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09/28/14

  08:43:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 441 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, SCE, Residential Solar, Ranting

Support Solar!

Regular readers of this blog will know that solar-friendly policies are under constant attach by the utilities, especially the three Investor-owned utilities (or IOUs as they are known), PG&E, SDG&E and our own SCE.  Well they are at it again, with rate proposals before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) that could harm both solar and energy efficiency measures alike.  Fortunately, we have an opportunity to have our say - here’s our take. (H/t our friends at CalSEIA.)

Support SolarCurrent policies in California, most notably net metering, along with a tiered rate structure (whereby you pay more for electricity as you use more) have provided powerful incentives not only for consumers to install solar, but to also take proactive measures to reduce their energy consumption.  As a result, energy use in California over the past twenty years has grown slower than the growth in population despite the explosion of new electronic devices in homes and businesses during that time.  Indeed, California has lead the way for the rest of the Nation, proving that you can have a twenty-first century lifestyle and still reduce your energy demand.

In other words, these policies have been a success.

The proposals being floated at the CPUC would change rates throughout the three IOU service areas (i.e., much of California) and threaten that success.  In particular, they are seeking to add a flat, monthly fee to everyone of $10 to all bills, regardless of use and to reduce the number of tiers from four to two.  In addition, the rate for the lowest tier would increase, making this a double-whammy not just to solar owners, but to the poorest electric customers who will see a rise in their rates.  (So much for the utilities’ concern over hurting the poor!)

Fortunately these changes are not yet cast in stone and the public, particularly advocates for solar and energy efficiency, have a chance to have their voices heard.  The CPUC is holding a series of public hearings, some in the Run on Sun service area, as well as others around the state.  Here are the upcoming hearings:

FONTANA

September 29, 2014

2:00 pm & 6:30 pm

Fontana City Council Chambers
8353 Sierra Avenue
Fontana, CA 92335

TEMPLE CITY

September 30, 2014

2:00 pm & 6:30 pm?

Temple City Council Chambers
5938 Kauffman Avenue
Temple City, CA  91780

PALMDALE

October 2, 2014

2:00 pm & 6:30 pm

Palmdale City Council Chambers
38300 Sierra Hwy, Suite A
Palmdale, CA  93550

CHICO

October 9, 2014

2:00 pm & 6:30 pm

Holiday Inn Chico – Conference Center
685 Manzanita Ct.
Chico, CA 95926

FRESNO

October 14, 2014

2:00 pm & 6:30 pm

Fresno City Council Chambers
2600 Fresno Street
Fresno, CA  93721

We are planning on attending the hearing in Temple City.  If you attend one of these important hearings, please let us know about your experience in the comments.

09/22/14

  07:00:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 195 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power

Meet Kendra Hubbard - Intern Extraordinaire!

We are really excited to announce our first ever intern at Run on Sun, the incomparable Kendra Hubbard!

Kendra Hubbard - Intern ExtraordinaireAs many of you know, Kendra has been involved with solar marketing and social media (@kendra_hubbard) for many years, but she has longed to “get her hands dirty” and see more of the business, particularly from the perspective of a well-respected local installer.  We at Run on Sun have long admired Kendra’s insights into the solar industry but have never had the chance before to lure her to our fair city.  When this opportunity arose, we jumped at the chance.

Kendra, of course, wasted no time in getting to work, as you can see in this picture of Kendra working with us on our latest installation: a very cool mix of raised seem metal roof (S-5 clamps and Everest racking) plus ballasted (PolarClaw).

In the coming weeks and months we are looking forward to Kendra’s contributions to a vast swath of what we do, from sales and prospecting, to organizational efficiency (and yes, even some marketing!).  So please take a moment to welcome Kendra - one of the true Solar Women Stars - to the Run on Sun team!

09/08/14

  06:47:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 236 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar

Tracking Solar Permits

We wrote back in May about the number of solar permits that were pulled in March of this year statewide for solar (PV) installs and were surprised to see San Bernardino county leading the field and in a big way.  Well we just got a peak at the data for July—what surprises might it bring?

Solar (PV) Permits - July 2014

Compared to the March data, things have really heated up, with the statewide total of 6,521 permits representing a 67% increase over the previously reported 3,901 permits!  Our leader board has changed dramatically as well, with San Diego County grabbing the top spot with 10.5% of the statewide total.  San Bernardino drops from first to seventh, while Los Angeles County—far and away the state’s population leader—was just barely able to beat out tiny Placer county  (home to a twenty-seventh of LA’s population).  

