Continuing its (in our view unfortunate) three-year odyssey away from California, SPI 2013 is in Chicago this year for the first time ever. Wait, what? Chicago?
This isn’t a wind-turbine convention - you know, Chicago, the “windy city” - this is the show for Solar. What is it doing in Chicago? (Hey - no knock on Chi-town, we’ve had some great times there and the people are terrific, but when you think of solar you do not think of Chicago.)
So the question is - will this sortie into the Midwest help or hurt attendance? We are guessing the latter, but it will be interesting to see what the numbers say. (And you know that we love us some data!)
Given the location, and the recent trend of some bigger players taking a pass on big booths, who will be the notable “no-shows” at this year’s event (besides us, that is). Enphase won’t have a booth, but their presence will be felt as they host a plethora of parties and other events during the show. Interestingly, rumor has it that SMA will also not have a booth - hard to picture the SMA folks partying like their rivals at Enphase but I suppose it could happen. (Pictures, please!)
But who else gives the exhibit floor a pass? And better question - why?
Buzz is sorta the point of having a booth and LG Electronics - poised to have the first shipments of its long-awaited 300-Watt modules hit U.S. shores in the weeks immediately following the show (and yes, we are in that queue, thank you Focused Energy) is going to have a major booth. Will they capture the buzz?
With neither SMA nor Enphase fronting a booth, who will capture attention in the inverter space? At Intersolar the robots seemed to have gotten a lot of interest - will they be prowling the floor?
What about on the racking front - always lots of products and manufacturers out there - but not much buzz. (Except, perhaps, when a major product is phased out.) Can anyone break through the noise and clutter to make an impression worthy of the booth fees?
And what about the storage sector - will we see more folks now getting it, like Stem? Or will it be more of the same fumbling to find a rationale for their product offering that has been typical in the past?
One of solar’s best kept secrets is that there are lots of intelligent, professional women in the industry - will they finally be seen as the force that they need to be at SPI? We know that our friends Raina Russo and Glenna Wiseman will be there promoting their survey of women’s attitudes about solar marketing. What other events will feature women prominently in ways that capitalize on their intellectual contributions to the industry?
After Intersolar’s debacle with RECOM and its ilk demonstrating that they had no sense beyond that of inebriated frat boys, tremendous pressure was put on the management of SPI to crack down on unseemly displays on the exhibit floor. How well will that be enforced? And how will RECOM’s recent effort to recast itself play with the women at the show? (Interestingly, as to that last point, comments we have received from women are supportive and grateful for our taking a stand whereas those from men are more along the lines of “why are you talking about this?")
So that’s it - a few things to keep in mind as you pack your bags for Chicago - have a swell time and think about us slaving away back home!
We spent yesterday with the great group of folks from Team USC working to re-install their solar PV system. Here’s our update.
Although the Team had the house entirely complete for the Send-off Celebration, it had to be deconstructed into its three component pieces for the trip down to Irvine. That meant cutting open drywall and unbolting sections from each other before the three sections could be loaded onto trucks. But it also meant that the solar array, which actually consists of four branch circuits, had to be partially disassembled since three of the four cross section boundaries. Yesterday’s task was to restore those connections in a manner that was up to code - since these houses need to pass a rigorous inspection process before being hooked up to the local “micro-grid” - and help the Team stay on track.
While next weekend the Irvine competition site will be a solar village, right now it is very much a construction zone with massive cranes in all directions manipulating the different homes into place. Here was the view to the North from atop fluxHome:
The view to the South featured a similar display of activity - and the Great Park’s trademark orange sphere is there in the background:
With all of that activity going on, the competition organizers were taking no chances with safety - everyone entering the competition area was required to wear hard hats, eye protection and proper foot protection. When working on the roof - where I spent the most of my day - harnesses and fall protection gear were mandatory. In fact, if a team member is spotted without proper safety gear, the team is docked competition points. A powerful incentive to follow the rules and maximize safety - always a good lesson to learn.
This image shows us fully decked out in all of our safety gear, working on restoring one of the branch circuit connections:
As you can probably tell, it was a beautiful day to be working on a solar project, particularly an inspiring gig like USC’s fluxHome. Here’s a view of the roof yesterday:
In the foreground you see the massive, automated skylight that forms the aperture for the “solar chimney” that is an integral part of the home’s systems. Behind the skylight is a portion of the solar array.
It is a privilege to be a part of the Solar Decathlon - but for the teams involved it is also a massive fund raising project and success, or failure, can be tied to that aspect as much as a great design. In fact we learned yesterday that one of the teams from Virginia had to drop out of the contest because they couldn’t raise enough money to complete their design and then ship it to California. So sad to think that two years worth of hard work went down the drain because they fell short on their fund raising. (As they said in The Right Stuff, “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.")
