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10/18/13

  09:54:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 641 words  
Categories: Ranting, SPI 2013

SPI Preview - What to Look For...

SPI 2013 logoSolar Power International - the largest solar trade show in the U.S. - kicks off next week in Chicago. Here are the top five things to look for at the show.

1 - Venue Verdict

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!)

2 - Who’s Missing?

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?

3 - Who’s Got the Buzz?

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?

4 - Can the Solar Women Steal the Show?

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?

5 - Will SPI Police the Bad Boys of Solar?

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!

10/17/13

  07:45:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 559 words  
Categories: Ranting

RECOM Revisited: Reform or just PR Ploy?

The folks over at RECOM - the Greek solar module manufacturer made famous for their not-so brilliant marketing strategy that featured women in cages - have announced a new initiative to provide scholarships to two women in the solar industry.  Which begs the question: have the frat boys behind RECOM reformed or is this just a PR ploy on the eve of SPI?  Here’s our take.

After Intersolar NA in July, RECOM took a great deal of flak - from this blog and elsewhere - for their sexist marketing device of putting attractive women in cages as a way of promoting their solar modules.  And if you wonder what caged women in torn clothing have to do with solar modules, well, you are on track to understanding why so many people were upset.  When people started complaining, RECOM lashed out, even attempting to get one women (that we know of) fired for having had the audacity to complain about their sexism.

(Interestingly, a number of positive developments have arisen including a much higher profile for the Women in Solar group and the launching of a survey aimed at capturing the views of women about solar marketing. Sort of like making lemonade from oh-so sour lemons.)

Against that backdrop - and with the country’s largest solar conference set to start next week (more on that tomorrow) - RECOM yesterday sent out a notice about a new promotion where they would choose two women who have been working in the solar industry for at least three years to attend UC Berkeley’s Executive Leadership program.  From their announcement:

RECOM Professional women in solar Scholarship recipients will each receive a financial award to attend UC Berkeley’s Executive Leadership Program in April 2014. Two female students will be chosen from the applicant pool, and scholarships will be awarded based on the strength of each candidate’s professional background and demonstrated leadership. In addition, all scholarship recipients and finalists will be invited to attend a retreat at RECOM. We know how important a supportive peer network can be for a student’s success. The retreat will include workshops, speakers, breakout sessions and social activities scheduled over a couple of days.

The tuition for the Berkeley program is $9,900 which means that for a measly twenty grand or so, RECOM is hoping to recast their persona as solar bad boys and align themselves on the side of the angels.  But have they actually reformed?

To be sure, their website isn’t (presently) sporting the videos that they happily touted after Intersolar, and they’ve scrubbed some of their creepier copy.  But the website is still replete with objectified images of women, such as this example captured as a screenshot just this morning:

RECOM unchangedImages like this really have nothing to do with solar and shouldn’t be a part of a solar marketing campaign, yet here it is, on the RECOM website, reached from a link referring to “Munich ‘13… The Cage” on a page hyping “The Show” and suggesting that you “Experience the Difference… and join us in a place where reality becomes unreal.”

Frankly, in our opinion, what is unreal is the notion that RECOM has changed its stripes.

It will be interesting to see what reaction RECOM gets at SPI and how many professional women in solar sign up to be considered for their scholarship.  As our favorite woman on the TV-machine likes to say, “watch this space.”

10/16/13

  08:11:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 260 words  
Categories: Solar News, Residential Solar

Calling All Women - Seeking Your Views on Solar

SolarChatAn innovative new survey on the attitudes of women about solar is now seeking user input.  The survey effort, dubbed “Shining a Solar Marketing Light on Women” is the brainchild of #SolarChat visionary, Raina Russo, and solar marketing expert, Glenna Wiseman.

As Raina put it:

Women across America overwhelmingly guide the purchasing decisions in the average household. They also carry with them an intuitive nature to create a better future for their children. Understanding these two significant attributes can assist the solar industry in communicating and connecting with such an important consumer base, one that has the potential to increase the adoption of solar nationwide.

We couldn’t agree more and we urge all of our women readers to take a moment and share your views by clicking here to take the survey.

