Categories: All About Solar Power, Electric Cars that Run on Sun, Energy Efficiency, Energy Storage, Safety

03/28/17

  03:22:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1002 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Residential Solar, Energy Storage

Solar + Storage = $avings!

We have been waiting a long time for this moment, when we could finally say that we can offer a solar plus smart storage solution for our residential clients.  Well the wait is over, and if you act fast, there is even a sweet rebate available!  It is a complicated picture, so stick with us as we break this down.

Introducing the Enphase Energy AC Battery

Four Enphase Energy AC batteries installed

Four Enphase Energy AC Batteries

Regular readers of this blog know that we are big fans of Enphase Energy and have been installing their microinverters for years.  Given our history with the company, we were excited to be approached by Enphase to participate in their AC Battery “beta” install program, one of just a handful of selected installers in the U.S.  We selected the site of one of our largest residential projects for the beta, knowing that would give us great data to study over time (and you know how we love data!).  We really like the way the install turned out, nice and neat!

Let’s be clear about what this system is, and is not.  It is not a battery backup system.  It will not keep the lights on if the grid goes down.  It is an energy arbitrage system - it stores energy from your PV array for use later in the day when your rates are highest.  That means that this system isn’t for everyone; it is for folks who have a PV system (or want to install one!) and are subject to time-of-use (TOU) rates, which mostly means just some folks who are SCE customers.  (Important note to SCE customers - if you install solar after July 1st, you will be forced onto time-of-use rates.)

Each battery stores 1.2 kWh of energy and can discharge that energy at 280 Watts, giving a discharge time of 4.3 hours.  The beta install shown above is a total of 4.8 kWh and a discharge of 1.12 kW.

So how does this work? Consider SCE’s TOU rates - the cheapest energy (13.1¢/kWh) is from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.  The next cheapest energy (16.6¢/kWh) is from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.   The really expensive energy (a whopping 33.5¢/kWh!) is from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. - precisely when most people are coming home from work or school, turning on the A/C, and lights, and the TV and on and on.  Ouch! 

But note that the peak time does not coincide well with the output from the PV array, meaning energy exported onto the grid during the day is worth half of what that same energy would be worth later in the day.

That problem is exactly what the Enphase AC Battery is designed to solve.  Each morning when the PV array “wakes up” it starts to power the local loads of the house.  As the system produces more power, excess power is routed to charging the batteries (instead of exporting onto the grid).  Once the batteries are fully charged, any excess power is then exported and the homeowner gets a net metering credit for that energy.  But now when we get to 2 p.m. and the energy rate kicks into high gear, any energy needs that cannot be met by the PV array is supplied by the energy stored in the batteries, thereby limiting the amount of really expensive energy that has to be purchased from the grid.

Here’s a recent day’s performance of the beta system (I told you the data was cool!):

Enphase AC Battery usage

The bright blue is energy from the array, the orange represents energy loads - pale orange is entirely offset, bright orange is drawn from the grid.  The green at the bottom shows the percentage of battery charge - sloping up between 8 a.m. and noon, constant until needed starting around 6 p.m., and then discharging to offset the household loads. 

At the top we see snapshot data from the 8-8:15 p.m. interval.  No power is available from the array (duh, it’s night!), but the house is consuming 533 Watt-hours of energy, with slightly more than half coming from the batteries.  (Hint - the system is entirely modular, so we could easily double the size of the system to completely cover those loads.)

Bottom line: if you are on a TOU rate, storage can really improve the value of your existing PV system.  (And because the Enphase storage system is “AC-coupled” it can be installed with any existing PV system!)

The SGIP Rebate Program

Which brings us to the Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) rebates.  Starting in April, rebate applications can be submitted for energy storage systems.  Much as the CSI rebate program had multiple steps over time, SGIP has five incentive level steps and how fast it steps down is tied to how large is the demand for rebates.  (We anticipate that the highest rebate level will be paid out almost immediately after the program formally opens on May 1.)  At this highest rebate level we would expect the rebate for each Enphase AC Battery to be roughly $430.

The competition for these rebates will be pretty fierce.  Fortunately, there is a dedicated carve-out of money for small residential storage systems, so all the money won’t be gobbled up by a few, super-large projects.  (Interestingly, priority will be given to folks living in what is known as the Western LA Basin Local Reliability Area - you can check to see if your zip code, which includes pretty much all of the Run on Sun service territory - is included by clicking here.)

The rebate is not limited to SCE customers; folks who are SoCal Gas customers (that means you, PWP and LADWP folks!) can also participate.

Go with the Pros!

Properly sizing a battery system to go with your solar array is a complicated process that requires technical savvy.  Dealing with the SGIP bureaucracy requires a sophisticated team that can deal with the program’s many twists and turns.  If adding storage - specifically the Enphase AC Battery - to your present or planned PV system sounds like a good idea, give us call, we’re ready to bring our expertise to bear to help you get this right!

03/16/17

  08:26:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 404 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power

What's Wrong with this Picture?

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 is wrong with this picture?  Shade!

White picket fence, solar, and SHADE!

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?

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02/07/17

  10:47:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 328 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Ranting

Solar Means Jobs!

Solar means jobs!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!

01/23/17

  11:15:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 351 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Non-profit solar

Meet Sara Pavey!

Sara Pavey

Sara multitasking at a job site.

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!

01/14/17

  02:21:00 pm, by Laurel Hamilton   , 824 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Ranting

Run on Sun Bids Adieu to Solar Ninja - Laurel Hamilton

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". 

Jim and LaurelWorking 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

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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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