Every September we pack our bags and head to the largest solar conference and exposition in the country; Solar Power International. This is when we get to connect with the broader solar community, advocates, and friends working far and wide for the betterment of the world through distributed clean energy. It is also the time when manufacturers unveil their latest technologies. These technology improvements come fast and furious in an attempt to stay ahead of the curve in a competitive industry. Just two years ago when I started working with Run on Sun we were able to get 270 watt panels from LG. What is coming from them in the next year will blow your mind. Here is my run down of the top take aways from SPI 2016…
Some of you may have seen the three part series Run on Sun’s CEO, Jim Jenal, wrote recently about what we need to do to be sustainable as an industry facing a crisis of increasingly shoddy workmanship and shady business practices. As part of the convention’s educational program, Jim was invited to participate on a panel of solar professionals to discuss the future of residential solar. The panel consisted of a wide range of backgrounds including a representative from a national company, Sunrun’s Michael Grasso, Rick Luna from a municipal utility CPS Energy, Ed Murray from a medium sized company, Aztec Solar, as well as national advocacy group SEIA, and Jim representing the small installer at Run on Sun.
The panelists discussed their take on who will dominate the residential solar space and what will the predominant business model be in five years. This was a perfect platform to raise the very real issues of quality facing the industry and Jim did not disappoint! Of course Sunrun’s Grasso asserted that national scale companies continuing the leasing model with storage will dominate in the future. But there were many nods of agreement in the audience when Jim insisted that the current status quo is not sustainable. Giant publicly traded national companies operating in the red and pushing customers into bad deals are going to cause a backlash. We’ve already seen many law suits and bankruptcies in the industry. Solar City’s Better Business Bureau rating in the Bay area is an embarrassing 80% negative. The notion that Ed Murray, from SEIA, put forth that the market will naturally take care of the bad companies is just not a sustainable way forward or an ethical one. As more and more consumers get hit with bad contracts and solar systems, the market will be left with a bad taste for solar. The people in this industry who are doing it for the right reasons, aiming to help people save money and reduce their impact on the ecosystem need to demand that there is more oversight over the quality of systems and some legal standards around contracts.
Jim’s comments seemed to be well received in the audience as most people attending were people who work in solar for the right reasons given they are investing in the hefty price-tag to attend the convention. But the disparate opinions on the panel itself was interesting to say the least. I don’t know if the reps for big companies are just out of touch with what is happening on the ground or if they are in denial.
Everyone agreed that a future will include storage or other bundled options for improving home efficiencies. However, Jim noted that storage needs to be presented to clients in a transparent way so they understand the true value of storage and whether it makes sense for them or not. If you are on a tiered rate system with no demand charges there likely is no value in storage. Solar stakeholders from advocates to installers need be fostering business practices that focus on transparent education for consumers instead of just closing every sell if we are to survive as an industry and continue to grow solar as the incredibly valuable resource that it is.
We have been installing exclusively LG panels since 2012. Why? We believe LG panels are the best for our clients for two main reasons. 1. As a diversified company we, and our clients, can rely upon them to stick around to back their 25 year warranty no matter what happens in the wider solar industry. And 2. LG has an incredible R&D department churning out ground-breaking improvements keeping them at the top in both quality and output year after year.
Last year LG announced 320 watt panels would be coming and we were fortunate to be one of the first to install these at a beautiful home in Altadena last Spring. This year they have several incredible new announcements:
The Enphase booth was seriously hoppin’ throughout the expo! Unsurprisingly with a total redesign of their system from the microinverter to the cable and even a special junction box.
All of these improvements come together to create a system that includes the microinverters we know and trust at a lower cost with a simpler and quicker installation.
The large majority of Run on Sun’s solar installations are being held together by the great racking products from Everest. This is because their materials are the most solid and well thought out racking product for standard pitched roofs on the market today. Their booth at SPI included a new “shared rail system” which allows two panels to come together on a single rail cutting down on the total number of rails needed for an installation. This system incorporates the same beefy product we trust with a reduced overall cost and installation time on the roof. It also doesn’t hurt that the entire team at Everest Solar Systems are great people and local to SoCal too!
