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

02/16/13

  08:04:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1096 words  
Categories: LADWP, Feed-in Tariff

LA Feed-in Tariff Update: First Tranche is Fully Subscribed

Two weeks into the reservation period, the latest data from LADWP’s Feed-in Tariff program reveals that the first 20 MW tranche has been fully subscribed.  Indeed, the “large” system category (150 kW to 3 MW) was fully subscribed in the first few projects drawn from the lottery whereas the “small” category (30-150 kW) took the full two weeks to be subscribed.  Here’s our analysis of what we can glean so far.

Owens Valley Proposals

Under the FiT Guidelines, projects sited in the remote Owens Valley (oddly enough, part of LADWP’s service area) were capped at an aggregate 4 MW.  Given that land is relatively cheap out there, at least compared to real estate prices within the City proper, it was expected that only larger projects would be proposed.  Moreover, the Base Price for Energy to be paid was set at 3¢/kWh less than that to be paid for all other projects to account for the transmission losses in getting Owens Valley energy to the City.

Despite all of that, Owens Valley was very popular, with a total of 29 projects proposed to date totaling 65.7 MW, substantially more capacity than that designated for LA.  No fewer than 18 of the proposed 29 projects were for the maximum size allowed under the program, 3 MW.  (Somewhat surprisingly, there were three projects submitted at the limit of the small range in the Owens Valley.  Apart from those, the smallest project proposed was 1.014 MW - which, curiously, was proposed twice.)

One company dominated the proposals, Ecos Energy, LLC, with 14 projects proposed for 31.95 MW.  They got lucky in the lottery, drawing the first two lottery numbers for Owens Valley projects. with a combined total of 6 MW.

Los Angeles Proposals

In the City proper, the numbers look quite different.  A total of 57 projects were proposed in the large category for a total of 44.3 MW, but in contrast with the Owens Valley, only one project was proposed at the maximum possible size of 3 MW.  Instead, the majority of large projects in the City were much smaller - averaging 778 kW with 500 kW being the most popular size (4 such projects proposed).

In the small project category, 38 projects were proposed to reach the 4 MW limit.  The average system size proposed was 106 kW; however the most common size was the maximum for the category, 150 kW which was proposed 5 times.

Coming to a Zip Code Near You?

So where are these systems going?  The data does not provide street addresses, but it does provide zip codes for the proposed projects.  Here are the top ten zip codes by number of proposed projects:

Zip code table of FiT potential projects

 

Nine of the top ten zip codes are in the northern end of the City, with only one zip code, 90502, in the City core (Carson).

 

And here is a map of the zip codes with two or more potential projects (click image to access interactive map):

Map of FiT potential projects by Zip

Who Are Those Guys?

Part of the goal of the FiT was to provide economic opportunity for local companies and local workers.  However, there were no carve-outs or preferences for local companies in the FiT Guidelines.  So how did the “locals” do?

Let’s focus on companies proposing projects in the City proper (thereby ignoring the dominant player in the Owens Valley - Minnesota-based Ecos Energy, LLC.)

Eleven companies proposed two or more projects in the large category for a total of 34 out of the 57: SEC ESSD Solar One, LLC (5 proposals / 3.5 MW), Sun Energy Partners III, LLC (4 / 1.86 MW), SunStarter Solar XC LLC (4 / 2.7 MW), CA Solar One LLC (3 / 1.4 MW), SunStarter Solar XXII LLC (3 / 1.12 MW), CEGALLIANCE (3 / 3.5 MW), Fallbrook Center Solar, LLC (3 / 1 MW), MRB Solar, LLC (3 / 2.165 MW), Extra Space Management Inc. (2 / 501 kW), Century Quality Management (2 / 570 kW), and OM Solar LLC (2 / 4.5 MW).

