We couldn’t suppress an ironic smile when we read the headline, Los Angeles [County] Assembling Solar Action Committee to Address PV Challenges. “Physician, heal thy self,” immediately popped into mind given the propensity of LA County to create those very challenges! Here’s our take on what LA County is up to.
According to the article at Solar Industry magazine’s website:
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Works (DPW) has created a Solar Energy Action Committee (SEAC) to facilitate an expansion of residential and commercial solar photovoltaic power in the region.
According to the DPW, there are many challenges that are preventing the state and local governments in California from meeting aggressive renewable energy goals. Many of these challenges relate to the interpretation and application of codes and regulations in both the private and public sectors. Furthermore, solar technology is evolving so quickly and with such variety that jurisdictions are having problems determining how to apply codes and standards.
Oh heavens, don’t get me started! Well, ok, too late.
How about this for just one example (from many): we recently completed a commercial project in LA County. When we submitted our single line drawing to DPW (prepared and stamped by a licensed electrical engineer), it came back with nine “corrections". Ultimately we were able to demonstrate to DPW that seven of the nine did not even relate to our project since they all were focused on either the DC side of a PV system (and our Enphase-based system had no such components) or they related to the size of a non-existent load-side breaker. It took three iterations to whittle those bogus objections away, until we got down to the final nut: bonding.
Now one of the two remaining concerns was legit - DPW wanted our plans to call out two grounding rods. Fine, easy, done. But the remaining sticking point was a killer. We were using Everest Solar racking, which has UL 2703 listed splices for its rails that bond those splices together.
DPW refused to accept the splices for bonding, requiring bonding jumpers (like you see in the picture) across each splice. Which begs the question: what is the point of manufacturers building products to meet a national spec, if a local jurisdiction like DPW can simply say, “not in my backyard?”
Everest also had at the time an approved mid-clamp with WEEB solution for bonding between modules. In Pasadena, just across the street, that combination would have been approved without comment. But not DPW, which rejected the WEEB solution, requiring us to run a continuous #6 wire from module to module - all 246 of them!
Now when you talk to the folks at DPW they insist that this is all about safety. To which we respond - rubbish! What is the failure scenario that we are actually protecting against? In theory, you are trying to ensure that no metallic part becomes energized without a pathway to ground. That way if there is a fault, and someone touches the affected metal surface, current will not flow through them to ground (causing injury) because it has a lower resistance path to ground via the system bonding.
That is certainly a noble goal, but did the changes DPW insisted upon improve safety in the real world? This array is on a free standing structure, 14′ above the ground so it isn’t likely that someone would ever casually come in contact with a metal surface to begin with. But even if they did, what would that failure mode have to be? On the one panel that happens to develop a fault, a minimum of two, and in most cases four, WEEB clips would have to fail at the same time! Call me cynical, but I find that a highly unlikely event.
In contrast, the economic consequence of what had to be done to placate DPW was very real, adding thousands of dollars in parts and labor to the cost of the project, for an at best marginal improvement in safety.
So we are all for DPW taking steps to eliminate “PV challenges", but we would suggest they look at cleaning up their own act as the proper place to start.
Intersolar North America 2015 (IS) kicks off this week in San Francisco, and as we have for the past several years, Run on Sun will be there to learn, to mingle with the rest of the Solar Tribe, and yes, to party! Here’s our preview (with more to come after the show).
One of the biggest attractions of IS, the exhibition floor is crammed with every solar-related product and service imaginable (and some you wouldn’t have believed until seen!). Here are some of the things we are actively looking for as we roam the floor (and it really is a “we” this year as Laurel and Josh will be attending as well!)
We have been writing about, and longing for, viable energy storage solutions for as long as we have been attending IS. While the hype around storage has only grown exponentially since, the number of viable products still remains depressingly thin. Will this be the show when that finally changes?
Number one on our cross-your-fingers list is the previously announced, but not yet available, storage offering from Enphase Energy. Given that we have a whole lot of Enphase systems in the field, and a client-base that is rapidly shifting to time-of-use rates, the Enphase product, if it is a product, would be huge. While the timing would surely be right, our anticipation is amped-up by the knowledge that Enphase will have a booth at IS (a first for them, to our knowledge).
Interestingly, neither SolarCity nor Tesla is listed among the exhibitors as of this morning - I guess we won’t be seeing any Powerwalls on display.
Beyond storage, manufacturers are always touting their bigger, better products at the show and this year should be no different. Of particular interest in that regard is the potential release of a slew of new, larger module options coming from our favorite solar panel maker, LG. We have seen the hints on this front for sometime now as the CEC approved list of LG modules includes units as large as 325 Watts - compared to the LG 305’s which are presently the largest thing we are seeing in distribution. So will we now have multiple options for higher efficiency, higher output panels from LG? And if so, when and at what cost?