Pasadena’s Idealab, an incubator, has been consulting with Jim on a revolutionary new product - the PV Booster - at their start up Edisun. They unveiled their dual axis tracker system at SPI. The system is designed for large flat roofs (and even carports) and potentially can increase output by up to 40% by tracking the sun throughout the day.
We were excited to see the system on display as they have developed quite a bit over the last six months of consulting with Jim. There was a lot of interest in the system at the show and we hope to help move their vision forward by installing some projects using their system locally here in Pasadena in the coming year.
Every year Run on Sun participates in Solar Fred’s Tweetup. It has become an event of close friends and allies. This year was a very special Tweetup as mainstays Pam Cargill and Martin Hamon got hitched in a truly extraordinary ceremony! Pam was walked down the “aisle” by a mascot Sun to the tune of “Here Comes the Sun". The ceremony included as many solar-love metaphors and quips as possible as Reverend Solar Fred officiated. Apologies for my blurry photo but it really was an event to remember. If you have pics to share with the happy couple you can share them on their dropbox here and relive the moment on Twitter with #SPIdo.
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!
A little over three years ago (my how time flies), we installed a 52kW solar project at the Westridge School for Girls, here in Pasadena. At the time, the project got a fair amount of attention (including an award from the City), was featured in a video (watch it here), and was the lead story in Enphase Energy’s Summer 2012 Newsletter.
Three years down the road, the folks at Enphase decided to circle back and check-in to see how the Westridge project had performed over the years - both in terms of saving money for the school, as well as being incorporated into the curriculum (another key goal of the project).
The article, titled — Solar on the Roof, Power in the Classroom — details how the Westridge Solar system has outperformed the modeled performance, producing 105% of the expected yield. That overproduction actually benefits the school twice: most obviously by lowering the bills that much more, but secondarily, by providing a larger than expected performance-based rebate payment.
Beyond that, however, the system has also proved to be an effective teaching tool, allowing Westridge students to analyze the copious amounts of data provided by the Enphase microinverters through the Enlighten, cloud-based data reporting service. One science class, for example, was able to discover how analyzing that data could detect the occurrence of a partial solar eclipse.
We are very proud of our partnership with Westridge and we look forward to doing another project with them in the near future.
Likewise, we are grateful for partners like Enphase Energy who are as committed to producing long term solutions as we are. That is one powerful pairing!
SolarEdge has gotten a fair amount of buzz this week thanks to their IPO, but it made us think that maybe it was time to revisit the question—who really has the edge: DC-to-DC “optimizers” like SolarEdge or Enphase microinverters?
|Which would you choose?|
|Enphase Microinverter||SolarEdge Optimizer|
In our view this is a bit of a “no-brainer” and it really comes down to the following three reasons:
Reason #3 - Integrated Grounding — In every solar array, all metal surfaces have to be grounded for safety. Enphase microinverters now feature integrated grounding, which eliminates the need for a separate equipment grounding conductor. SolarEdge does not have this feature and, depending on the jurisdiction, may require the use of a dedicated copper conductor to be run from one unit to the next. This increases both labor costs as well as part costs (copper is expensive these days!). Far better to have that grounding built-in at the factory than assembled on the roof.
Reason #2 - Easier Installation — Beyond the need for that equipment grounding conductor, the SolarEdge system requires the installer to not only mount the optimizers on the roof beneath each panel, but it also requires the installer to mount one or more heavy (51 to 88 pound) inverter(s) on the wall. In contrast, Enphase combines everything into one unit, so there are no heavy inverters to mount to the side of the client’s house.
Reason #1 - Greater Reliability —The number one reason for us at Run on Sun is the greater reliability you get from using Enphase. Frankly, the SolarEdge approach combines the worst of both alternative approaches (i.e., string inverters versus microinverters). You are still putting power electronics in the demanding environment of a roof, AND you have combined that with a single point of failure with the inverter back on the ground! When you use Enphase microinverters you eliminate that single point of failure and you are going with the industry leader in creating reliable, roof-mounted power systems.
Put all of that together, and we think Enphase microinverters provide the greatest value to our clients, which is why we feature them in all of our solar power systems, despite the occassional “buzz” other approaches might generate.
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.
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