Eight companies proposed two or more projects in the small category for a total of 25 out of the 38: Extra Space Management Inc. (6 / 824 kW), OM Solar LLC (5 / 674 kW), SEC ESSD Solar One, LLC (3 / 400 kW), Broadstreet Energy Corp. (3 / 112 kW), The Ryzmn Family Trust Dated 8/20/89 (2 / 151 kW), SunStarter Solar XXII LLC (2 / 250 kW), SunStarter Solar XC LLC (2 / 300 kW), and OYA Energy Partners LLC (2 / 100 kW).

Collectively, here are the top ten companies proposing projects in the City:

Top 10 FiT players

Three of the top ten companies are LLC’s whose headquarters cannot be readily identified, although one of them, SunStarter XC LLC is most likely related to SunStarter XXII LLC out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The other two - MRB Solar and CA Solar One come up empty in both Google searches and with the California Secretary of State’s office - raising the likelihood that they are actually out-of-state corporations.  Of the seven that can be identified with some confidence, three are from California but four are not.

Of course, the company that is the applicant is by not necessarily the company that will be the installer so there is still a decent chance that these projects will boost local employment.  But it appears that for as many as 70% of the top applicants, we have no such assurances.

Lessons So Far

So what can we learn from this?  Three points seem to come out of this data:

  • The FiT rate is probably too high for the large and Owens Valley segments.  Both of these subsets of the overall tranche were massively over-subscribed.  (Proving once again that it is more economically feasible to build 3 MW projects in the hinterlands than it is 150 kW projects in the City core.)  Perhaps, as one of our readers has suggested, LADWP should lower the BPE in the next tranche by more than the scheduled 1¢/kWh for large and Owen’s Valley projects.
  • The FiT rate for small projects should stay where it is.  There was significant reluctance for small projects to enter the program given the large uncertainty around interconnection costs and the economy of scale disadvantage that small projects face.  Given all of that, the next tranche is too soon to lower the price paid for small projects.  LADWP should roll the savings from scaling down large and Owen’s Valley projects - perhaps by 1.5¢/kWh next tranche - into preserving the price paid for small systems.
  • The Guidelines should be revised to provide preferences to local companies.  LADWP is spending local ratepayer’s money on the FiT program - it should not go to enriching out-of-state corporations at the expense of local enterprises that would plow their profits back into the local community.  A lottery may be impartial, but blind luck is a poor substitute for enlightened civic self-interest as a policy choice.

Overall, the program seems to be off to a promising start.  With some minor adjustments - and assuming that the proposed projects can actually be built - LA could really have a program that could serve as a model for the rest of the nation.

02/14/13

  02:58:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 170 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, Solar News, Ranting

LA Hearing Set for SB39

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
2:00 p.m.
Murchison Elementary School - Auditorium

1501 Murchison Street
Los Angeles, CA 90033

Murchison school's solar potential

Murchison School’s Scintillating Solar Potential

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!

02/12/13

  03:05:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 678 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, Solar News, Utilities, Ranting

It's On - PG&E Declares War on Solar! - UPDATE

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.


PGE's chief customer officer

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.

02/07/13

  07:20:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 189 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Solar News, Commercial Solar, Energy Storage

Panasonic + Power-One = PV Storage Solution?

solar storageWe 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.

02/04/13

  11:13:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 471 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, Solar News, Commercial Solar

LG Rolls Out NeoN Modules

LG logoWe 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:

  • Dramatically improved module efficiency - increasing from 15.5% for LG’s current, 255 Watt modules to 17.1% for the new 280’s all the way up to 17.7% for the 290’s!
  • Same footprint - the NeoN modules are the same size and weight as the current 255’s.
  • Same 60-cell module format - 280 Watt modules remain compatible with Enphase M215 micro-inverters, providing higher yields (more on this below).
  • Best in class linear power warranty (25 years) and product warranty (10 years).
  • Positive power tolerance from 0 to +3%

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:

Annual gain, M215 micro-inverter with larger modulesThe 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!

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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.
Laurel Hamilton is Run on Sun's Projects Coordinator, and together they author this blog.
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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