Pasadena is not only the home for Run on Sun, it is also my home for many years now. Pasadena likes to think of itself as a forward looking, environmentally conscious city. So it was a bit of a blow to see the latest Power Content Label for our home-grown utility, Pasadena Water and Power (PWP), which reveals that when it comes to powering this city sustainably, we still have a long way to go!
Under California law, (Senate Bill 1305, Sher, Statutes of 1997), electricity retail suppliers are “required to disclose to consumers which types of resources are used to generate electricity being sold." October 1 is the deadline for utilities to report this info to the California Energy Commission, and they are then required to disclose it to their customers by way of a flier included in the bill. The disclosure is known as a Power Content Label and it breaks down energy sold by source and compares it to the overall mix in the state.
Here is PWP’s PCL for 2015:
|ENERGY RESOURCES||2015 PWP POWER MIX||2015 CA POWER MIX|
|Biomass & waste||15%||3%|
| Large Hydro
| Natural Gas
Wow, that’s a lot of fossil fuels, with the majority of it coal. Contrast that with the rest of the state where coal is roughly 1/6 of the factor that it is at PWP, and keep in mind that you produce 2.1 pounds of CO2 per kWh when burning coal (on average) compared to just 1.2 pounds from burning natural gas.
Worse still, solar makes up 0% of PWP’s overall mix, compared to 6% for the state overall.
If there is a silver lining in these numbers it is this: 2015 is an improvement over the past. As recently as 2013, coal was a whopping 52% of PWP’s total power. So our hometown utility is getting better, but we are a long way from where we need to be!
(*Unspecified means “electricity from transactions that are not traceable to specific generation sources.")
Every September we pack our bags and head to the largest solar conference and exposition in the country; Solar Power International. This is when we get to connect with the broader solar community, advocates, and friends working far and wide for the betterment of the world through distributed clean energy. It is also the time when manufacturers unveil their latest technologies. These technology improvements come fast and furious in an attempt to stay ahead of the curve in a competitive industry. Just two years ago when I started working with Run on Sun we were able to get 270 watt panels from LG. What is coming from them in the next year will blow your mind. Here is my run down of the top take aways from SPI 2016…
Some of you may have seen the three part series Run on Sun’s CEO, Jim Jenal, wrote recently about what we need to do to be sustainable as an industry facing a crisis of increasingly shoddy workmanship and shady business practices. As part of the convention’s educational program, Jim was invited to participate on a panel of solar professionals to discuss the future of residential solar. The panel consisted of a wide range of backgrounds including a representative from a national company, Sunrun’s Michael Grasso, Rick Luna from a municipal utility CPS Energy, Ed Murray from a medium sized company, Aztec Solar, as well as national advocacy group SEIA, and Jim representing the small installer at Run on Sun.
The panelists discussed their take on who will dominate the residential solar space and what will the predominant business model be in five years. This was a perfect platform to raise the very real issues of quality facing the industry and Jim did not disappoint! Of course Sunrun’s Grasso asserted that national scale companies continuing the leasing model with storage will dominate in the future. But there were many nods of agreement in the audience when Jim insisted that the current status quo is not sustainable. Giant publicly traded national companies operating in the red and pushing customers into bad deals are going to cause a backlash. We’ve already seen many law suits and bankruptcies in the industry. Solar City’s Better Business Bureau rating in the Bay area is an embarrassing 80% negative. The notion that Ed Murray, from SEIA, put forth that the market will naturally take care of the bad companies is just not a sustainable way forward or an ethical one. As more and more consumers get hit with bad contracts and solar systems, the market will be left with a bad taste for solar. The people in this industry who are doing it for the right reasons, aiming to help people save money and reduce their impact on the ecosystem need to demand that there is more oversight over the quality of systems and some legal standards around contracts.
Jim’s comments seemed to be well received in the audience as most people attending were people who work in solar for the right reasons given they are investing in the hefty price-tag to attend the convention. But the disparate opinions on the panel itself was interesting to say the least. I don’t know if the reps for big companies are just out of touch with what is happening on the ground or if they are in denial.
Everyone agreed that a future will include storage or other bundled options for improving home efficiencies. However, Jim noted that storage needs to be presented to clients in a transparent way so they understand the true value of storage and whether it makes sense for them or not. If you are on a tiered rate system with no demand charges there likely is no value in storage. Solar stakeholders from advocates to installers need be fostering business practices that focus on transparent education for consumers instead of just closing every sell if we are to survive as an industry and continue to grow solar as the incredibly valuable resource that it is.
We have been installing exclusively LG panels since 2012. Why? We believe LG panels are the best for our clients for two main reasons. 1. As a diversified company we, and our clients, can rely upon them to stick around to back their 25 year warranty no matter what happens in the wider solar industry. And 2. LG has an incredible R&D department churning out ground-breaking improvements keeping them at the top in both quality and output year after year.