Raina and Glenna will be gathering survey responses through November 13th, and we will have a follow-up post when the results are published.

Encouraging the adoption of solar is way too important to leave it just in the hands of the men who presently dominate the industry - some of whom are completely tone deaf as to what is proper solar marketing. (After all, it was a bunch of guys who gave us women in cages as a means of marketing solar - can’t get any more tone deaf than that!)

Raina and Glenna’s survey is a great step in helping the solar industry improve its marketing to all segments of the consumer universe and those improvements can’t come too soon.  So please, take a moment and take the survey!

10/15/13

  08:53:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 837 words  
Categories: Safety, Ranting

Open Letter to Unirac: Say It Ain't So! -- UPDATED

UPDATE (4/7/2014) – We just heard from the Product Manager for SM-E and he tells us that Unirac expects to have an announcement about the fate of SM-E by the end of April.  Of course as soon as we know more, you’ll know more—watch this space.


Unirac logo

We have used Unirac’s products exclusively since we started in this business some seven years ago.  We have worked with Unirac to supply donations to the owner of a wind-damaged array and for the USC team at the Solar Decathlon.  We trust their products and believe in the company.

But what we have heard recently leaves us pleading, “say it ain’t so.” In response, here’s our Open Letter to Unirac Management:

To: The Decision-Makers Regarding Solarmount Evolution

From: Jim Jenal, Founder & CEO, Run on Sun

Subject: Say It Ain’t So

Dear Folks -

You may not know me, but many in your company do.  I am the owner of a solar installation company in Pasadena, California, and I frequently blog about issues in the solar industry.  Today my issue is your apparent decision to discontinue the Solarmount Evolution product.  Folks, with all due respect, this is a terrible decision.  Please let me explain.

end clamp with conventional solarmount

Conventional Solarmount Rail & End Clamp.

We have always used your products on our projects - whether conventional Solarmount, tilt legs, Clicksys, Fastfoot, or Solarmount Evolution - Unirac has been or brand of choice.  We appreciated our shared values - maximizing the durability of the systems that we were installing for our clients.

But one thing about conventional Solarmount always bothered us - the design of the end clamps that you featured.

That design has just never felt right - for a couple of reasons.  For one, there’s the angle - no matter what you do, that clamp is never truly perpendicular to the rail.  Over time, as things expand and contract in the sun, that nut is almost certain to loosen a bit and that clamp just looks like it longs to go “somewhere else".

But then we encountered a serious failure and that got us worrying about a second issue.

That T-bolt is stainless steel but it is sitting in an extruded aluminum channel.  I had seen an overly enthusiastic installer torque that bolt right through the channel - clearly not following procedures, but then there’s lots of folks out there who don’t follow recommended torque settings!   But when I saw what could happen when bad installation practices encountered a generational windstorm, I really became concerned.

FailureHere that T-bolt has chewed its way completely through the aluminum channel resulting in a catastrophic failure of the array.  When we came upon that failure, we turned to you to help us make it right - which we did, together.

The solution involved your Solarmount Evolution product and, having installed it once, I vowed I would never install conventional Solarmount again.  Why?  Because you had truly created a product that was superior in every sense: vastly stronger, clearly more secure over time, and even easier to work with on the roof!

Unirac solarmount(e) end clamp

Solarmount Evolution Rail & End Clamp

Look at the difference between the end clamp on the left versus the one above and ask yourself - which of these would you want securing a solar array to your roof for the next twenty-five years?  Not even a close call, is it?

You had done what every quality manufacture strives to do - you had built the better mousetrap.  We told everyone we spoke to about the benefits of your new product and we used it exclusively on all of our projects thereafter.

We heard some people complain that it cost more than conventional Solarmount.  Frankly, we didn’t notice and we didn’t care.  The product was so demonstrably superior that what difference did it make if it cost a few cents/Watt more?  We certainly didn’t ever lose any business because we specified it - but I can say with total knowledge that we closed some deals simply because of it.

So now we hear that you are going to discontinue the product altogether.

We would implore you to rethink this decision.

Some products, like some television shows, take a while to catch on with the public.  After all, NBC nearly failed to pickup Seinfeld, a program that many critics ultimately considered one of the best ever aired.  Solarmount Evolution is that good - but it needs a longer run to gain traction in the industry.

