Categories: Solar Economics, AB 811/PACE/LACEP Funding, AB 920 Payments, Feed-in Tariff, Solar Rebates, BWP Rebates, GWP Rebates, LADWP Rebates, PWP Rebates, SCE/CSI Rebates, Solar Tax Incentives

05/20/17

  08:35:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 162 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, PWP Rebates, PWP, Ranting

Run on Sun is Pasadena Solar!

Run on Sun has been doing Pasadena Solar for more than 10 years, but only now have we gotten around to dedicating a webpage just to Pasadena Solar! 

Pasadena City Hall - home to Run on Sun and Pasadena SolarWho loves Pasadena Solar?

I know, kinda silly (and foolish from an SEO perspective) but we figured we were fine as we were.  But then I looked at the search results on Google for “Pasadena Solar” and it was really depressing.  I mean seriously - read some of those reviews and you know that they are fake - but still their related websites were getting better rankings than ours!  Not acceptable!!!

So now, if you want to see a webpage that proudly proclaims its love for Pasadena Solar, we’ve got you covered - complete with this iconic image!

Oh, and because we do so much work in neighboring Altadena we are hoping to do a shout-out page for them too but we need an idea for the quintessential Altadena image - if you have ideas, please let us know!

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!

04/30/17

  01:01:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 656 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Ranting

Suniva - the Tail Wagging the Dog

Prices for solar modules have been dropping for years at the same time that their efficiency and overall quality has continued to improve.  This has made solar more affordable for not only residential solar system owners, but also for utility scale solar projects that can now produce electricity at prices that are helping to put dirty, coal-fired power plants out of business.  This is a win-win for all - cheaper, cleaner electricity is just a good thing for everyone.

Unless, that is, you are Suniva.

Who is Suniva, you ask?  Really good question.  Suniva is a Georgia-based solar module manufacturer that filed for bankruptcy earlier this month and then, on April 26th filed a petition with the U.S. International Trade Commission calling for protectionist tariffs on imported solar cells and modules from the rest of the world.  If granted, the tariffs would add $0.40/Watt on imported cells and put a floor of $0.78/Watt on modules. 

Stephen Lacey over at Greentech Media has a nice summary of the proposed tariffs.  From his article:

The company filed a Section 201 petition under the 1974 Trade Act – a tool that could allow the president to implement tariffs, minimum prices or quotas on solar products from anywhere in the world if “serious injury” is proven. It was last used by the steel industry in 2002, which resulted in a three-year tariff schedule on steel products from a number of countries.

If anti-dumping and countervailing duties investigations at the Commerce Department are a scalpel, then Section 201 is a hammer. It is a comparatively swift, blunt instrument. After a petition is filed, the U.S. International Trade Commission has 120 days to review. And if it decides that the industry is facing serious injury, it has another month or two to issue recommendations. The president then has the authority to follow the recommendations – or potentially act on his own.

Trump’s camp specifically cited Section 201 on the campaign trail. Although solar doesn’t seem to be on the president’s mind, this could be a potential win for his trade agenda.

Great.  Suniva is essentially begging the President to blunt the growth of the entire solar industry so that they can “compete".

Which made us wonder, how big a player is Suniva anyway?

Well judging from the California solar market, not so much.  We pulled the NEM Currently Interconnected dataset from the California Distributed Generation Statistics page.  This dataset has entries for all net metered solar installations in the territories of California’s three IOU’s: PG&E, SCE, and SDG&E.  The dataset spans from 1998 through January 31, 2017, and contains 603,000 entries. 

One of the things captured in the data is the manufacturer of the solar modules being used, and the number being installed.  Creating a pivot table from the raw data - and some scrupulous merging of the data to account for creative variations in how the manufacturer’s name was recorded (for example, SunPower was listed 8 different ways) - allows us to see the market share for module manufacturers based on total number of modules installed.  Here’s what that graph looks like:

Module market share

There are sixteen module manufacturers on that graph, and Suniva is tail-end Charlie, having less than 10% of the installed base that market leader, SunPower, has.  Curiously, SunPower is a premium (i.e., expensive) module that is also made in the U.S. 

Square in the middle of that chart is our panel maker of choice, LG, and no one could suggest that they are “dumping” panels on the market. Yet despite entering the US market years after Suniva was founded, LG has outsold them nearly 4 to 1.

What makes Suniva’s pitch even more disingenuous is that it is actually a subsidiary of Shunfeng International Clean Energy, headquartered in Hong Kong!

