Categories: Solar Policy, Community Solar, Net Metering, Solar Storage

08/28/17

  11:53:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 575 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Solar Storage

Why I'm Going to Sacramento

These may be the dog days of summer, but it is the height of our busy season: multiple projects underway, lots of site evaluations and proposals to manage, and a growing backlog of repair requests on legacy systems that were built by installers who are no longer around. But instead of doing any of that, tomorrow I will be in Sacramento. Let me explain why…

Back in June we wrote about a bill that was then pending in the California legislature, SB 700.  Had it passed, that legislation would have created a predictable, comprehensive rebate program for energy storage throughout the state.  As last week’s eclipse made clear, solar power is having a large (and getting larger) effect on the grid, and the best way to smooth the path of that integration is to add energy storage.  But even on non-eclipse days, there is a substantial need for energy storage to time-shift the availability of solar - which peaks at noon - with the demands of the grid, which peak hours later.  Moreover, as more and more utilities force consumers onto evening-weighted Time-of-Use rates, it will become harder to make the economic case for solar without storage.

But the fly in the ointment is cost - storage today is just too expensive for most consumers. 

We are with storage today where we were with solar itself in 2007.  Back then, solar installations cost around $8.00/Watt - and next to no one had solar!  When the California Solar Initiative kicked off that year, it provided incentives starting at $4.00/Watt that would gradually step down as enough MWs were installed.  The theory then - and experience proved it to be sound - was that by incentivizing the installation of solar, the cost of solar would come down.  Today, the CSI incentives are gone, but the cost of solar is now below $4.00/Watt!  We cut the cost in half, and now solar is commonplace.  Success!

So why not repeat that process with storage?  Why not indeed?

One argument is that we already have a program in place for incentivizing storage, called SGIP.  But SGIP is massively bureaucratic, and operates as a lottery, meaning there is no guarantee that an applicant will get funded.  While neither of those conditions might be a deal-breaker for utility-scale projects (and utility-scale developers), they are a terrible fit for a program that is targeted at residential, commercial, and non-profit installations.  What is needed there is transparency, an easy application process, and a predictable - that is, marketable - rebate amount.

California state capitol

SB 700 died in Committee - I want to know why!

SB 700 would have done all of that.  Instead, it died in committee, without even getting a hearing, let alone a vote.  It died because the Chair of that committee - my very own Assemblymember, Chris Holden - decided to put it in his pocket.  Why did he do that?  I don’t know - he didn’t say.

I’m going to Sacramento to find out.

I should be staying here in Pasadena, helping folks get solar on their homes.  Instead, I will be getting on a plane first thing and flying to the Capital to meet up with other solar installers from around the state. Our mission - to try and impress upon the legislature how this bill would be good for the grid, good for their constituents, and good for local jobs.

We hope to do some educating, and at the same time, learn some important lessons ourselves.  I will let you know how it goes.  Watch this space…

07/18/17

  10:17:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 459 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, SCE, Residential Solar, Net Metering

NEM 2.0 is Here - Now What?

Net Energy Metering 2.0, or NEM 2.0 for short, is now the law of the land, at least in SCE territory.  So what does that really mean for potential solar clients?  Here’s the scoop…

NEM 2.0 brings three changes to how new solar clients will be treated by SCE (customers of PWP, LADWP, or any other muni utility are unaffected).  Let’s take a quick run through each one:

  • A one-time application fee - new solar clients will be charged $75 as part of the interconnection application process.  (In the past there was no charge.)  Not a big deal, just another annoyance from SCE.
  • Switch to Time of Use rates - this is a much bigger deal.  Most residential customers are on a two-tiered rate structure with a “penalty” tier for users who exceed 4x baseline allocation.  Under that rate structure the maximum cost for energy is 31.224¢/kWh.
    Going forward, new solar customers will be charged based on when they use energy, not how much energy they use, with a Summer, on-peak energy cost of 44.665¢/kWh!  Ouch!  Peak hours are weekdays (holidays excepted) from 2-8 p.m.
  • Non-Bypassable Charges - Under the old rules, energy that was imported from the grid could be entirely offset by energy exported onto the grid.  Now, for every kilowatt hour imported, regardless of exports, the customer will pay a small (for now) non-bypassable charge of 2.25¢/kWh.  Again, the utilities were pressing for this to be a much higher number, but for now this is a relatively minor surcharge.

So what does this all mean?  The answer is, it varies.  For some clients, particularly those with west-facing roofs, they may actually do better under TOU rates than they would have staying on the old, tiered rate plan.  But to answer that question requires a proper analysis, and this is where potential solar clients need to do their homework and look closely at their solar bids. 