Here’s a suggestion - you are rolling out a new product for use with commercial flat roofs that greatly reduces your costs in providing that solution to the industry.  Take some of that money that you are going to save thanks to that new product and plow it back into major marketing for Solarmount Evolution.  (Maybe hire Solar Fred to handle the campaign - who better to kick start a product in this field?)

Solarmount Evolution deserves another season - it would be tragic if you were to cancel a hit before it gets a chance to find its audience and shine.

Yours sincerely,

Jim Jenal, Founder & CEO, Run on Sun

10/14/13

  07:42:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 657 words  
Categories: Solar Decathlon - 2013

It's Official: Austria Wins Solar Decathlon Gold

The competitions are over and the results are in - Team Austria has won this year’s Solar Decathlon.  Here is our recap and review…

The competition was really close - check out the final standings (click on image for larger):

2013 Solar Decathlon final standingsOut of a possible 1,000 points, the top 10 teams all earned over 90% - high marks indeed for such a rigorous competition.  Poor Team West Virginia, they were plagued with problems throughout the competition and, along with Team Texas finished way off the mark.

The California teams had a mixed showing with best overall finish going to Team Stanford, followed by Team USC (Fight On!), right behind them was Team Santa Clara, and bringing up the rear was the combined team from Caltech and SCI-Arc with their ambitious, but unorthodox split-house design.

We toured the houses twice - the first time on the eve of the official opening and then again last Thursday - an official day for the event and the crowds were decent despite being in the middle of the work week.

crowds at 2013 solar decathlon

Ok, first and foremost, we have to give props to Team Austria for being the overall winner this year - here is a picture of their entry:

Team Austria's winning entry 2013 Solar DecathlonWe will admit that it looks pretty cool - but we really couldn’t get behind those outdoor drapes - really?  Nice concept and all, but how long would those last in the real world?  The judges, however, were not concerned.

Eames elephant roams fluxHome hallsRun on Sun favorite, Team USC, was not without their bragging rights, earning a perfect score for energy balance, placing first in Appliance efficiency and third in Architecture.  But then when you have an Eames Elephant roaming your halls, you know that your architectural chops are well established.

The Appliance competition was as tight as a tick with the top five teams separated by less than one point!  I’m sure the folks at Bosch - who supplied the appliances (and solar modules) to USC’s fluxHome entry - will be happy to point out the team’s success in this very competitive field.

Finally, winner of the “People’s Choice” Award was the Team from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte for their entry, Urban-Eden.  We have to admit, this was our second fave of all the houses (never fear, fluxHome, nothing could displace you from your Number 1 ranking in our heart!).  This was a really clever concept:

UNC Charlotte's 2013 solar decathlon entry: urban-edenOn the street-side of the house is a wall 16″ thick made from four inches of concrete (made sustainable by substituting fly ash for cement), six inches of insulation and then six more inches of concrete.  That thick barrier was designed to insulate the house’s occupants from the noise of the city and allow them to turn their gaze to the south - the Eden side of their home.

Eden side of urban-edenThe living wall is filled with plants and a drip irrigation system which also incorporated a reflecting pond - part of the rainwater capture system - which was actually put to the test when  an unseasonable deluge moved through the village the day before.  For us, this was one of the better thought-out concepts and the execution was really impressive.

Movable solar array on UNC's urban-eden entry in 2013 Solar Decathlon

Oh, and another clever feature of the house was the movable solar array.  While not a tracking device, the solar system was mounted on rails that allowed it to be extended over the patio/deck area to provide shade in the summer (as it was during the competition) or retracted back over the house to allow more sunlight into the house during the winter.

Throughout the village, the creative students from all across the country and all over the world, demonstrated again and again that sustainable living need not imply some terrible hit to one’s standard of living.  Clever designs, competent craftsmanship, and attention to detail was everywhere on display.  This was a great event both for the public who toured these houses and for the students who designed, built, and all but lived in them.  They are all winners - congrats to them all!

And now, bring on 2015!

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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.
In addition, Run on Sun offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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