., “I’ve got solar; why is my bill so high?“)  It is really key to press your client on these points, as it will surely be the point of attack from the defense. 

Don't buy solar from this guy

Caution: Fraudster!

One tip - fraudsters provide minimal and misleading disclosures, tend not to provide the system owner with any documentation about their system (things like data sheets for installed products, as-built site and electrical drawings, copies of warranties, etc.) because that takes time and they want to be on to the next sucker, and are prone to promising “generic” solar systems (i.e, one’s where the actual components to be used are never part of the contract).

In contrast, a legit solar installer makes comprehensive disclosures about the components to be used and what they will cost, line-item by line-item.  They will also provide complete documentation when the project is complete.

Be Realistic About the Cost of Litigation

Litigation is expensive.  (Back in the day, I routinely worked on cases where the burn rate to the client exceeded $1,000,000/month!)  Even small cases can end up producing expenses that are painful to the client footing the bill, and surely expert witnesses contribute to that cost.  It is important for the lawyer and the client to have a clear understanding of the time it will take an expert to become familiar with the essential facts, do whatever research they need (a site visit is almost certainly essential), and prepare to testify.  Just as a good solar installer has to properly manage their client’s expectations, so too must the lawyer keep the client apprised of what the expert will cost, and make sure that the expert knows what those limits are.

After all, the system owner has already gotten sticker shock once, we don’t want to compound that experience!

 

10/25/17

  04:09:00 pm, by admin   , 145 words  
Categories: Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Ranting, Non-profit solar

Building Client Trust - Podcast with Run on Sun Founder & CEO, Jim Jenal

At Run on Sun we work hard to build trust with our potential clients, and to maintain that trust with those who choose to go forward with us.  Recently, our distribution partner, BayWa, r.e. asked Run on Sun Founder and CEO, Jim Jenal, to join a podcast discussing that very issue.  Jim shared the mic with Tom Miller, Creative Director at BayWa, and Pam Cargill, Principal at Chaolysti Interactive, a consulting firm focused on improving the solar industry.

Although Jim was a bit embarrassed by the title - “In Jim We Trust” is a bit much - he stands by the thoughts expressed!  Check it out:

We would love to hear from both clients and other installers alike - how important is it to build trust?  What do you do to achieve that end?  And what happens when that trust is damaged, how do you make things right?

09/26/17

  08:41:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 232 words  
Categories: PWP Rebates, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Non-profit solar

Pasadena Solar Rebate Ends December 31st!

Pasadena City Hall - home for Run on Sun and Pasadena Solar

The Pasadena Solar Initiative - clearly the best run solar rebate program in SoCal - is ending December 31, 2017!  Here’s our take…

For PWP customers, this means that you need to get a complete rebate application on file before the end-of-year deadline.  You then have six months from the date of the reservation to complete the project.  The rebate, while it lasts, is $0.30/Watt for both residential and commercial customers, and twice that, $0.60/Watt, for non-profits.  If you have been sitting on the sidelines wondering when would be the best time to go solar in PWP territory, well, here’s your answer: Now!

The PSI has been around in its present form almost as long as Run on Sun has been in business, and we would be remiss if we didn’t take a moment to give credit for this wonderful program.  Over the past nine years it has been a model of how to run a rebate program: open, transparent, easy to participate with predictable rebate amounts, and no sudden interruptions in availability.  (Cf. alleged rebate programs in Glendale and Burbank, or the horrible SGIP program.) 

We are proud to have worked with all the folks behind the PSI at Pasadena Water & Power and they have done a terrific job! We are greatly appreciative of their hard work, particularly Mauricio Mejia, Irma Cid-Lujan, Alex Gonzalez, and John Hoffner.  Thanks for a successful nine years - well done!

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!

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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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