While Team USC has not suffered such a depressing fate, they could still use your support. So if you would be interested in contributing to the team, you can jump over to their Support page and make a donation.
Finally, while we were taking a break on the ground, we came across a film team that was documenting the Team’s progress and they told us about this video that was shot while we were doing the initial installation. The entire video is well worth watching as it documents the efforts of the four teams from California that are competing this year. But we have to admit, we are partial to the section that begins around the 35 minute mark - and stick around for the happy conclusion after the break!
Best of luck to all the schools competing, and especially to Team USC - Fight On!
The 2013 Solar Decathlon is right around the corner with the Opening Weekend October 3-6 at Irvine’s Great Park. As readers of this blog know, we have been assisting Team USC (Fight ON!) with the solar aspects of their entry and we will be going down to Irvine on Wednesday (tomorrow!) to assist in reconnecting the array.
On Monday, as teams from all across the country and around the world converged at the competition site, USC team member Evyn Larson and facutly coach Gary Paige, were interviewed by KQED for the California report. Here’s the tape:
Just before the team took the house apart and shipped it to Irvine, they gathered with their supporters last week on the USC campus for a send-off celebration. Here are some pics that we got of the crowds touring fluxHome…
Team leaders Evyn Larson and Jason Kang share the stage before the start of the send-off celebration.
Interior view of fluxHome looking toward the kitchen. That is Gary on the left talking on the cell phone - no doubt trying to make sure that some still missing piece of equipment arrives in time.
Speaking of equipment, the equipment room certainly became a lot more crowded than it was when we were doing our install!
Fortunately, the supremely-talented Velvet was able to route much of our conduit on the back side of that wall, leaving critical wall space for other components. Good planning!
There can be no doubt that no project like this can be completed without the help of many. Above is a partial listing of in-kind sponsors and Run on Sun is proud to be featured prominently on that list. (That’s us just to the right of Enphase - click the image to see the full list.)
And of course, no gig at USC would be complete without the Band…
I wonder if they can get them to take a road trip to Irvine - talk about a home field advantage!
Team USC has produced their final video walkthrough of fluxHome, their entry in the 2013 Solar Decathlon - check it out!
My favorite bit - that they managed to work in a shot of an Enphase microinverter on top of the solar panels. Good that they had a spare!
Oh, and in case you want to see the very latest progress, check out the Live Feed. Fight on!
There is a vigorous debate among solar installers about the relative merits of microinverters, such as those made by Enphase Energy, versus those of string inverters, such as those made by SMA. We can’t claim that we have resolved that debate once and for all, but our experience this past week reaffirms our confidence in the microinverter choice.
Almost exactly a year ago we did a residential installation at a seriously shaded site. We explained in detail to the homeowners about the reduced yield that any solar power system would provide given just how much shading they had, but they were still eager to press forward. The shading mandated that we use microinverters, and they were excited to see how their system would perform using the Enlighten monitoring system.
In addition to the shading, there was another limitation - a 150 Amp service meant that we couldn’t install as big a system as they needed. However, they were about to embark on a six-month renovation of the home and as part of that they were going to upgrade the service. We decided to build the first half of the system right away and include the additional infrastructure that would be needed for the later addition - down to the standoffs on the roof.
Here’s how the install looked a year ago:
As you can see from the photo, there really is substantial shading present - and you can also see our Unirac standoffs waiting for Phase II. Sitting on top of those Enphase M215’s are LG 250 Watt solar modules - our preferred product at that time.
Fast-forward to this past week. We are still using M215’s but LG has moved up the curve and the new modules for the second phase of this project are 280 Watts each. The homeowner wanted the higher power modules incorporated into the existing system, and they wanted them installed not on the open bottom row, but wherever they would be able to get the greatest amount of sun to maximize their return on investment.
The first great advantage of having microinverters on this project then was the ability to combine significantly different power modules into the same array. But the second goal - placing the new modules in the ideal locations - was one that we could only solve with confidence thanks to the Enphase Enlighten data. Indeed, all we had to do was go to the monitoring page for this site and request the display of lifetime energy. Here’s how that looked:
Now isn’t that interesting? There is a huge difference going from the NW corner down to the SE. Overall, taking the top row along with the three west-most modules from the second row seemed like our best plan.
Here is how the expanded array looked after we completed the install:
Pretty easy to see where the new panels were installed - they are the bright shiny ones! (The break in the bottom row is to avoid the utility service mast.)
Here is how the new system performed yesterday (after the old panels were cleaned!):
Our higher power modules are installed in the optimal locations, thanks to the ability to mix and match modules in the array, combined with the ability to know at the module level where are our best performing slots in the array.
Trying doing that with a string inverter!