Last year LG announced 320 watt panels would be coming and we were fortunate to be one of the first to install these at a beautiful home in Altadena last Spring. This year they have several incredible new announcements:
The Enphase booth was seriously hoppin’ throughout the expo! Unsurprisingly with a total redesign of their system from the microinverter to the cable and even a special junction box.
All of these improvements come together to create a system that includes the microinverters we know and trust at a lower cost with a simpler and quicker installation.
The large majority of Run on Sun’s solar installations are being held together by the great racking products from Everest. This is because their materials are the most solid and well thought out racking product for standard pitched roofs on the market today. Their booth at SPI included a new “shared rail system” which allows two panels to come together on a single rail cutting down on the total number of rails needed for an installation. This system incorporates the same beefy product we trust with a reduced overall cost and installation time on the roof. It also doesn’t hurt that the entire team at Everest Solar Systems are great people and local to SoCal too!
Pasadena’s Idealab, an incubator, has been consulting with Jim on a revolutionary new product - the PV Booster - at their start up Edisun. They unveiled their dual axis tracker system at SPI. The system is designed for large flat roofs (and even carports) and potentially can increase output by up to 40% by tracking the sun throughout the day.
We were excited to see the system on display as they have developed quite a bit over the last six months of consulting with Jim. There was a lot of interest in the system at the show and we hope to help move their vision forward by installing some projects using their system locally here in Pasadena in the coming year.
Every year Run on Sun participates in Solar Fred’s Tweetup. It has become an event of close friends and allies. This year was a very special Tweetup as mainstays Pam Cargill and Martin Hamon got hitched in a truly extraordinary ceremony! Pam was walked down the “aisle” by a mascot Sun to the tune of “Here Comes the Sun". The ceremony included as many solar-love metaphors and quips as possible as Reverend Solar Fred officiated. Apologies for my blurry photo but it really was an event to remember. If you have pics to share with the happy couple you can share them on their dropbox here and relive the moment on Twitter with #SPIdo.
Here in SoCal we are blessed with endless warm sunny days. The down side however is that it can be many months between invaluable air-purifying rain showers. For your solar array, this means there is nothing to wash away the accumulated dust and detritus from nearby trees. In summer months ash from nearby mountain fires adds to the mix. Consider this a Run on Sun PSA…
IT’S TIME TO RINSE OFF YOUR PANELS!!
These panels needed to be cleaned just to get the inverter to turn on!
(Didn’t help that the installer put the panels under a tree!)
When discussing solar with new clients often the topic of cleaning comes up. This is because some solar companies use the concept of cleaning your array as a way to convince you you need a leased system with ongoing maintenance. However, we believe this is a bit of a scam. You don’t need to pay someone to get up on your roof with a squeegie every week. Most home owners have the ability to douse dusty panels from the ground with a strong nozzle attached to a garden hose. Really the benefit is nominal unless it has been six months since the last rain, such as the case in Southern California. As for cleaning the panels, rinsing with a hose is fine (though some insist that is heresy and only deionized water should be used). Do it first thing in the morning so there is no thermal shock to the panels.
Check out this recent case study that brought this issue to our attention:
Shiny new panels at Chandler School
Last week we heard from a client who did some great analysis using the Enphase monitoring on their system before and after he decided to clean his panels. He found there was an 8% improvement in the period after cleaning. Run on Sun’s CEO Jim Jenal compared this to the monitoring on another system (Westridge School) which wasn’t cleaned and had a similarly unshaded southern facing array. Over that time period Westridge School’s daily average production reduced 8.66%. This means that our client actually had an increase of production of 16.6% by cleaning his panels!
Generally, cleaning an array results in an improvement of between 5-10%, so his panels were exceptionally impaired by the fallout from our summer fires! Not surprisingly, given his location in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. However, for anyone in the Los Angeles metro area, early September is a great time to get out and restore the shiny clean sheen to your array. After all, who knows when the first winter rain will come?
Going solar isn’t the only thing you can do to reduce your electric bills and your environmental footprint. In fact, the first thing you should consider is how you could make your home more efficient BEFORE investing in solar. Investing in a solar system that is bigger than you really need is just a bad investment strategy since efficiency upgrades are often much more affordable than the solar system required to offset the ineficient loads.
One option is to hire a professional to give you a thorough energy audit which will help to pinpoint where your electrical hogs are and what you can do to improve efficiencies. Alternatively, there are a lot of relatively simple steps you can take if you know what to look for. Changing out your old light bulbs to LEDs is an obvious and easy fix for example. But one of the biggest and often under the radar culprits that I’m here to tell you all about are pool pumps.
Pool pumps can have such a big effect on your electric bill that we always discuss it when doing a solar site evaluation at any home fortunate enough to have a pool. Of course we don’t recommend eliminating your pump altogether as they are necessary to keep your water filtered and clean. So what is the solution? There are all sorts of newer “efficient” pool pumps out there and likely your pool guy/girl will happily install if you say you’d like an upgrade. However, what you really need if you want to make a dent in your electrical load is something called a “variable speed” pool pump.