Meanwhile, Enphase appears poised to announce a new microinverter product, the S280 (just in time to pair with those higher power LG modules?), as it too now appears on the CEC list.
We know that we have clients eagerly awaiting these developments - watch this space!
Racking solutions continue to be an area where the cleverness of the design rarely survives the realities of the roof. We are constantly exploring new approaches for difficult problems such as viable ballasted systems (that will be accepted by AHJ’s like LA City and County) and structure suppliers for the growing interest in carports, pergolas and the like. While we have worked with a number of companies in this area, we are still on a quest for solutions that not only look good on paper, but that our installers can grow to love. We will be prowling the floor of IS with that as our number one must have.
We should note, however, that we remain quite pleased with Everest Solar as our pitched roof solution, and that view was enhanced by the long-awaited release of their UL-2703 listed end and mid-clamps. The inspectors who have looked at that system on the roof have been quite impressed with it, as are we.
It wouldn’t be IS without the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and, hopefully, make some new ones amidst the Solar Tribe. After all, these are people who work every day to make the world a better, cleaner, more sustainable place. They are a great bunch of folks and we are honored to be counted among ‘em!
First up is the Tweetup, hosted once again by solar celeb, Tor - @SolarFred - Valenza, with backing from @Enphase, @RECSolar, and @Grid. This has turned into an annual, and eagerly anticipated event, and we thank in advance Solar Fred and friends for making this happen.
Then comes Summerfest, a huge gathering of folks with lots of different types of food and drink and great views of the downtown San Francisco skyline. Summerfest is a great place to exchange views of what was on display on the exhibition floor, and to plot strategy for the next day, as in, “Did you see what they had over at the XYZ booth? It was amazing you have to check it out!”
But it is Wednesday night that really crowns the show. Starting with the great afterparty/pre-SBOB party thrown by Impress Labs - thanks to Solar Curator Tom Cheyney for hooking us up - we are able to get warmed up for the main event - the Solar Battle of the Bands! For the first time ever we are heading into the show knowing where are ducats are coming from - thanks to Jessica over at Solar Power World for the connection!
It is going to be a busy week, and we look forward to learning a lot. Look for our recap of the show next week!
So, you are considering a solar power system for your home or business… and why not, given the myriad of social, environmental and economic benefits! But how do you know if your roof is a good candidate? This is one of the top questions to consider carefully before investing in solar.
The size of your solar system is dependent on your usage needs and the amount you want to offset. However, it is not uncommon to find homes and businesses which are “footprint-constrained” - meaning their system size is limited by the space available.
A few things to keep in mind as you look at your roof and ponder how big is big enough… First, while there are many different solar panels they are typically the same size. Run on Sun uses LG panels which are about 65 x 40 inches and can be placed in either a portrait or landscape layout. Panel energy ratings vary, 280-305 watt panels are currently available from LG. For an average home (5 kW) that means you would need around 16-18 panels to offset the bulk of your electricity.
Another limitation is that the fire code requires three feet of clear space from all ridges. If you have an irregular shaped roof with many valleys and peaks it may make the layout very challenging. Given that the panels are rectangular and racking is mounted parallel to the roof, rectangular spaces are ideal.
Shading from trees, tall buildings, chimneys, or even parapets on flat roofs can significantly degrade the energy output from solar panels. Sometimes all that needs to be done is a generous trimming of that tree that’s gotten a little out of control over the years. Other times it means you really won’t get your money’s worth out of a solar system. But, if the shade elements are few and only during a short time each day, your roof may still be a viable candidate.
If this is the case be sure to talk to your solar contractor about inverters. We have written a great deal about the advantages of “microinverters” in handling shaded roofs, particularly those made by Enphase Energy. “String inverters” on the other hand would be a bad choice as the entire system would degrade when any single panel is shaded.
This may be the most important and frequently overlooked question to consider when researching if solar is right for you. Part of what makes solar a great investment is the 25+ year lifetime of the system. But if you have to re-roof during that time there are added costs to remove and re-install the system. If you are planning to re-roof during the lifetime of your solar array be sure you select components, such as the racking system, from companies that…A. will still be around 15-25 years later, and B. will be able to provide compatible replacement parts when pieces are lost during removal and re-installation. Avoid newer companies testing out “state-of-the-art” racking systems and cheap companies banking on the solar boom alone.
