Smokey the Bear knew a thing or two about urgency, and appropriating his call to action seems particularly apt right now. Today, rooftop solar is under concerted attack before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). If we are to maintain the growth of solar, with its tens of thousands of jobs here in California, as well as its huge benefits in reducing air pollution - particularly greenhouse gas emissions - we need YOU to act now.
Our friends over at Vote Solar, along with the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CalSEIA) are working to beat back the insidious proposals coming from the Investor Owned Utilities - including SCE - to gut net metering and impose taxes on those who invest in rooftop solar. If those proposals were to be adopted, much of the economic value of solar could be destroyed.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. The CPUC is a poltical entity and like any political entity, it responds to pressure from the public. We cannot match the economic clout of the IOUs, but we can beat them the old fashioned way - by standing up for solar!
It’s easy - just click on this button:
When you do, you will go the Vote Solar website where you can add your name to the list of concerned Californians who want to preserve the many benefits of rooftop solar. Please pass this word on to your friends and colleagues and urge them to get involved too!
We can win this fight - but we need YOU now!
Three weeks ago the Run on Sun team took San Francisco by storm for the annual Intersolar events and exhibition. In the solar industry products are changing incredibly fast. Intersolar and Solar Power International (September 14-17th) are the two most important events for industry experts to come together and be able to put our hands on the latest and greatest products while establishing relationships with potential partners around the world.
As we mentioned in our Intersolar 2015 Preview blog, we were really on the prowl in the exhibition hall. Number one on our list was to find viable storage options as our client-base is quickly shifting to time-of-use rates and smart storage will be a huge asset to enable more local consumption of energy at the right time, as well as to reduce those high demand spikes for commercial clients.
Enphase Energy, of microinverter fame, actually had their own booth at IS this year, a first for them, and their emphasis was on their modular storage solution - which they call the AC Battery - made possible by their next generation, S-Series microinverter - which is bi-directional. Since the system sits on the AC side of a solar installation, it is compatible with any solar system whether it uses Enphase microinverters or not.
Enphase readily acknowledges that the economic proposition for local consumption is not really present in the U.S. yet, which is why they are first rolling the product out in Australia. However, as the present discussions before the CPUC demonstrate, net metering is changing and soon. When it does, the economic case for systems like the AC Battery will become compelling.
Second task on our list was to find out what panels LG would be offering and when we could start getting them on rooftops. Since LG didn’t have a booth at IS, hints toward panels with higher efficiency and higher output were verified by a meeting with our distributor, Baywa r.e. (formerly known as Focused Energy).We are now looking at 310 and 315 Watt panels available in September. This is up from the 305’s currently available and 260’s which were available this time just one year ago!
Our last mission as we weaved through the multitude of flashy products on display was to find better options for racking. While we have no intention of finding an alternative for our pitched roof racking company, Everest, our ballasted flat roof racking experience has left something to be desired by our installers. And the growing interest in solar carport systems means we need a good partner we can rely on to develop beautiful high-quality structures. We looked at several new products and talked to some great people on this front. We will be vetting these companies and discussing the applicability of their options with our clients over the next few months.
Any good industry gathering has GREAT parties, and the solar community definitely delivers in this department. The Run on Sun team enjoyed rubbing elbows with solar celebrities, new and old friends at various social events throughout the week. Laurel ate breakfast and discussed gender-specific solar challenges with WISE (Women in Solar Energy). The lunch hour Tweetup hosted by @SolarFred and put on by our friends at @Enphase, @RECSolar and @Grid was a blast. Of course the Solar Summerfest put on by CALSEIA and the Solar Battle of the Bands were not to be missed either. Who knew solar companies had such amazing musical talent?! The battle of the bands was more packed than we’ve ever seen, the only painful side to an ever expanding industry. Laurel’s favorite, the awesome funk band from Sungevity rocked the house and took home the winning title. If you attended either event you probably spotted Run on Sun’s Jim, Laurel and Josh making full use of the dance floor! No one on the RoS team will deny…we DO like to have fun.
The Run on Sun team cutting a rug at Solar Summerfest!
Thanks Kendra Hubbard for the pics!
Its hard to believe that in just over a month we will be boarding a local train to Anaheim for Solar Power International, “North America’s largest solar trade show". Beyond what we saw at Intersolar, our distributor Baywa r.e will have a presence as well as our favorite solar panel manufacturer: Life’s Good Electronics. We’re looking forward to more exciting product announcements and connecting with friends once again! Hope to see you there!
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, 285-315 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 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. However, the 3-foot rule does not apply to uninhabited spaces such as garages and carports making them good options if your home lacks the perfect solar roof.
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.