The solar industry does not need more protectionist trade policies, we need to keep building as much clean energy as we can, as fast as we can.  We shouldn’t let a foreign-owned manufacturer derail that progress under the guise of patriotism, but really just for their own gain.

03/28/17

  03:22:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1002 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Residential Solar, Energy Storage

Solar + Storage = $avings!

We have been waiting a long time for this moment, when we could finally say that we can offer a solar plus smart storage solution for our residential clients.  Well the wait is over, and if you act fast, there is even a sweet rebate available!  It is a complicated picture, so stick with us as we break this down.

Introducing the Enphase Energy AC Battery

Four Enphase Energy AC batteries installed

Four Enphase Energy AC Batteries

Regular readers of this blog know that we are big fans of Enphase Energy and have been installing their microinverters for years.  Given our history with the company, we were excited to be approached by Enphase to participate in their AC Battery “beta” install program, one of just a handful of selected installers in the U.S.  We selected the site of one of our largest residential projects for the beta, knowing that would give us great data to study over time (and you know how we love data!).  We really like the way the install turned out, nice and neat!

Let’s be clear about what this system is, and is not.  It is not a battery backup system.  It will not keep the lights on if the grid goes down.  It is an energy arbitrage system - it stores energy from your PV array for use later in the day when your rates are highest.  That means that this system isn’t for everyone; it is for folks who have a PV system (or want to install one!) and are subject to time-of-use (TOU) rates, which mostly means just some folks who are SCE customers.  (Important note to SCE customers - if you install solar after July 1st, you will be forced onto time-of-use rates.)

Each battery stores 1.2 kWh of energy and can discharge that energy at 280 Watts, giving a discharge time of 4.3 hours.  The beta install shown above is a total of 4.8 kWh and a discharge of 1.12 kW.

So how does this work? Consider SCE’s TOU rates - the cheapest energy (13.1¢/kWh) is from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.  The next cheapest energy (16.6¢/kWh) is from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.   The really expensive energy (a whopping 33.5¢/kWh!) is from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. - precisely when most people are coming home from work or school, turning on the A/C, and lights, and the TV and on and on.  Ouch! 

But note that the peak time does not coincide well with the output from the PV array, meaning energy exported onto the grid during the day is worth half of what that same energy would be worth later in the day.

That problem is exactly what the Enphase AC Battery is designed to solve.  Each morning when the PV array “wakes up” it starts to power the local loads of the house.  As the system produces more power, excess power is routed to charging the batteries (instead of exporting onto the grid).  Once the batteries are fully charged, any excess power is then exported and the homeowner gets a net metering credit for that energy.  But now when we get to 2 p.m. and the energy rate kicks into high gear, any energy needs that cannot be met by the PV array is supplied by the energy stored in the batteries, thereby limiting the amount of really expensive energy that has to be purchased from the grid.

Here’s a recent day’s performance of the beta system (I told you the data was cool!):

Enphase AC Battery usage

The bright blue is energy from the array, the orange represents energy loads - pale orange is entirely offset, bright orange is drawn from the grid.  The green at the bottom shows the percentage of battery charge - sloping up between 8 a.m. and noon, constant until needed starting around 6 p.m., and then discharging to offset the household loads. 

At the top we see snapshot data from the 8-8:15 p.m. interval.  No power is available from the array (duh, it’s night!), but the house is consuming 533 Watt-hours of energy, with slightly more than half coming from the batteries.  (Hint - the system is entirely modular, so we could easily double the size of the system to completely cover those loads.)

Bottom line: if you are on a TOU rate, storage can really improve the value of your existing PV system.  (And because the Enphase storage system is “AC-coupled” it can be installed with any existing PV system!)

The SGIP Rebate Program

Which brings us to the Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) rebates.  Starting in April, rebate applications can be submitted for energy storage systems.  Much as the CSI rebate program had multiple steps over time, SGIP has five incentive level steps and how fast it steps down is tied to how large is the demand for rebates.  (We anticipate that the highest rebate level will be paid out almost immediately after the program formally opens on May 1.)  At this highest rebate level we would expect the rebate for each Enphase AC Battery to be roughly $430.

The competition for these rebates will be pretty fierce.  Fortunately, there is a dedicated carve-out of money for small residential storage systems, so all the money won’t be gobbled up by a few, super-large projects.  (Interestingly, priority will be given to folks living in what is known as the Western LA Basin Local Reliability Area - you can check to see if your zip code, which includes pretty much all of the Run on Sun service territory - is included by clicking here.)

The rebate is not limited to SCE customers; folks who are SoCal Gas customers (that means you, PWP and LADWP folks!) can also participate.

Go with the Pros!

