Unemployment is a continuing problem in California but for one group of our neighbors it is stubbornly higher still. That group is our recent veterans—folks who volunteered to fight in our wars but when they muster out are finding anything but a grateful and welcoming work environment. Now the folks at The Solar Foundation and Operation Free are trying to highlight a potential bright spot for veteran employment: the solar industry.
First some background. According to a Washington Post article, as of last October the unemployment rate for post 9/11 vets stood at 10 percent whereas the overall U.S. unemployment rate was 7.2%. The Post story cites numerous factors driving those numbers, including the depressingly high number of disabled vets, but one reason that could be addressed by nothing more than concerted action is this: lack of civilian work experience. Think of it, many young vets went directly from school to service with no stops in the civilian work world. They may be long on life experiences, but still very short on job experience.
According to the joint report issued by The Solar Foundation and Operation Free titled, Veterans in Solar, those numbers are even more stark when you focus on vets under the age of 24. For that group, as of last December, a whopping 16% were unemployed. Not much of a “thank you” for your service.
The solar industry, by comparison, has been a source of hope. Out of an estimated workforce of roughly 143,000 people, the solar industry employs 13,192 veterans or 9.2% (this contrasts with vets making up just 7.6% of U.S. workers overall). These jobs are distributed throughout the industry as illustrated by this chart:
Clearly, while veterans are able to work in a wide variety of positions throughout the entire solar industry, installation provides the easiest entre to the field.
The folks at The Solar Foundation and Operation Free are committed to not only documenting the role of veterans in the solar industry, but in facilitating their involvement in ever growing numbers. One such example of their plans to aid veterans is the “creation of a skills transfer tool designed to help employers easily match skills obtained by veterans with those that are sought by leading solar companies.”
Here at Run on Sun, we like to think of ourselves as a “leading solar company,” and we would like to take part in this worthwhile effort. So here is our commitment: On every commercial project that we install going forward, we will hire one or more veterans to work side-by-side with our NABCEP certified team, thereby giving those veterans the opportunity to learn the skills needed to participate in this industry from some of solar’s best.
The U.S. Department of Energy has announced the list of 20 teams that will compete at the 2015 Solar Decathlon to be held at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine. The 20 student teams selected include eight returning teams and 12 new teams (teams in last year’s competition are highlighted):
Of all the teams on that list, it is most gratifying to see West Virginia University included as they were forced out of the competition last year at the very last minute due to financial constraints. It is good to know that their hard work will finally get its moment in the sun.
Interestingly, neither Caltech nor Team USC is on the list. We understand that USC decided to pass on the 2015 competition to plan for the 2017 event. Given the enormous amount of work that it takes to field a successful entry, that approach makes a great deal of sense. Also missing from the event are any of the top three finishing teams: Team Austria, UNLV and the Czech Republic. Hopefully we will see their energy and innovation in a future contest.
Last year was the first year the competition was held outside of Washington, D.C. and, not coincidentally we suspect, it was the first year that every team’s house produced more energy than it consumed. We are eager to see what new records these teams will be able to set next year. Best of luck to all.
UPDATE - The podcast is now online so should you care to listen to Steven Bushong’s interview with me, you will find it here.
The folks at Solar Power World have a regular feature called “Contractors Corner” where they profile a solar power company and this month they chose Run on Sun!
We have been on a bit of a roll with Solar Power World of late. We were honored to have our small but mighty band featured as one of their top 250 solar companies around the country, and we were quoted at length in their piece on “How to Make Sure Your Business Survives the Solar Frontier."
Today’s honor takes things to a whole new level. The piece started with a phone interview (which will be turned into a podcast at some point) and from that, editor Steven Bushong created the article that is featured on both the Solar Power World website as well as their print magazine.
A point we particularly like is that they picked up on the importance of social media. Here’s the quote:
To stay current on the solar industry and help with marketing efforts, Run on Sun is plugged into social media much more than most other contractors.
“People who aren’t initiated often think it’s little more than photos of cats and dinners, but we have a well-developed Twitter and LinkedIn presence,” Jenal says. “The NABCEP LinkedIn group has some really smart people who are good at raising issues and answering questions.”
As an outbound marketing source, Run on Sun has amassed more than 20,000 followers on Twitter (@RunOnSun). Jenal says when the company releases blog posts or announcements on social media, the impact is immediate on the company website or blog.