EnergyToolbase screenshot

Here’s what to look for.  Your potential installer should be requesting that you provide them with SCE’s “interval data” for your home.  This hour-by-hour data for the entire year allows for a proper analysis of your usage, and makes it possible to compare that historical usage with the modeled output of your proposed PV system.  If they aren’t asking for interval data, they are taking shortcuts with their savings analysis - likely in ways that inflate your potential savings on paper, only to result in disappointment down the road.

Run on Sun uses UtilityAPI to access SCE data securely, and we employ EnergyToolbase (pictured above) to do our analysis of your potential savings - two of the most highly respected and sophisticated tools in the solar industry.  We have the tools and the expertise to give you the most accurate projection of your future savings from solar - so let’s get started!

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06/28/17

  12:08:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 786 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Energy Storage, Solar Storage

From 'Glut' to Glory - Making Storage Work! ACTION NEEDED!

On Sunday we wrote about a growing problem in California: as we have increased the role of solar generation in our electric mix, we have found ourselves in the awkward position of having to occasionally curtail that production, or worse yet, pay neighboring states like Arizona to take our excess!  This is clearly not sustainable, but fortunately there is a fix in the works in the form of Senate Bill 700, and it just needs the support of the solar community to make it happen.  Here’s our take…

The Glut

Solar power output bell curveAs everyone knows, the production of a solar power system peaks at solar noon - on a cloudless day providing a nice “bell curve” for power output, like in this illustration from an actual, Run on Sun solar installation.  The problem is that the peak demand for electricity does not align with solar’s peak; rather, peak demand occurs much later in the day when folks come home from school and work and crank up the electrical devices that define modern living - giving rise to the dreaded “Duck Curve“.  If only - as our friend Carter Lavin ruminated the other day - there were a way to shift that energy in time from the solar peak to the demand peak!

Of course, there is such a way.  It is called energy storage.  Storage could provide that time-shift needed to make the most of our abundant solar energy.  So why aren’t we using it?

In a word - cost.  Today, energy storage systems are just too expensive, and the existing rebate system for storage systems, known as SGIP, is a joke.  The SGIP process, which is essentially a lottery, is no way to run a rebate program.  As we have argued in the past, for a rebate program to be meaningful, it has to be stable and predictable.  SGIP is neither.

The Glory

But this isn’t rocket science, and we have a relevant case study right before us - the California Solar Initiative (CSI) rebate program.  When CSI began, back in 2007, its 10-year mission was to dramatically grow the PV market in California and, in so doing, drive down the costs of solar.  Back when it began, Run on Sun was installing systems for $8.47/Watt.  By 2014, after CSI ran its course, our install price was down to $4.13/Watt - a reduction of 52% in just seven years!  CSI (along with the muni-rebate programs) helped to achieve that cost reduction by providing transparency and predictability that a lottery program cannot replicate.  Moreover, the CSI program was easy for even the smallest contractors to navigate, making the program available to all.  This is what is needed to bring storage prices down, drive exponential growth (and the local jobs that go with that growth), and stop the madness induced by our present power glut.

So how do we get there, if SGIP is not the way?

Glad you asked - enter SB 700 (Weiner, D-San Francisco), the Energy Storage Initiative (ESI) that would create a 10-year, $1.4 Billion rebate program along the lines of CSI, but for energy storage systems.  Here’s how CALSEIA describes the bill:

SB 700 would create a 10-year rebate program designed to grow the California local storage market and make storage more affordable for consumers. The rebates would step down as more storage systems are installed and economies of scale are achieved, thereby driving down the installed cost of the systems. Local energy storage enables the integration of large amounts of renewable energy, creates value for consumers by helping them save money on energy bills, and increases grid reliability.

“Thanks to the leadership of Sen. Scott Wiener, Californians are one step closer to taking control of their clean energy future,” said Laura Gray, energy storage policy advisor with the California Solar Energy Industries Association. “This bill would allow homes, businesses, schools and public buildings to use solar and renewable energy at all hours of the day and night. Using a combination of solar and storage, consumers will make the sun shine at night.”

The bill has already passed the California Senate (sadly, on a straight party-line vote), but it faces an important vote as early as July 5th in the Assembly Utilities and Energy Committee, Chaired by Pasadena’s own, Chris Holden.  This bill should have bi-partisan support given the urgent need to move to an all-renewables future, but for that to happen, Committee members (and the Assembly as a whole) need to hear from their constituents. 

If you are in Chairman Holden’s district (which includes all of Pasadena and Altadena) you can reach his office at: 916-319-2041 and urge him to support SB700

Otherwise, you can find out your member of the Assembly by doing a search here.

Together we can get this bill over the hump - watch this space!

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!

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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