Properly sizing a battery system to go with your solar array is a complicated process that requires technical savvy.  Dealing with the SGIP bureaucracy requires a sophisticated team that can deal with the program’s many twists and turns.  If adding storage - specifically the Enphase AC Battery - to your present or planned PV system sounds like a good idea, give us call, we’re ready to bring our expertise to bear to help you get this right!

02/20/17

  12:30:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 814 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Residential Solar, Net Metering

Update: Net Metering 2.0 Coming Soon!

We have written at some length about how Net Energy Metering (NEM) works, and about the changes to NEM that are coming, aka Net Energy Metering 2.0.  While both PG&E and SDG&E have already switched to the 2.0 version, SCE customers are still able to go solar under the existing, more favorable, rules, but not for long!  (NB: PWP & LADWP customers are unaffected by this change, the following is only relevant to SCE customers.)

Here is our update as we dive headlong into the brave new world of NEM 2.0.

Timing of the change

Under the rules adopted by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), SCE must continue to allow new customers to operate under the current NEM 1.0 rules, until either of the following events occur:

  1. SCE reaches its NEM 1.0 cap of 5% of net aggregate demand, or
  2. We reach the deadline date of July 1, 2017.

As of this writing, SCE is still a full percentage point below its cap, with 480 MW worth of solar to install before the cap is reached.  Quite simply, that will not happen between now and the end of June, so the deadline to get in on the current rules is 11:59 p.m. on June 30, 2017.

But here is the rub—to qualify, not only must the project have been completed, but a final, signed-off inspection card must also be submitted to SCE prior to the deadline.  This is going to make June a difficult month as installers struggle to get projects completed and approved in time.  Since approvals are at the whim of individual inspectors, many of whom are idiosyncratic (to be kind) in their understanding of what the code requires, it is difficult to guarantee that a project will be approved on first inspection. 
Prudent consumers will want to make sure that first inspection occurs on or before June 15th.

Key differences

Although NEM 2.0 is not the crushing blow to solar that some feared it might become, it still has a number of aspects that make it less appealing to the solar system owner.  Here are the major differences:

  1. New Interconnection Fee—Presently, it doesn’t cost anything to connect to SCE’s grid.  NEM 2.0 changes that, and imposes a one-time charge of $75.
  2. Imposition of Nonbypassable Charges (NBCs)—under existing rules, if the credits generated by exporting power to the grid equal or exceed the charges incurred for energy imported, the energy charges are zeroed out (or even a credit is carried forward, if exports exceeded imports).  Under NEM 2.0, for every kWh imported from the grid, whether it can be netted out or not, there are NBCs charged for that energy.  The good news is that this is just about 2.2¢/kWh, and it does not apply to solar energy consumed locally, but it does still decrease the savings from solar.
  3. Mandatory Time-of-Use (TOU) Rates—Presently, residential customers who are on an SCE tiered rate before adding solar remain on that rate after interconnection.  NEM 2.0 changes that as well, and forces new solar customers to shift to a TOU rate.  SCE’s TOU rate charges the most for energy consumed from 2:00 to 8:00 p.m., meaning that energy exported to the grid  before 2:00 (as many solar systems do) is less valuable to the consumer than the energy they have to import from the grid in the evening after the solar system is no longer producing.

(Unintended?) Consequences of NEM 2.0

The coming of NEM 2.0 has some obvious consequences—there will be a crush this spring to get projects approved before the new rules take effect (so don’t wait!), and the overall savings from going solar will be reduced, although not dramatically so.

Enphase AC BatteryBut there are some unintended consequences as well.  For one, these new rules will be a boon for intelligent storage systems, both to help reduce NBCs and to shift that otherwise exported energy to peak TOU periods.  Storage systems with the “smarts” to do all that will suddenly make economic sense.  (More on that in the near future, but for now just three little words: Enphase AC Battery!)

Another unintended consequence is the significantly increased difficulty in properly modeling the savings to be derived from adding solar.  While some installation companies use sophisticated software like EnergyToolbase (as Run on Sun does), or build out sufficiently detailed spreadsheet models (as Run on Sun also does), for many, that level of complexity is simply overwhelming.  So what will they do?  More than likely, just create a number that is little more than a WAG (and no, not a SWAG).

The result is that potential solar clients need to push on companies providing them with solar quotes to justify their savings numbers.  If they used something like EnergyToolbase they should be happy to point that out (although there is still the risk that they used it incorrectly…).  If they used their own proprietary model, they should be able to explain how it works.  But be wary of numbers, especially outliers that claim greater savings without sufficient documentation.

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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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