Three weeks ago the Run on Sun team took San Francisco by storm for the annual Intersolar events and exhibition. In the solar industry products are changing incredibly fast. Intersolar and Solar Power International (September 14-17th) are the two most important events for industry experts to come together and be able to put our hands on the latest and greatest products while establishing relationships with potential partners around the world.
As we mentioned in our Intersolar 2015 Preview blog, we were really on the prowl in the exhibition hall. Number one on our list was to find viable storage options as our client-base is quickly shifting to time-of-use rates and smart storage will be a huge asset to enable more local consumption of energy at the right time, as well as to reduce those high demand spikes for commercial clients.
Enphase Energy, of microinverter fame, actually had their own booth at IS this year, a first for them, and their emphasis was on their modular storage solution - which they call the AC Battery - made possible by their next generation, S-Series microinverter - which is bi-directional. Since the system sits on the AC side of a solar installation, it is compatible with any solar system whether it uses Enphase microinverters or not.
Enphase readily acknowledges that the economic proposition for local consumption is not really present in the U.S. yet, which is why they are first rolling the product out in Australia. However, as the present discussions before the CPUC demonstrate, net metering is changing and soon. When it does, the economic case for systems like the AC Battery will become compelling.
Second task on our list was to find out what panels LG would be offering and when we could start getting them on rooftops. Since LG didn’t have a booth at IS, hints toward panels with higher efficiency and higher output were verified by a meeting with our distributor, Baywa r.e. (formerly known as Focused Energy).We are now looking at 310 and 315 Watt panels available in September. This is up from the 305’s currently available and 260’s which were available this time just one year ago!
Our last mission as we weaved through the multitude of flashy products on display was to find better options for racking. While we have no intention of finding an alternative for our pitched roof racking company, Everest, our ballasted flat roof racking experience has left something to be desired by our installers. And the growing interest in solar carport systems means we need a good partner we can rely on to develop beautiful high-quality structures. We looked at several new products and talked to some great people on this front. We will be vetting these companies and discussing the applicability of their options with our clients over the next few months.
Any good industry gathering has GREAT parties, and the solar community definitely delivers in this department. The Run on Sun team enjoyed rubbing elbows with solar celebrities, new and old friends at various social events throughout the week. Laurel ate breakfast and discussed gender-specific solar challenges with WISE (Women in Solar Energy). The lunch hour Tweetup hosted by @SolarFred and put on by our friends at @Enphase, @RECSolar and @Grid was a blast. Of course the Solar Summerfest put on by CALSEIA and the Solar Battle of the Bands were not to be missed either. Who knew solar companies had such amazing musical talent?! The battle of the bands was more packed than we’ve ever seen, the only painful side to an ever expanding industry. Laurel’s favorite, the awesome funk band from Sungevity rocked the house and took home the winning title. If you attended either event you probably spotted Run on Sun’s Jim, Laurel and Josh making full use of the dance floor! No one on the RoS team will deny…we DO like to have fun.
The Run on Sun team cutting a rug at Solar Summerfest!
Thanks Kendra Hubbard for the pics!
Its hard to believe that in just over a month we will be boarding a local train to Anaheim for Solar Power International, “North America’s largest solar trade show". Beyond what we saw at Intersolar, our distributor Baywa r.e will have a presence as well as our favorite solar panel manufacturer: Life’s Good Electronics. We’re looking forward to more exciting product announcements and connecting with friends once again! Hope to see you there!
Intersolar North America 2015 (IS) kicks off this week in San Francisco, and as we have for the past several years, Run on Sun will be there to learn, to mingle with the rest of the Solar Tribe, and yes, to party! Here’s our preview (with more to come after the show).
One of the biggest attractions of IS, the exhibition floor is crammed with every solar-related product and service imaginable (and some you wouldn’t have believed until seen!). Here are some of the things we are actively looking for as we roam the floor (and it really is a “we” this year as Laurel and Josh will be attending as well!)
We have been writing about, and longing for, viable energy storage solutions for as long as we have been attending IS. While the hype around storage has only grown exponentially since, the number of viable products still remains depressingly thin. Will this be the show when that finally changes?
Number one on our cross-your-fingers list is the previously announced, but not yet available, storage offering from Enphase Energy. Given that we have a whole lot of Enphase systems in the field, and a client-base that is rapidly shifting to time-of-use rates, the Enphase product, if it is a product, would be huge. While the timing would surely be right, our anticipation is amped-up by the knowledge that Enphase will have a booth at IS (a first for them, to our knowledge).
Interestingly, neither SolarCity nor Tesla is listed among the exhibitors as of this morning - I guess we won’t be seeing any Powerwalls on display.
