We often claim that the solar industry is called to be better - more honest, more ethical, more community oriented - than the average business. One way that can manifest itself is by going out of your way to help when there is nothing in it for you. Today we want to recognize SMA and their marvelous Melody Kenoyer for doing just that.
First some background. Back in 2010 we were contacted by a lady we’ll call Sophia about a problem that she was having with her solar power system. Sophia lives in a modest home in Glendale that was built for her by Habitat for Humanity. The three townhomes in the project were each topped with a 1.6kW solar power system. Unfortunately, the solar installer who had worked on the project had long since gone out of business and that left Sophia to go searching on the Web to find someone who might help. She found Run on Sun. As luck would have it, we were able to fix her system and get her back online without much difficulty. Sophia was so grateful she sent us an amazing Christmas card that year.
Fast forward to last Friday when Sophia called again. She had a different problem this time that couldn’t be resolved quite so easily.
Turns out that her long-since out-of-warranty SMA 1800U inverter had stopped working and was displaying an EEPROM_d error message. We had seen this problem before and we knew that while you could reset the error, there was no way to prevent the problem from happening again without installing an EEPROM upgrade - a task we had performed on another 1800U years earlier. We reset the inverter and it came back online - Sophia was very relieved to have the unit working again, but concerned that the problem might return. We promised to contact SMA and see what we could do.
When we called on Monday we reached Ms. Melody Kenoyer at the service support desk. We explained about the problem and she pointed out that the 1800U was no longer being made and that as they were all outside of their warranty period - an understatement given that they had carried 5-year warranties and they were phased out long ago when the CSI program mandated 10-year warrantied products. Not surprisingly, SMA was no longer servicing them. They did have an upgrade program for customers who wanted to upgrade to newer units - but that was not going to be a viable option for Sophia.
Ms. Kenoyer checked with her supervisor who confirmed that apart from assisting us in resetting the inverter, there was nothing more that they could do for us. I told her that we had already done the reset and the system was back online - it was just that we were hoping to be able to give Sophia some greater piece of mind. Ms. Kenoyer listened, and then promised that she would personally take this to her Manager to see if there wasn’t something else that they might do. I thanked her for that and hung up, fully expecting that we had played this out as far as it could go.
But then, lo and behold, I received the following email from Ms. Kenoyer:
I spoke with my Manager about the pro bono job you are doing for the single Mom in the Habitat for Humanity home. We do have some EEPROM chips for special circumstances and my Supervisor will send you some.
Well what do you know about that!
From utility attacks on the one hand to shady behavior by certain solar companies on the other, at times it is hard to cling to our view that solar is special. But then along comes Ms. Kenoyer, and her Manager, and SMA to help convince us that our view is the right one after all - solar is special.
So a hearty “Thank You” to everyone involved in making this happen - don’t be surprised if Sophia sends you a Christmas card!
Drive the freeways, ride the train from San Diego to Union Station, or fly into LAX and you cannot miss the obvious - Los Angeles has tremendous, untapped potential for solar growth. Now a new report from Michelle Kinman at the Environment California Research & Policy Center, seeks to layout the case for Solar in the Southland: The Benefits of Achieving 20 Percent Local Solar Power in Los Angeles by 2020. Here’s our take.
It is beyond dispute that there is a huge gap between the amount of solar that could be supported in the Southland versus the amount that is actually, presently installed. As Ms.Kinman’s report makes clear, even in the City of Los Angeles alone, that gap is enormous, as illustrated by this graph:
Citing a study by UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation, Kinman reports that the rooftops just in LA alone could support some 5,500 MW of solar power - of which a paltry 68 MW is installed today. That is a lot of potential. But Kinman’s report doesn’t focus on adding all of that - rather she has documented dramatic benefits that would follow from just reaching the goal of 1,200 MW by 2020.
In addition to supporting some 32,000 job-years of employment (thank you!), Kinman shows that installing that much solar would also have these benefits:
Kinman insists that this is an achievable goal, but one that would take “clear, strong and consistent direction and support” from the Mayor and the City Council to LADWP. Some specific policy prescriptions include:
If we have one criticism of the report it is that it fails to identify funding sources - other than anticipated savings - to spur this growth. For example, providing additional incentives for residential solar or expanding the FiT will come with a price tag. Who is going to put up that money? At a time when solar is under attack from investor-owned utilities for unduly shifting costs onto non-solar customers, the report misses an opportunity by failing to outline a mechanism to pay for its important goals.
Still, the report provides valuable documentation of the as yet unrealized benefits of tapping into LA’s solar potential; and in that it makes an important contribution to the ongoing policy debate.
