As Run on Sun rings in the new year and looks forward to a great 2017, we have some big news of changes taking place on our team. Our Projects Coordinator / Solar Ninja, Laurel, has moved to Oregon to spread the joys of solar power in her home state. She wanted to share some final thoughts with her Run on Sun solar family…
Just over two years ago I made a flash decision that would change my career trajectory in a bigger way than I ever could have imagined. I came to Los Angeles after earning my Masters in Global Public Health. While I’ve always been passionate about solutions to environment and health, I hadn’t ever thought about working in the solar industry for perhaps obvious reasons (EVERYONE asks me how I started in solar with a public health background). After a few months living in LA without finding health work, I met someone at a green event who worked for a solar company. That encounter got me thinking about the fact that there is so much sun in Los Angeles but the air pollution is literally in your face every day. I realized that PV Solar provides an incredible opportunity to work towards something of real value for people, the environment, and for broader global health reducing the impacts of burning fossil fuels. So I took a chance and after doing a little research into who was working in my nearby vicinity (avoiding commuting in LA was a big priority) and who was doing solar for the right reasons… I contacted Jim Jenal at Run on Sun. I told Jim I was happy to schlep materials around the county, handle paperwork, answer phones, and do whatever it took to get more solar into our community if he would just teach me all about the industry. I didn’t realize quite how far that deal would go. You see, one of Jim’s past lives was as a high school teacher and despite the small size of his company he is considered one of the thought leaders in the solar industry, largely through this blog.
Over the next two years he taught me everything there is to know about running a solar installation company. Its not very often that one is given the opportunity to learn every aspect of an industry with an employer who gives you the confidence and tools you need to grow exponentially in a short period of time. I ate it all up! After a year I was wearing as many hats as one can imagine in a solar installation business… Inside Sales, Lead Developer, Site Assessor, Project Designer, Project Coordinator, Safety and Health Officer, Marketing Manager, Solar Blog Writer, Boom Lift Operator and of course Solar Installer. That’s when I made my own business cards with my new self-proclaimed title - “Solar Ninja".
Working with Velvet, Ralph, Josh, Robert, and Jim on Run on Sun’s team was more empowering and satisfying than I ever imagined working in a for-profit field could be. I was helping people to reduce their impact on the environment, lower their costs, and show their neighbors that renewable energy is a real solution everyone can be a part of. I learned that, counter to popular belief, a sales person could be honest, forthright, and down to earth. I learned that we could run our business with integrity and give people quality 20+ year products they could trust. I learned that people who want to go solar are some of the coolest people and really makes sales work a joy. And more than anything else, I learned that I wanted to stay in this exciting industry that was growing and improving exponentially before my eyes.
It was with the support of Jim Jenal and all the know-how he bestowed upon me that I was able to earn my PV Solar Technical Sales Professional certification through NABCEP. And I was offered an exciting position managing a new solar installation branch in Bend, Oregon for a forward-thinking solar company, Elemental Energy. Elemental even has a non-profit arm called Twende, installing off-grid systems in developing countries around the world! So this truly is a dream job combining my Global Health and Solar Ninja skills into one awesome adventure!
I am sad to be saying goodbye both to the Run on Sun team and all the wonderful clients I worked with over my tenure which we fondly refer to as our Run on Sun family. Though the sun is setting on my time in Southern California, the sun is shining bright (everything is literally whitewashed with snow currently) in Bend! I look forward to hearing how things continue to grow with Run on Sun. If ever you or someone you know finds yourself with property that needs to be solarized in Central Oregon I’d love to hear from you!
Thank you for reading my humble Thoughts on Solar! Much love and sunshine for all — Laurel
When deciding to invest in a photovoltaic solar system one of the first questions everyone has is how to finance the cost. While solar continues to be a great long-term investment, with payback periods often in the 4-7 year range, the hefty outlay is more than many homeowners feel comfortable fronting. Hence, the concept of the zero-down solar lease financing model and third-party system ownership (TPO) was born. While SunRun invented the model in 2007, the three behemoth national solar companies - SolarCity, Vivint Solar, and SunRun - rose to the top over the last five years due to the popularity and ease of the model for customers. Until this year, nearly 100% of Vivint Solar’s business was with solar leases and power purchase agreements (PPA’s).