Beyond storage, manufacturers are always touting their bigger, better products at the show and this year should be no different. Of particular interest in that regard is the potential release of a slew of new, larger module options coming from our favorite solar panel maker, LG. We have seen the hints on this front for sometime now as the CEC approved list of LG modules includes units as large as 325 Watts - compared to the LG 305’s which are presently the largest thing we are seeing in distribution. So will we now have multiple options for higher efficiency, higher output panels from LG? And if so, when and at what cost?
Meanwhile, Enphase appears poised to announce a new microinverter product, the S280 (just in time to pair with those higher power LG modules?), as it too now appears on the CEC list.
We know that we have clients eagerly awaiting these developments - watch this space!
Racking solutions continue to be an area where the cleverness of the design rarely survives the realities of the roof. We are constantly exploring new approaches for difficult problems such as viable ballasted systems (that will be accepted by AHJ’s like LA City and County) and structure suppliers for the growing interest in carports, pergolas and the like. While we have worked with a number of companies in this area, we are still on a quest for solutions that not only look good on paper, but that our installers can grow to love. We will be prowling the floor of IS with that as our number one must have.
We should note, however, that we remain quite pleased with Everest Solar as our pitched roof solution, and that view was enhanced by the long-awaited release of their UL-2703 listed end and mid-clamps. The inspectors who have looked at that system on the roof have been quite impressed with it, as are we.
It wouldn’t be IS without the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and, hopefully, make some new ones amidst the Solar Tribe. After all, these are people who work every day to make the world a better, cleaner, more sustainable place. They are a great bunch of folks and we are honored to be counted among ‘em!
First up is the Tweetup, hosted once again by solar celeb, Tor - @SolarFred - Valenza, with backing from @Enphase, @RECSolar, and @Grid. This has turned into an annual, and eagerly anticipated event, and we thank in advance Solar Fred and friends for making this happen.
Then comes Summerfest, a huge gathering of folks with lots of different types of food and drink and great views of the downtown San Francisco skyline. Summerfest is a great place to exchange views of what was on display on the exhibition floor, and to plot strategy for the next day, as in, “Did you see what they had over at the XYZ booth? It was amazing you have to check it out!”
But it is Wednesday night that really crowns the show. Starting with the great afterparty/pre-SBOB party thrown by Impress Labs - thanks to Solar Curator Tom Cheyney for hooking us up - we are able to get warmed up for the main event - the Solar Battle of the Bands! For the first time ever we are heading into the show knowing where are ducats are coming from - thanks to Jessica over at Solar Power World for the connection!
It is going to be a busy week, and we look forward to learning a lot. Look for our recap of the show next week!
UPDATE - Due to looming weather concerns, the Solar Impulse team decided to divert to Nagoya, Japan to await better weather. Disappointed but undaunted, pilot Andre Borschberg landed successfully in Nagoya this morning after flying for 44 hours and more than 2,000 miles, roughly one-third of the intended distance to Hawaii. Now the team will study the weather to determine the optimal time to resume their mission to fly around the world, powered only by the sun!
Solar Impulse 2 - the entirely solar-powered airplane that is attempting to fly around the world - just took off on the most audacious leg of its amazingly audacious mission: to fly non-stop from Nanjing China to Hawaii. This is a non-trivial flight in a conventional jetliner, one from which many passengers will disembark complaining of cramped quarters and a lack of sleep. But the pilot of SI2, Andre Borschberg, will need to stay awake (mostly) for six days in a cabin slightly smaller than Dr. Who’s TARDIS Police Box!
Updates from SI.TV
We have written about the Solar Impulse project before, with a mixture of awe and envy. This particular flight, however, is all awe. We are in awe of the raw human fortitude required to succeed at this attempt, and we are in awe of the courage that this pilot is displaying. Of course, he is far from alone in this undertaking, supported by a mission control center and an extensive ground support crew. But at the end of the day, he is in that cockpit alone, and the success of the flight will come down to his skill and determination.
Each day the plane greets the sunrise by a climb to altitude (flight level 280, or 28,000′), allowing the solar cells (17,000 of them) to fully recharge the plane’s batteries. During the night, the plane descends, flying on stored solar power. As morning comes around, the plane and pilot reach a critical moment - can they get to a point of energy production that will sustain them through another cycle? If they have encountered too many clouds, there will not be enough energy to sustain the mission and the pilot faces the very real possibility of ditching the plane in the middle of the Pacific Ocean! Wow!
Rest for the weary pilot comes in 20 minute breaks, ended by a gentle alarm if all is well, or a more insistent alert if something has gone awry. To maintain physical and mental health, the pilot practices both yoga and self-hypnosis, as well as a limited set of exercises that can be performed within the cabin’s confines.
You can learn more about the background of this mission, and even monitor how solar energy is powering the flight at the Solar Impulse website.
We will update this post as the flight progresses, and the video embedded here will provide live streaming of the flight so be sure to check back often during the week ahead.