Necessity, we are told, is the Mother of Invention. Well, Japan knows a thing or two about inventiveness, and with nuclear power suddenly not an option it has tremendous necessity to come up with innovative energy solutions. Voila, the roll-out of residential energy storage systems - but when will we see them here? (H/T renewableenergyworld.com)
An intriguing piece by Junko Movellan titled, Fighting Blackouts: Japan Residential PV and Energy Storage Market Flourishing, highlights the growth of energy storage devices for residential use ever since the devastation of the Fukushima nuclear power station. Lead by PV manufacturers like Panasonic, Kyocera and Sharp, residential solar customers now have the option of installing sophisticated energy management solutions which allow them to store energy from a solar power system and use it to offset costs associated with tiered or time-of-use rate structures which are common in Japan.
The largest of these systems, offered by Kyocera in April, has a storage capacity of 14.4 kWh at a cost of $43,784 - or roughly $3,000 per kWh stored. To put that in perspective, a 3kW (nameplate) system would produce about that much energy every day but would only cost $12-15,000 pre-incentive in today’s California market. However, some offerings in Japan are now providing integrated PV-storage solutions for under $7/Watt.
The government is playing a role as well, offering subsidies for energy storage systems at one-third of the installed cost, capped at 1 million Yen (~$10,000).
All of these factors are at play right here in California. Well, mercifully, we didn’t have a tsunami destroy a nuclear power plant - but San Onofre is offline for the foreseeable future. We have tiered and/or time-of-use rates at our largest utilities. And we even have a little known - and we suspect seldom used - incentive for energy storage systems. So where are the products?
Intersolar is coming up in July (in San Francisco - hope to see you there!) and Solar Power International follows in October (in Chicago - less likely but my SPI karma is pretty good!). We took a peak at the exhibitor list for Intersolar and discovered a list of 21 folks under the category “PV Energy Storage Systems." Now most of these are tried-and-true names in off-grid applications (companies like Outback Power and Trojan Battery Company), but others are clearly intending to fill this new niche, like Green Charge Networks. How soon will these companies be offering California consumers the same choices that their (well-heeled) counterparts in Japan now enjoy?
(Interestingly, the Intersolar website also sports a blog devoted to - you guessed it - PV energy storage!)
Watch this space - the future of solar is coming quickly!
SB 43 - the Community Solar bill authored by Democratic State Senator Lois Wolk - passed its first legislative hurdle yesterday but in doing so it highlighted potential trouble down the road.
The bill passed the Committee on a 6-4 vote but the combination of who voted Nay does not bode well. Here’s the chart of how they voted:
First observation - the profile in courage award to Committee Vice Chair Jean Fuller for not voting on the bill at all.
Senator Wright’s district encompasses some decidedly working class neighborhoods in cities such as Compton, Hawthorne, Inglewood, San Pedro, Watts and Wilmington. We reached Senator Wright this morning in his Sacramento office - he answered his own phone! - and he was very direct in his comments. He called the measure a “stupid bill” and said he opposed it because of its cost-shifting to other rate payers and that its mandatory purchase and subscription provisions made the bill something he could not support.
We told him about potential clients that we see - like the Glendale woman we met yesterday who so very much wanted to add solar but simply had no viable space to do so - who could really benefit from such a bill. Interestingly, he cited programs like Glendale’s “Green Energy” rate by which GWP customers could purchase “green energy” by paying a surcharge to GWP. We say interestingly because presumably the renewable resources that GWP is using to satisfy that requirement have the same potential issues as those provided by a Community Solar provider - for example, the dispatchability of a resource is not dependent upon who owns the resource.
Our conversation touched on a number of subjects - the Senator was very generous with his time - and we came away with the sense that the while he is quite thoughtful on these issues, he will most likely not be an ally in the struggle to preserve net metering as we know it.
Senator Padilla’s office, on the other hand, did not answer when we called. We will update this post if we hear back from him.
Two of Pasadena’s most beloved institutions - NPR affiliate KPCC and Run on Sun - have joined forces to offer KPCC Members exclusive benefits on solar power systems. As the only solar power company offering Member Benefits, Run on Sun is demonstrating its commitment to the outstanding programming on KPCC and to enriching the lives of its Members.
Here is the deal as shown on KPCC’s Member Benefits page:
- $500 off a residential solar power system, 5kW or larger;
- $2500 off a commercial solar power system, 30kW or larger.
To qualify for this special offer, just show us your Benefits Card when we come out to do your free solar site evaluation.
Wait, what, you aren’t a Member yet? No worries - just click over to the KPCC website and make a one-time contribution of $60! (Wow, how is that for an immediate return on your investment?) Or better yet, become a sustaining member. It is the ultimate win-win!