For this reason we always ask owners the age of their roof. In southern California, a roof over ten years old should get a makeover before installing solar. If you are unsure of the condition, it is a good idea to have a professional roofer take a look and give you an expert opinion. Sometimes solar contractors can offer this as part of their free assessment. (Run on Sun works with a very reliable roofer who is happy to take a look at any roof in question!) If the roof still has some life left in it but not enough to outlast the solar system you could re-roof only the area where the solar array will cover and plan to do the rest later. An added benefit is that the solar panels will actually protect your roof from the elements, helping it to last longer.
Unfortunately, you will likely be able to find someone willing to put solar on your roof even if it isn’t a good candidate. But if they aren’t discussing the above issues with you, then red flags should be flying! To ensure you get the best investment possible, do your research, take a good long look at your roof, and discuss all of your concerns with your solar contractor.
Angelinos typically struggle with cloudy “cold” days more than those accustomed to less sunny locales. So after the last few months of gloom it was no surprise to hear the National Weather Service announce that it was in fact a very abnormal year for Los Angeles.
Temperature data from around Southern California showed that the region experienced a “reverse” meteorological spring, meaning average monthly temperatures decreased instead of increasing. Average temps for downtown Los Angeles in March, April and May were 68.2 degrees, 65.8 degrees and 64.2 degrees, respectively, according to NWS. The normal averages between 1981 to 2010 were 60.6 degrees, 63.1 degrees and 65.8 degrees. Since recordkeeping began in 1877 only three documented “reverse” springs have ever occurred. But this is the first in nearly a century!
While many Angelinos may feel as if it is colder than usual, these past three months have actually been warmer and drier than normal across Southern California. The difference is we have been experiencing a cooling trend overall since the warmer than usual February. April and May actually felt more like LA’s “June gloom", typical only for June.
For those fretting over low output from your solar system…don’t worry! Your system is NOT malfunctioning. We’ve just experienced a less productive than normal spring. I’m sure the sunshine will return and your solar meter will continue to spin in the right direction before you know it. In the meantime, be thankful for any precipitation we get, and maybe even get out and enjoy the grey days that are neither too hot nor too cold!
UPDATE - Due to looming weather concerns, the Solar Impulse team decided to divert to Nagoya, Japan to await better weather. Disappointed but undaunted, pilot Andre Borschberg landed successfully in Nagoya this morning after flying for 44 hours and more than 2,000 miles, roughly one-third of the intended distance to Hawaii. Now the team will study the weather to determine the optimal time to resume their mission to fly around the world, powered only by the sun!
Solar Impulse 2 - the entirely solar-powered airplane that is attempting to fly around the world - just took off on the most audacious leg of its amazingly audacious mission: to fly non-stop from Nanjing China to Hawaii. This is a non-trivial flight in a conventional jetliner, one from which many passengers will disembark complaining of cramped quarters and a lack of sleep. But the pilot of SI2, Andre Borschberg, will need to stay awake (mostly) for six days in a cabin slightly smaller than Dr. Who’s TARDIS Police Box!
Updates from SI.TV
We have written about the Solar Impulse project before, with a mixture of awe and envy. This particular flight, however, is all awe. We are in awe of the raw human fortitude required to succeed at this attempt, and we are in awe of the courage that this pilot is displaying. Of course, he is far from alone in this undertaking, supported by a mission control center and an extensive ground support crew. But at the end of the day, he is in that cockpit alone, and the success of the flight will come down to his skill and determination.
Each day the plane greets the sunrise by a climb to altitude (flight level 280, or 28,000′), allowing the solar cells (17,000 of them) to fully recharge the plane’s batteries. During the night, the plane descends, flying on stored solar power. As morning comes around, the plane and pilot reach a critical moment - can they get to a point of energy production that will sustain them through another cycle? If they have encountered too many clouds, there will not be enough energy to sustain the mission and the pilot faces the very real possibility of ditching the plane in the middle of the Pacific Ocean! Wow!
Rest for the weary pilot comes in 20 minute breaks, ended by a gentle alarm if all is well, or a more insistent alert if something has gone awry. To maintain physical and mental health, the pilot practices both yoga and self-hypnosis, as well as a limited set of exercises that can be performed within the cabin’s confines.
You can learn more about the background of this mission, and even monitor how solar energy is powering the flight at the Solar Impulse website.
We will update this post as the flight progresses, and the video embedded here will provide live streaming of the flight so be sure to check back often during the week ahead.
«climate change» cpuc enphase «enphase energy» «feed-in tariff» fit gwp «jim jenal» ladwp «net metering» pg&e pwp «run on sun» sce seia «solar power» «solar rebates» solarcity usc «westridge school for girls»