SPI is always a great show, indeed, it is often an overwhelming experience. Add in the extra spice of Las Vegas and this week is likely to go by in a blur! As always we will be on the lookout for what’s new and improved, particularly when it comes to racking solutions, energy storage (will this finally be the year?), and cool new tools to make the job easier and safer.
We are particularly eager to see what is happening in “Start-up Alley” where a number of new companies will be pitching their concepts in the hope of securing investment dollars - to say nothing of some SPI buzz! One SPI regular and strong policy voice for solar - Adam Gerza - will be there with his new venture, Energy Toolbase. He recently wrote to us to tell us about Energy Toolbase and described it this way:
Having spent the last six years building my own Excel models, and using the other software products that are out there – I believe Energy Toolbase is better than any tool that’s ever been built.
Pretty strong boast there, Adam, and as someone who has been building models since getting into the business back in 2006, I’m looking forward to seeing what you’ve got!
But SPI is about way more than the geek fest that it surely is. It is about making connections and there will be lots of opportunities to do just that. Starting with the opening reception this evening, and then the lucky few who made the cut get to attend the Top Solar Contractors Gala, courtesy of the fine folks at Solar Power World.
Tuesday night is the annual Block Party and I’m guessing a block party in Vegas will be nothing short of epic!
Wednesday features the Solar Tweetup at lunchtime hosted by Tor (Solar Fred) Valenza (with some help from his friends at Enphase, Generaytor, REC Solar and Solar-Log, and wraps up with the #SolarChat event featuring Raina Russo, Glenna Wiseman and our own Kendra Hubbard. Whew!
Look for tweets and Facebook posts during the week and more detailed blog posts after the event.
Have a great week everybody, and if you see me on the floor be sure to come up and say hi!
We spent some quality time on the exhibit floor, and at the social events, of last week’s Intersolar North America and here’s our take.
The show felt smaller, to be sure, and we didn’t see anything that created a real “Wow” moment. (Possible exception, the mini solar race cars which were very cool, but they didn’t really have much to do with anything.) With SPI looming in just a few short weeks in, wait for it… Las Vegas Man™… it was hard to shake the feeling that manufacturers were keeping their powder dry until October.
Of course, not everything was smaller.
The folks at Mechatron won the prize for the largest solar device at the show—an enormous solar tracker (which we were told took them a day and a half to assemble inside the hall!)—that has more than a bit of a Transformers feel to it.
Sadly it wasn’t moving during the show…
Given the show’s smaller feel you would expect some well known names to be missing and you would be right.
We are happiest to report that the number one no-show was last year’s Sexism Public Enemy Number One: RECOM. Although they had a significant presence at Intersolar in Europe a month ago, they were nowhere to be seen at this show, and the folks from Intersolar confirmed that RECOM had originally booked a booth but then cancelled without explanation. Did they back out due to the backlash over their nonsense last year? We can only hope…
Inverter manufacturers Enphase Energy, KACO and SMA were all missing from the floor—although that’s no surprise for Enphase who never shows at Intersolar, and who had a large presence elsewhere in co-hosting the Tweetup (thank you!) and the Solarfest.
SMA, although not on the floor did manage to take a swipe at its competition with this banner (that’s a really, really big banner!) and a van parked outside touting their market dominance—in the past.
We are all for made in the USA, but what percentage of the show attendees were walking around with smartphones that were made somewhere other than the USA? Uh, pretty much everybody.
Not clear that this is a winning argument, or even SMA’s best argument given that their TL inverters are a very cool product. If your only presence is going to be a banner, why not tout an actual benefit of your products?
Our stated goal for the show was to identify a new racking supplier to replace our now discontinued standard (Unirac’s late, great, Solarmount Evolution) and toward that end we spent a lot of time on the third floor where the racking suppliers hung out. Continuing the recent trend, there was a lot on display.
A study in contrast could be found between the displays at the Shoals and Schletter booths. Both supply racking gear. Both offered coffee in the morning and beer in the afternoon. And both had attractive women handing out the drinks. The difference? The women at the Schletter booth actually work for the company (in a wide variety of jobs, other than marketing) whereas Shoals insists, defiantly, on promoting the Booth Babe culture with models in black cocktail dresses. (Leading to scenes like this of guys standing around to photograph the models. Not sure how that promotes solar or Shoals’ products.)
Still we did see racking systems that we liked. Iron Ridge has an interesting rail shape which they insist is stronger than other products, and their CEO, William Kim, seemed very eager to connect with installers and learn from their experience—something that other companies need to do!
But our overall winner at the show was Everest Solar Systems. Talk about learning from installers, all of their components are pre-assembled so the installer doesn’t find herself on a roof missing a bolt. The parts work together in an intelligent fashion and seem designed to streamline the process on the roof where it matters.