However, as we at Run on Sun point out to all of our potential clients and in various blog posts, solar leases are simply a bad deal. And, what do you know, finally the wider public seems to be coming around to this fact! GTM’s recent report, “US Residential Solar Financing 2016-2021“, showed that for the first time since 2011, direct ownership of residential solar systems will surpass third-party ownership in 2017. The solar lease has been rapidly decreasing in popularity since it peaked in 2014 with 72% of the market. GTM predicts that in 2017 55% of residential solar systems will be bought outright through cash or loans, and the trend will continue with 72% of all systems sold owned directly by 2021.
GTM Research: Residential TPO Penetration and Installations by Ownership Type, 2011-2021
There are several factors at play in this shift. The total cost to go solar has declined rapidly in recent years meaning the upfront cost continues to be less frightening. Today there are more attractive solar loan options available to homeowners as well. One popular option in California is the PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) government loan program which is repaid as an assessment on the homeowners property tax bill. Mosaic is another solar loan program available nationally. While loans do have interest rates and dealer fees to be aware of, the benefits of owning a system outright far outweigh the costs of third party ownership - such as financially damning escalator clauses, the inability to take the tax credit or local rebates, and the risk of selling your home to buyers who don’t qualify for (or want) the solar lease.
Overall growth of the solar industry is also beginning to slow this year. After growing at more than 50% annually for the last four years, the residential market is expected to see a slower growth rate of 16% this year. The report shows that growth has slowed among all solar installation companies, but much more so for the top three national companies who previously relied upon the popularity of the solar lease. For the first time since 2013, these three will together install less than half the market’s solar systems as their growth slows to just 12%. By contrast, growth among the remaining solar power installation market will slow to 36% according to GTM. It will be interesting to see how the “big three” handle this shift in the coming years.
One thing to note is that while growth is slowing among the largest companies, solar continues to grow overall. Smaller local companies have always offered, and preferred, to sell systems outright rather than through leases and these companies are becoming more popular as more research shows the true value of ownership vs leasing. As one of those companies, we have always stood by the data and educate all our clients on the realities of financing options as the last thing we want is to be in the business of locking people into a twenty-year-long bad deal! Curious as to the specifics of leasing vs owning? Check out our blog from almost two years ago: Top Five Reasons to Stay Away from that Solar Lease!
At Run on Sun we don’t take partisan stances on politics. We believe everyone, regardless of politics, benefits from harnessing the unlimited resource of sun-powered PV systems. However, the recent election has raised questions about the future of federally-backed support for solar - specifically the federal solar investment tax credit (ITC). The short answer is, we are optimistic the current plan for the ITC to continue for three years at 30% then gradually sunset after five will be unaffected. Here’s why:
The fact is, the ITC is federal law and laws are not easily changed. Even if it did somehow manage to be changed before the 5-year planned sunset, we are confident our state will step up to make sure adequate support continues to make solar an economically viable option for the public. Never fear! Solar is here to stay.
(Thank you to CALSEIA and Executive Director Bernadette del Chiaro for the inspiration for this blog and for their invaluable efforts to advocate on behalf of the solar industry.)
If you work in the solar industry you have likely heard of the annual Solar Jobs Census from the Solar Foundation. It is the most credible annual review of the solar energy workforce, trends, and projected growth in the United States.
The 2015 Census found that the industry continued to exceed growth expectations, adding workers at a rate nearly 12 times faster than the overall economy and accounting for one in every 83 jobs (1.2%) created in the U.S. during the year. Their research over the years found that overall employment in solar grew by 123% over the previous six years. As of November 2015, the solar industry provided 208,859 domestic living-wage jobs to solar workers (24% of which are women), representing a growth rate of 20.2% since November 2014.