A variable speed pool pump is exactly what it sounds like… Rather than pumping water with a consistently high speed you really only need max power at the outset to get the water moving. Once its moving the variable speed pump then downgrades the output power to keep the water moving since less energy is required to keep something moving than to get something going from a standstill. This reduced speed equals reduced energy loads!
We have heard clients who installed variable speed pumps have seen reductions on their bill on the order of over $500 per year!
The downside for these pumps is often the price is much higher than regular pumps. But I come bearing good news! Many utilities offer rebates and incentives for Energy Star qualified pool pumps. In our home turf of Pasadena, California we are fortunate to have a very proactive utility, Pasadena Water and Power, striving to help residents lower their footprint. They normally offer a rebate of $400-$450 off the sticker price for a variable speed pump. However, I was just notified that PWP is running a promotion on all of their energy efficient appliance rebates through October 31st, 2016:
“PWP is offering a $900 (bought outside Pasadena) to $950 (bought locally) rebate to all PWP residential electric customers who replace their old pool pump with a new energy efficient variable speed or variable flow pool pump and motor. Replacing older inefficient pool pumps with new efficient models will not only help you reduce energy use but save you money. With the summer heat and the possibility of rolling blackouts, PWP wants to make sure you do your part to conserve energy."
We couldn’t agree more! Check PWP’s rebates listing for a list of other rebates to take advantage of. The listed prices on the website include the current promotion.
If you’re not in PWP’s service area, never fear! You can check if your utility has rebates on the Energy Star website.
After you’ve addressed all the drafty windows, switched out your lightbulbs and upgraded all your appliances, then it is time to give Run on Sun a call (626-793-6025) and we’ll help you offset the rest of your energy needs!
I love conducting solar site assessments and having that first conversation with a potential client. Often we spend far more time discussing all the ins and outs of going solar with the property owner than is necessary for the solar assessment measurements. One of the questions we always spend some time on is: “How exactly is Run on Sun different than other solar companies?” Here in sunny Southern California this is an important question as there are so many people offering PV solar services. Of course I describe how the products we use are selected for their high quality, warranties, and trust in the manufacturers. I also explain how as a small company with a mission focus, we take a very honest and ethical approach to helping people green their energy. But one of the major ways we stand above all the rest is also a feature that is hard to convey in that first conversation. Hence, the theme of this blog post…
My best answer to the above question, “We have Velvet Dallesandro as our Chief Electrician.”
The work that Velvet does connecting the power of the sun to your electric meter is akin to an art form. But alas, the art of a solar electrician is often hidden behind dead plates and easy to overlook if you’re not paying attention. So here are a few examples of Velvet’s work. She may not be in a Los Angeles art gallery but her work is providing people with beautiful, safe, and emission-free energy across the county!
If you’ve ever looked behind the dead plate on your electric bus (where all your breakers are) you likely were frightened by what you saw. A mess of cables, cobwebs, and sometimes outright dangerous circumstances - like the time I saw one missing its main breaker entirely. However, if Velvet is re-wiring your service panel it may look more like something you could put on your wall with rainbows of color coded wires and perfect 90 degree bends. (Service panel shown at left by Velvet, solar AC disconnect work at right by Ralph Carillo.)
Wiring is far from Velvet’s only art form. How do installers bring solar power from the roof to the electrical service? While the most visually appealing is to hide the magic completely by going thru an attic space and inside walls but sometimes that just isn’t possible.
Velvet doesn’t just throw flex conduit around willy nilly to get the job done quick like some installers. It takes a lot of creativity to make the wiring run as attractive as possible. First and foremost, she always uses galvanized conduit for outside wiring as opposed to flex - it lasts for the long run and it is much more difficult to punch a fire axe through than flex, making it much safer. Second, Velvet avoids piecing together conduit as much as possible. Her goal is to make whatever crazy runs are necessary as seamless as possible - think avoiding possible leaky weak spots at seams. This means she has become a jedi master at bending conduit. Eight bends in one stick of conduit paralleling windows, gutters, or that pretty bush you don’t want to disturb? Not out of the question when Velvet is on the job (or her prodigy apprentice Ralph for that matter).
Beyond the art she’s also an all around rock star. Check out this classic; pulling wire for a 45kW job at Chandler School…(That’s her on the right pulling wire through at least 30 feet of conduit on a 100+ degree summer day.)
She more than pulls her weight! So if you’re looking into going solar take note, there is an art that goes into the details. And the details really do count! Velvet’s wiring is the safest you will find and truly built to last. A rarity in an industry where most companies are trying to race through projects at lightning speed. Bottom line…we are so thankful to have Velvet on our team!
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