For example, here is a picture showing their end clamp assembly (and attractive end-cap for the rail) and there are a number of features here to like.
To begin with, the clamp is extra wide giving you a firmer grip on the module. The clamp has a small spring inside which means that once inserted in the channel, the clip stands up at full height, making it easier to insert the modules under the clip. (The mid clamps also have this feature which we think is a great idea.) The black piece next to the rail is a plastic grip that the installer can use to position the clamp in the rail and turn to align it properly—another clever feature which should cut down on fumbling on the roof.
Equally well thought out are the splices (which do not use self-tapping screws, thank you) that provide structural strength while allowing for thermal expansion. Oh, and there’s no drilling required on the roof!
We are eager to give the Everest system a try on an install very soon.
As we have seen in previous years, enthusiasm for intelligent storage systems is high, while actual products are few. And even when a product is on display, it is not always clear that the folks talking about the product have really thought it through.
Take, for example, this potential offering from LG.
We say potential because this is really a concept vehicle, not something you can order now. Indeed, the decal on the box proclaims that the product will debut in Europe the second half of next year. Roll-out in the US is not slated until sometime in 2016.
More troubling though was, in our view, a misunderstanding of the nuance in this market. The box shown has a storage capacity of only 2 kWh—less than a tenth of the daily energy output of a 5 kW solar power system. How and when will that energy be deployed to assist the homeowner in reducing their bills? In talking with the LG rep, we started to explain the differences between how you might use that energy under a tiered rate structure versus a time-of-use structure. Instead of being told that their software was designed to handle those differences, we got a mostly blank stare. Now that could simply be that the rep wasn’t fully up-to-speed on how the box is designed to operate, but it was not encouraging.
What is encouraging is that electronics giants like LG are starting to get serious about this opportunity and from what we have seen from LG in the solar module space, we are confident that they can develop a compelling product offering—just not yet.
Meanwhile, last year’s show standout for really grokking this space, Stem, was nowhere to be seen. Nor was their SoCal competitor, CODA. Perhaps both are keeping their chips in reserve, hoping to make a big play in Vegas at SPI. Watch this space.
Finally, we have two things to report under this topic—one cautionary, the other celebratory. Caution first.
Creeping up on the entire California solar market is the issue of Fire Code regulations that have the potential to bring things to a screeching halt come next January. We are still trying to get up to speed ourselves on this issue, but there were fire code regulations that were supposed to go into effect last January but were postponed because no one had a technical solution for meeting them. That postponement was for only a year, however, which means that come 1/1/15 we are subject to these regs.
As we presently understand the issue (and feel free to offer clarifications in the comments), roof systems are rated under classes A-C based on how resistant they are to an outside source of combustion (think of a burning tree limb resting on the roof), with class A being the most resistant. Solar modules on the market today generally have a class C fire rating. The new regs would say that where a roof system is required to be class A (as in high fire threat areas), all components on the roof must also be class A—but if there are no class A rated solar modules, such buildings would be unable to add solar. Moreover, even if a module were designated class A, it would still have to be tested with the roofing system to ensure that the combined system were class A.
If that weren’t bad enough, there is an additional categorization pertaining to fire spread, and because roof arrays more than a few inches above the roof act like conduits for spreading flame, such arrays cannot pass the flame spread requirements. Yikes!
Both module manufacturers and racking reps that we brought this up with gave us a deer-in-the-headlights response initially (with the exception of Barry Cinnamon’s Spice product offering), with some subsequently saying that they were working on the issue.
As noted above, we are still getting up to speed on this issue and we will have much more to say about it in the coming weeks. Watch this space.
Finally, our Battle of the Bands karma continued to rock at Intersolar.
For those not in the know, the annual Battle of the Bands has two, parallel sets of competitors. On the one hand are the house bands from various solar companies who go head-to-head to see who will be crowned the best of the best. But just as fierce is the competition to get a ticket to the closed event!
Two years ago we got in on sheer force of personality (not ours, but that of Solar Fred) and last year Jeff (Solar) Spies’ crew at QuickMount PV provided the ducket. But alas, not this year.
We were directed to another booth where there was a raffle we could join, but no luck.
Yet then, we turned the corner and found ourselves at the NABCEP booth where Sue Pratt was about to raffle off two tickets. We tossed our biz card into the bowl (complete with NABCEP Certified logo, thank you very much) and then crossed our fingers. When the first card pulled turned out to be a no-show, Sue dug deep—and pulled out our card! How cool was that? (We gave the second ticket to another installer who had just had his hopes dashed by our good fortune—gotta pay that Battle of the Bands karma forward!)
Lots of photos from the party (though oddly, many are strangely blurry—sorry about that Kathie & Jessica) but we will leave you with our favorite—may your karma be so good next year!