The office of State Senator Kevin De León (D-SD22) has announced that the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee will hold a hearing on February 21 in Los Angeles to discuss the implementation of Proposition 39. This may be the best opportunity for the LA solar community to have their voices heard about the legal and practical need for solar projects to be included in Prop 39 funding.
As we reported previously, the measure that Senator De León is advancing, SB 39, does not call for solar projects at all, a clear violation of both the spirit and the letter of Prop. 39 which made solar energy projects a showpiece during the campaign. Now the LA-based solar industry will have a chance to speak to our local legislator (and his subcommittee) to express our concerns.
Here are the details:
February 21, 2013
Murchison Elementary School - Auditorium
We look forward to seeing a strong turnout from solar supporters. Let’s respectfully remind Senator De León of the promises made during the Prop. 39 campaign!
UPDATE - Interestingly, the article cited below has been removed from the PG&E website. Ms. Burt, however, appears to still be employed by the company and presumably still holds the same, combative views—even if her employer no longer wants to see them quite so public.
Google, however, has the story cached and you can read her original post here.
Who is this woman and
why is she attacking solar?
In case you had any doubts, the attack on the underpinnings of the solar industry - net metering - has begun in earnest as evidenced by this Declaration of War from PG&E’s “Chief Customer Officer,” Helen Burt. The only question now is, how will the industry respond?
In a recent post on the PG&E website, Ms. Burt continues the populist attack on solar, claiming that solar customers who use net metering (essentially every residential solar customer and all but the very largest commercial customers) are not paying “their fair share.”
Here’s her take:
When customers install solar and use Net Energy Metering, they avoid paying their fair share of the electricity grid they use at night and of various programs that further California’s environmental and social policies. Remaining utility customers pay for the fixed costs of the electricity grid and other programs, driving their rates higher.
Frankly, this is simply nonsense. All customers, including those who install solar and use net metering, are billed the same way to cover the costs mentioned by Ms. Burt. But here’s the thing, the amount of that payment is tied to energy usage - the more kilowatt-hours you consume in a billing period, the more you pay for grid maintenance. Is that the proper way to cover the cost of fixed assets? Perhaps not, but one thing is for sure, it wasn’t the solar customers who designed PG&E’s rate structure.
So guess what? If you invest in LED bulbs for your home or a more efficient HVAC system on your commercial building, you will lower the amount of energy you consume - and hence you will lower the amount you contribute to covering these same costs. Is that also unfair?
As we reported at the time, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is performing a study now to try and assess the true cost-benefit equation from solar net metering and recently the folks at Vote Solar commissioned their own study which found a net benefit to all ratepayers - including those who do not install solar. Ms. Burt dismisses those results as “predictable” - that is biased - without ever bothering to point out that the state’s public utilities, including PG&E, had previously released their own study, with just as “predictable” results.
Regardless of how the CPUC’s study turns out, Ms. Burt makes clear that PG&E is going to continue their assault on solar: “PG&E is working with the CPUC and Legislature to find solutions for customer solar installations that mitigate or eliminate these cross-subsidies from nonsolar customers to others." Translation? “We intend to do everything in our power - using ratepayers’ money - to eliminate net metering!”
In PG&E’s view, they should receive any excess energy production from solar customers - which they immediately sell to the solar customer’s neighbors at full retail rates - for free. Nice deal if you can get it - but is that fair?
Of course at bottom is the simple truth that solar installations are increasing throughout California and utilities like PG&E know that as solar costs come down, they are going to start losing more and more revenue. Since distributed generation reduces their peak load, they have less and less justification to build more generation capacity, which is the basis for their guaranteed returns. In a world where many more utility customers can afford to install solar, this is simply not a sustainable business model. So PG&E is doing what every dying industry does - attacking the “fairness” of the competitor that is eroding their bottom line.
It will be up to the CPUC, the Legislature - and ultimately the solar industry - to see that the faux populism of utilities like PG&E is unmasked for what it is - naked self-interest.
