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SCE and some Solar Companies are dropping the ball on the Xantrex Inverter Recall

02/15/11

  10:29:24 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 817 words  
Categories: SCE/CSI Rebates, SCE

UPDATED - SCE and Some Solar Companies (but not all!) are Dropping the Ball on the Xantrex Inverter Recall

UPDATE - We heard from Heritage Solar about their aggressive actions to address this issue.  Please check out the details below…

A couple of days ago, one of our SCE customers forwarded to us a Notice that they had just received from SCE regarding the Xantrex inverter recall that we blogged about nearly one month ago. Now we understand that it takes a large organization like SCE a while to respond to an issue like this Xantrex recall, but we don’t really understand why SCE wasn’t more targeted in their approach to the problem.  After all, SCE has data on every installation in their territory which includes the manufacturer and model number of every inverter that has been installed since 2007 when the CSI program began.  So why send my customer - who has an SMA “Sunny Boy” inverter - a letter that states in part, “Our California Solar Initiative program records indicate that you have a PV system which may incorporate this type of solar inverter.“  NO!  She doesn’t and SCE clearly knows this - so why send such a potentially troubling letter?

We decided to look into this a bit more.  All of the CSI program data is available for download, so that is where we started.  (The current working data set when unzipped is a CSV file that is nearly 30 MB in size.  For the data geeks amongst us, you can download that data here.)  We extracted just the data from SCE and looked for completed projects only. As of this writing, that query returns just over 11,000 completed projects.  How many of those projects used a Xantrex inverter (of any model)?  576 - or ~5% of the installed total.  Which means that for every SCE customer who actually owns a potentially targeted for recall Xantrex inverter, 19 more received useless notices from SCE.

We then decided to see which solar companies had installed the greatest number of these inverters and what were they telling their customers about the recall on their websites.  While there are nearly 100 differently named companies in the data that have installed these Xantrex inverters, we were able to clean the data up a bit (controlling for some obvious name changes) and here are the top 15 solar companies that have installed Xantrex inverters:

Table of Xantrex Installations by Installer

SolarCity is, of course, the largest player by far - and they have a very sophisticated website to promote their services.  Yet a search of their website reveals absolutely nothing about this recall that potentially involves more than two hundred of their customers.

SolarCity was not alone, however, in remaining mum about this recall.  In fact, of the 15 companies in the list above, none of them featured any information about the recall that we could find.  (Indeed, two of the companies - Sharpe Solar Energy Systems, Inc. and Solar Engineering Industries, Inc. - appear to have gone out of business based on the “squatter” websites that are sitting on their domain names.)

We think this is a violation of the Solar Bill of Rights - specifically Right Number 8: Americans have the right, and should expect, the highest ethical treatment from the solar industry. As we wrote last year, we believe that this Right means that solar companies have an absolute duty of candor to their customers and to the public at large.  Certainly the Xantrex recall is not a black mark on any of the companies listed above - but their failure to be candid about the problem and to make useful information clearly and readily available to the public, is.  Some of the largest and most sophisticated solar companies in the world are on that list - the public has a right to expect better from them, and so do we.

As noted in the update, we heard from Heritage Solar who has been very involved with addressing the needs of their customers regarding the Xantrex recall. Here is what they told us:

We have, to date, contacted all of our customers by email, phone or direct mail concerning the status of the recall and have proactively ordered kits from Xantrex and expect them within the next few days. Many customers moved or changed email addresses so we sent direct mail to those addresses that had new homeowners or whose phone or email addresses had changed.
We have also been designated by Xantrex to install retrofit kits in the Orange County and San Diego County area for customers whose original solar companies are no longer in business.  To date, we have a total of 119 customers affected by the recall and a total of 212 inverters to retrofit.  This retrofit will take some time as many inverters are located in garages or in back yards with dogs and appointments will need to be scheduled individually.

Here is a link to their website where they have added public information about their actions to address the recall: http://www.heritagesolar.com/xantrex-recall

Kudos to Heritage Solar for getting out in front of this issue - now how about the rest of you?

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Comment from: MIKE CONNER  
5 stars
MIKE CONNERTHANK YOU, THANK YOU.. I’VE GOT THREE CALLS FROM MY CUSTOMERS SINCE YESTERDAY… WONDERING IF THERE INVERTERS ARE GOING TO EXPOLDE AFTER GETTING THE LETTER FROM S.C.E. THEY ALL SAID THE INSTRUCTIONS FROM S.C.E. SAID TO TURN OFF THE INVERTERS ASAP. I DIDN’T SEE THE LETERS.. BUT , THANKS FOR THE INFO. MIKE CONNER S.P.DEALER NFO…
02/15/11 @ 16:46
Comment from: Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO  
Mike - Glad to help get good info out there. Jim
02/15/11 @ 17:02
Comment from: Jeff Regan  
Jeff ReganSolarCity sent me a letter weeks ago asking me to shutdown my inverter due to the recall. The further said I would be contacted by customer service when parts were available to retrofit. To date, I haven’t heard anything, but they certainly provided full disclosure of the receall.
02/16/11 @ 07:51
Comment from: Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO  
Jeff - Thanks for your comment and it is good to know that they have contacted their affected customers. Are you leasing the equipment from them? Did they offer to prorate your payments during the time that the system is shutdown? My point in the post, however, is broader. SolarCity, and all of the solar companies that installed these inverters, need to do more than simply contact their customers - they need to make the information available to the public. Only a fraction of SolarCity’s customers have Xantrex inverters, but like my customer who got the Notice from SCE, lots more folks are hearing about this issue. They should be able to go to their installer’s website and get definitive information about the recall. That is where SolarCity - and pretty much everyone else - has dropped the ball. Jim
02/16/11 @ 08:20
Comment from: Jeff Regan
Jeff ReganJim, We do not lease, system was installed in 2007, first Xantrex inverter failed within months. I agree that something should be posted on their site. PG&E also sent me a letter about the recall,so I do feel like there has been good direct communication. I will contact SolarCity to inquire as to when they will fix my inverter.
02/16/11 @ 08:29
Comment from: Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO  
Jeff - It is unusual for an inverter to fail “within months.” It is not at all unheard of to have a defective unit that is “dead out of the box” but a failure only a few months in is unusual. Here’s hoping that after this repair you will be problem free for the next ten plus years. I would love to see both PG&E’s letter along with the communication that you got from SolarCity - if you wouldn’t mind sharing them with me, I will update the post to highlight them. Best… Jim
02/16/11 @ 08:35
Chris GleedFYI, SDG&E did the same thing as SCE. At Sullivan Solar Power, we notified all of our affected customers immediately, upon becoming aware of the issue…and have updated our affected customers as Schneider/Xantrex has delayed provision of the fix kits. We have also fielded a handful of calls from unaffected customers, letting them know they have no reason for concern. It must be easier for the utilities to generate a mailing list from their database of all solar customers than to weed out the Xantrex customers and target only them?
03/16/11 @ 11:15
Comment from: Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO  
Chris - sounds like Sullivan has handled this well - did you put anything on your website about the recall? It is hard to imagine that it is easier (or cheaper) to send out 20x as many letters as are needed when your database indicates the make and model of the inverter(s) installed. But someone - a lawyer perhaps? - decided it was “safer” to send out letters to everyone and, sadly, leave it up to the installers to deal with the fallout.
03/16/11 @ 12:08
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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