Has that momentum continued through 2016? NOW is the time of year again when your input can inform the policies that help shape the industry’s growth while improving the public’s awareness of the wider economic benefits of solar. This is the 7th year for the Census and quite possibly the most important year ever as solar can be a unifying issue around job creation and economic growth. When solar advocates go to the Hill or a State Capitol, they can tout first and foremost the number of jobs our industry has created. Getting accurate numbers is crucial so we need to get everyone around the country to participate. Please fill out the 2016 Census and share it with your solar friends! Click the link below to start the 15-minute long voluntary and confidential survey for your company:
Los Angeles doesn’t have a great reputation for being green. Sadly we are better known as a car-centric city frequently afflicted with smoggy skies. In fact, Los Angeles has been ranked the worst air pollution in the nation. Recently our fair city took one step closer to changing that! Last April the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to approve a motion asking the LA Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to develop a plan for how the city can move toward 100% renewable sources of electricity. LADWP - the largest municipal utility in the country - currently gets about 20-25% of its energy from renewables (solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and waste). The biggest challenge to going 100% green will be to convert from a grid which relies on coal and natural gas, which can adjust supply to meet demand, to one which can handle the fluxuations of solar and wind. The largest reductions in greenhouse gas emissions - nearly 9 million metric tons - will be through DWP’s existing plan to eliminate coal-fired power plants from their energy mix by 2025. (Side note: Shockingly, Pasadena’s energy mix coming from Pasadena Water and Power, has an extraordinarily high percentage of power coming from coal at 34% compared to CA average of 6% with no plans as of yet to move toward renewables! Hopefully they’ll follow in LA’s footsteps!)
Another 7 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions result from the remaining energy sources in LADWP’s mix, largely natural gas. As we move away from coal we need to be careful to not be lured to just switch to cheap natural gas. Last year the Aliso Canyon gas leak disaster - the worst in US history - proved this fossil fuel is a very dangerous source of energy for our communities. 11,000 residents were evacuated and hundreds reported methane-related illnesses from the leak. Aliso released 100,000 tons of methane, which has a warming effect 80 times higher than CO2 over the short-term. Currently there are also natural gas storage facilities in Playa del Rey and Playa Vista. Obviously natural gas is a serious threat to our public health and the environment. If we are going to get to a fully clean power supply a commitment similar to the departure from coal needs to happen with natural gas… and the faster the better.
With a 100-year old grid supplying 4 million Angelinos with power, LADWP is poised to make significant infrastructure investments. This is the perfect opportunity for the city to upgrade the system to accommodate the potential for a fossil-free future. Councilman - and co-author of the City Council motion - Paul Krekorian, emphasized the urgency for Los Angeles to move to clean energy:
“This is an enormous step forward that will help restore our environment and lead us to a sustainable, fossil-free future. For the third year running, Los Angeles was ranked as having the worst air pollution in the country, which is unacceptable and unhealthy for our families and neighborhoods. To reverse this trend we need big thinking and bold, smart action."
While Mayor Eric Garcetti has already set a goal of reaching 50% renewable energy by 2030, this recent legislation is only a starting point to research how to get to 100% but has no set timeline. This is a crucial first step, however, we are really looking forward to hearing the results of DWP’s research. A realistic but ambitious time-bound roadmap to ending our reliance on fossil fuels is crucial to improving our chances of preventing climate change’s most damaging effects.
San Francisco and San Diego are also among eighteen other cities who have committed to 100% clean energy goals recently. Four cities are already proving it is possible with fully renewably powered systems! Los Angeles, as the 2nd most populous city in the country and most polluted, can serve as a particularly powerful role model for cities and jurisdictions across the country. These plans have the potential to both help stop devastating climate change impacts but also to boost economies in the process. Some opponents of a renewable transition worry that it will hurt the economy but the growth of renewable jobs in recent years and a growing local economy has proven that is a false threat. Last year’s solar census reported that 10% of solar jobs - over 21,000 well paid jobs - are in Los Angeles! Going green saves money in the long-term. A report from the New Climate Economy found cities could save $17 trillion by 2050 by pursuing low-carbon solutions such as public transport, building efficiency, waste management and ‘aggressive’ solar implementation.
Now is the time to kick our transition to clean energy into high gear at local and state levels! We look forward to being part of the solution!
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