“It’s a way to get our information out there so people can see it,” he says. “That indirectly contributes to leads coming through the door or website.”
Indeed it does - and it contributes to becoming more broadly known in the industry, as Solar Power World has demonstrated. We greatly appreciate the honor.
Ever since a fire chief in New Jersey let a warehouse burn for days because of his concerns about dealing with the solar power system on the roof, we are seeing a spate of these stories now migrated to concerns about residential solar as well. We think the risk is greatly overstated, but it turns out that allaying a firefighter’s fear of solar is one more argument for using Enphase microinverters.
We wrote about the New Jersey issue back in September and the fire chief was quoted as saying, “with all that power and energy up there, I can’t jeopardize a guy’s life for that.” Now no one wants to see anyone injured because of a fire, and certainly not because solar was on the structure that was burning. (The cause of the fire has not yet been disclosed.) But was that really the only option—avoid the roof and let the fire burn for days?
Worse still, now we are starting to see a steady drumbeat of similar stories with a residential slant.
Take this story that aired on a local news outlet with the scary title: Firefighters Warn Solar Panels Could Prevent Homes from Being Saved in Blaze. While the homeowner is thrilled to be saving money, he is unaware of the danger he is facing until it is presented to him—by the reporter. But how great is that danger, and what can be done to minimize it?
For one thing, here in California there are already State Fire Marshall guidelines that require set-asides on the roof to allow firefighters access and space to vent the roof as needed, without having to cut into areas covered by solar.
As for the concern about turning the system off so that dangerous amounts of power aren’t present on the roof, well, that is where the benefit of microinverters, such as those that we use from Enphase Energy, comes into play. When you shut off the power at the ground-based AC disconnect switch, the entire array is powered down. The solar conduits coming down from the roof are rendered inert, harmless, with no power present at all. This is the safest possible environment for firefighters with solar and the fire inspectors that we have dealt with readily understand, and appreciate, the difference.
So, should a homeowner pick a solar power system based on avoiding fire danger? Perhaps not; but if you are the sort that worries about such things, you should know that microinverters give you one more benefit—firefighter safety—over older designs. To maximize that benefit, we just need a generally accepted sign to mount on our systems that will let firefighters know what sort of solar system they are facing.
Our friends over at Enphase Energy had a significant announcement a week or so ago, touting how their tried-and-true M215 microinverter had just been improved by redesigning it to feature integrated grounding, just like its bigger sibling, the new M250’s. We wrote about the value of integrated grounding last year when the M250’s were introduced, and it is a really great development, cutting install time, reducing hazards on the roof, and making the installed system safer for everyone. Enphase has even created a dedicated webpage to explain the benefits of integrated grounding. What’s not to love?
Unless, that is, you are the City of Los Angeles. You see, the Building and Safety department of Los Angeles is a universe unto itself, a universe where good news goes to die. To LA, it doesn’t matter that the M250 and the new M215 have been independently tested and found compliant with all of the relevant standards for inverters. No, LA doesn’t care—they insist that these products be submitted to LA for its own testing.
Now just who does this help? Well, presumably the folks who work in LA’s lab get to stay employed but somehow the permitting process shouldn’t be a jobs program. No, all this does is add cost (directly to Enphase who has to jump through these hoops, indirectly to everyone else) and delay into the process. We have sold projects that are delayed in LA while we wait for this nonsense to get resolved. Indeed, it is just this sort of abuse of the process that causes us to have a 7 kW threshold for projects in LA—anything smaller is just not worth the agitation.
To be clear, it doesn’t have to be this way. We have already installed projects in Pasadena and surrounding cities without difficulty using integrated grounding. No one else has had a problem—the units are appropriately listed so you are good to go. But not so in LA.
Everyone talks about how reducing “soft costs” is the key to making solar viable in a post-subsidy world. If so, here’s a prime example of a soft cost that offers zero value to the process and needs to be eliminated—but it is far from an isolated example.
We suspect that the Garcetti Administration could make this go away tomorrow—so why don’t they? Given the Mayor’s claim to green cred, why not call a meeting with appropriate stakeholders: installers (including small installers), manufacturers, and department heads and lets cut through this unnecessary nonsense and make it easier to install rooftop solar in the biggest city in the biggest solar market in the country. It’s about time.