We have written before about how the addition of inexpensive storage solutions is the next step in solar system development. The ability to “smooth-out” the power production curve - or even the ability to shift output to more profitable delivery hours (such as under the LADWP’s Feed-in Tariff’s Time of Delivery multipliers) - will be a huge step forward toward allowing solar to finally meet its potential. Now we hear that two industry giants are pairing up to provide that solution: inverter manufacturer Power-One and battery manufacturer Panasonic.
Details are few, but there is this from the parties’ press release:
Initial efforts will focus on developing the residential, commercial and utility-scale, grid-connected, energy storage systems business in Europe and the U.S. as well as the non-residential segment in Japan.
Unstated is when such a product will actually be introduced or any of its particulars, most notably, its cost. Still, this is a promising development for an industry that still struggles to shed its image of just being a “fair weather friend." Indeed, one source estimates the market for solar storage technology will exceed $11 billion by 2020 worldwide. We will keep you posted.
We have just learned that Run on Sun’s leading module manufacturer, LG Electronics, is introducing its new NeoN line of modules.
This is an exciting product that provides 280-290 Watts in the same footprint as their previous 250-260 Watt modules! But how will they match up with existing Enphase products? Here’s our take.
First, some product highlights:
This is a significant product breakthrough - but one that we were anticipating from LG which is on a design path to produce a 300 Watt module before the end of the year!
But this development begs the question: how do these significantly higher wattage panels mesh with the tried and true Enphase 215 Watt microinverter? Quite nicely, it would appear. Enphase has released a white paper titled: Bigger is Better: Sizing Solar Modules for Microinverters that makes the case that modules as powerful as 285 Watts remain an excellent match to their existing inverter product.
Here’s the reasoning: all solar modules mounted, in a fixed position, produce power over the course of the day that resembles a bell curve, peaking at solar noon and rolling off on either side. That means that for the majority of the time, the module is actually producing significantly less than its nameplate power. Thus, when you tie a 280 Watt module to a 215 Watt microinverter you are actually well below the cutoff point for the inverter the vast majority of the time. But the higher wattage means that you do a better job of filling in the gaps and increasing your annual yield. Check out this graph:
The orange bars represent the improved energy yield for the higher power modules (relative to a 250 Watt module) whereas the grey areas are losses due to clipping the output of the inverter. Even accounting for the slight loss at the 280 Watt module, you are still looking at more than 10% improvement in annual yield! This means a lower levelized cost of energy from the array, and that means more benefit to system owners.
This data suggests that the new 280 Watt modules will be a very desirable match with the M215’s. By the time LG releases their 300 Watt module (Summer? Fall?), Enphase should have their new product out as well (almost certainly a 240 or 250 Watt microinverter) - which should allow for similar “right sizing” gains.
We anticipate having the new LG modules in mid-to-late March - let us know if you want to get in the queue!
Breaking News: Dow Jones industrial average closes above 14,000 for first time since 2007
LA Times (2/1/13): The Dow Jones industrial average today closed above 14,000 for the first time since 2007. Stocks have been rallying this year after Washington dodged the so-called fiscal cliff. Investors have plowed back into stocks as the economy has continued to improve and the Federal Reserve has kept interest rates at historic lows, making other investments less attractive.
To be sure, seeing the stock market rally is always a cheery bit of news, especially when we see that it has recovered so much of the value it lost during the Great Recession. But here’s the thing - while investors are “plowing” their money back into stocks, they still remain a highly speculative investment. And as the news blurb makes clear, with interest rates at near zero, “other investments [are] less attractive." We have a better plan.
Instead of parking your money where it earns next to nothing, or gambling it in the Wall Street casino, why not put it where the sun shines? Investments in commercial solar routinely generate an internal rate of return of 12-17% and there is near zero risk associated with that investment - unless you think that the utilities will suddenly decide to give away free electricity.
No, we don’t think so either.
So by all means raise a toast to the soaring stock market, but we have a much better investment for you. Now’s the time to Go Solar - give us a call and let’s get started!