We occasionally encounter potential clients who have been given wildly optimistic proposals that promise amazing performance and use every square inch of the roof, regardless of the major shade issues of the site. We recently drove by a house that suffered from this exact problem.
What you see here is a west-facing roof with an almost permanently shaded roof section. There are two large trees that completely shade the solar panels for about half of the day. And, since the panels are facing west, they are not going to produce very much energy in the morning when the sun is in the east. As much as we love microinverters, they cannot save the day here!
After some research (gotta love online permit databases!), we determined that this is a 9.54 kW system consisting of 36 265 Watt panels. We analyzed the system’s potential performance assuming that the installer used the best products on the market (i.e., LG solar panels and Enphase microinverters). Based on the satellite image of this property, we see that most of the roof is in full sun. The overall system has 5 panels south facing, 6 east, 10 on a flat roof, 6 west in full sun, and our suspect 9 panels on the west roof in almost full shade.
For our analysis, we used a 50% solar access value for those 9 panels (a very generous assumption). The rest of the system was assumed to have minimal shading. Based on those assumptions, this system is likely to produce 217,875 kWh over the next 20 years. Of that, only 30,726 kWh will be produced by those 9 west-facing panels. What that means is that 25% of the system (9 panels of 36) is only going to produce 14% of the system’s energy, and that is based on a very generous assumption about how much sun actually reaches those panels.
Put another way, over the life of the system, at best, those 9 shaded panels provide half as much value to the homeowner as the rest of the array.
What you see in that picture is the result of an installer who failed to provide their customer with enough information to make an informed decision. Instead, the customer was sold the biggest system possible to maximize the installer’s profit, not the customer’s benefit. If you are comparing solar bids, and one company is proposing a much larger system than the others, you might want to ask, who will those extra panels benefit the most?
Our friends over at The Solar Foundation have just released their latest National Solar Jobs Census for 2016 and the results (as the infographic on the right demonstrates) are truly eye-popping! Here’s our take.
While there was a great deal of talk about creating decent jobs for American workers during the past election campaign, the reality is that the solar industry is one of the most dynamic creator of jobs that cannot be sent overseas! In fact, according to the Census, one out of every fifty jobs added in the United States during 2016 was created by the solar industry. Moreover, 2016 was the fourth year in a row in which job growth exceeded 20%, year-on-year!
The 260,000 people employed by the solar industry represent more workers than in the natural gas industry, over twice as many as in coal, over three times that of wind energy, and almost five times the number employed in nuclear. Only the oil/petroleum industry is ahead, but likely not for long. (And seriously, who wouldn’t prefer to go to work in the solar industry than into the hell that is a coal mine?)
Compared to other high tech entities, the solar industry in the U.S. accounts for more jobs than Google, Facebook, and Microsoft combined—worldwide! Nowhere is that job growth more explosive than right here in California, with solar jobs increasing by a staggering 32% from 75,598 in 2015 to 100,050 in 2016! Moreover, these are good paying jobs, with the median salary for solar installers coming in at $25.96 per hour.
The solar industry has reached these levels thanks to the very hard work of many people who strive to make the industry better every day, and thanks to solar-friendly policies at both the state and federal levels. Policy makers, from the President on down, should keep that in mind as they contemplate changes to energy policy. Today, more than ever, Solar Means Jobs!
Check out The Solar Foundation’s cool video highlighting some of the many exciting developments in the solar industry!
It is with great excitement that we introduce to you the latest member of the Run on Sun family, Sara Pavey, our new Projects Coordinator!
We’ve had our eye on Sara for quite some time as she has been in the solar industry for more than five years with a variety of other solar companies. Indeed, during her tenure at one of those companies, her bosses derided her as a “teller, not a seller,” because she has the audacity to take the time to fully explain things to potential solar clients! Needless to say, we are thrilled to have another “teller” on our team as we are fully committed to answering all of our clients questions before they sign on the dotted line!
Sara is a proud graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (Go Mustangs!), earning her degree in Mechanical Engineering. Sara demonstrated her technical insights at her very first Run on Sun jobsite, suggesting a clever re-routing of cables that was both more efficient and more aesthetically pleasing. We look forward to putting all of her tech skills to use—as well as her “telling” approach to sales!
Prior to joining Run on Sun, Sara honed her installation skills by volunteering with Grid Alternatives, a nationwide non-profit that “brings the benefits of solar technology to communities that would not otherwise have access, providing needed savings for families, preparing workers for jobs in the fast-growing solar industry, and helping clean our environment." (Learn more about Grid Alternatives here.)
A native of Southern California (yes, there really are some natives here!), Sara lives in Pasadena with her husband, Kyle, and two (very) young children, Isla and Liam. When Sara is not crunching numbers or climbing on the roof, you will find her at the LA Zoo, Kidspace Children’s Museum, or a local trail. If both children are miraculously napping at the same time, she likes to paint colorful abstract paintings on any available surface, including the shower door. (Another skill for us to tap!)
Please join me in welcoming Sara to the Run on Sun family!
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!
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