Unfortunately the data does not report the size of these projects, merely their valuation, which can be an unreliable data point since it is not verified in the permitting process.  In any event, total valuation for the month was in excess of $105 million, with Riverside county taking the lead ($13.9 million), followed by Orange ($7.9), Fresno ($7.5), Kern ($7.4) and then San Diego ($6.8).  PV valuation in LA County was just $4.8 million.  Of course, give the nightmare of doing business in LA County’s largest city—a topic we have discussed previously, and one to which we will return in future posts—LA County’s laggard numbers should come as no surprise.

08/29/14

  08:42:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 287 words  
Categories: Ranting

Brad Banta - Thanks and Farewell

It is with considerable sadness but much gratitude that we announce the departure from Run on Sun of co-founder, Brad Banta.  (We are consoled by the knowledge that Brad has agreed to remain connected by way of our Advisory Board, so we will still have access, from time-to-time, to his sage insights.) 

Brad BantaThe story of Brad and Run on Sun go all the way back to the beginning. 

It was the Summer of 2006 and  I was toiling away as a lawyer in an AmLaw 100 firm in downtown L.A.  Brad was an entrepreneur who I had successfully defended from a bogus lawsuit.  Brad possessed a great skill set; not only did he have an impressive technical background, but he also had an MBA and terrific business sense—two attributes I totally lacked.  I had gotten the novel notion that starting a solar company might be a bright idea and I decided to pitch it to Brad during a Dodgers game.  If memory serves, the Dodgers were on a terrible losing streak that month, but over beer and brats, I pitched, Brad listened, and the Dodgers broke out of their slump in mega-fashion.

It was an omen!

We founded Run on Sun two months later and over the years we settled into our fitting roles: I as CEO and the public face of the company, Brad behind the scenes as CFO, keeping us afloat even while the economy tanked and many others folded shop.  Today, with Run on Sun sporting its biggest pipeline of projects ever, Brad is moving on to new challenges.  To say that we wish him well is a massive understatement.  Truth is, we never could have done this without his help.  So thanks, Brad, for everything.

08/21/14

  02:05:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 751 words  
Categories: Safety

SolarWorld Announces Major Recall

We have just learned that solar panel manufacturer SolarWorld has announced a recall involving 1.3 million solar panels sold in the U.S. since June 2011.  According to the Notice filed with the Consumer Products Safety Commission:

SolarWorld solar panels installed with bare-copper grounding lugs can corrode which could result in a faulty ground circuit, posing an electric shock, electrocution or fire hazard.

Behind the Headline

So what exactly is the issue here?  All metal components of a solar power system—such as the frames of the solar panels and the rails to which they are attached—are supposed to be grounded.  There are many ways that can be done, but one common method is to attach a copper lug to the panel frame and run a copper grounding wire from lug to lug and ultimately to ground.  The problem arises from the fact that copper grounding lugs come in two varieties: bare copper and “tinned” copper, that is copper with a coating of tin. 

Bare copper lugs Tinned lugs
Bare copper grounding lugs “Tinned” copper grounding lugs

If the installer used a bare copper lug, it could cause corrosion to form between the panel frame and the lug.  That corrosion could prevent the ground from being effective, which could result in the potential problems highlighted in the CPSC notice.

In other words, while this is a potential problem and systems should be inspected to insure that the proper, “tinned” lug was used, the recall does not involve the safety of the solar panels themselves.  Moreover, the fix, if required, is straightforward (even if potentially time consuming): simply replace the improper lugs with proper ones.

Who Used the Panels?

While the recall notice refers to 1.3 million panels in the U.S., we wanted to get a sense of how many of these panels have been installed in California, and, more specifically, in the Run on Sun service area.  To get a handle on that we turned to two familiar data sources: CSI data (showing installs in SCE, PG&E and SDG&E territories) and LADWP data.  Given that LADWP requires the use of grounding lugs (as opposed to WEEBs), there is an even higher probability that SolarWorld systems in LADWP territory used a grounding lug.

CSI Data

The CSI data shows just how widespread this issue could be.  More than half a million SolarWorld panels have been installed in CSI territories, accounting for over 6,500 different installations, installed by more than 500 different companies!  How many of those companies are still in business is anybody’s guess.  In SCE territory alone, 186,000 SolarWorld panels were installed at 3,125 different projects, by nearly 300 different companies.

The installers with by far the greatest number of SolarWorld panels installed are Shorebreak Energy Developers (43,242 panels installed at 46 different projects) and Chevron Energy Solutions (20,464 panels at 15 projects).  In terms of having the greatest number of projects, six companies have 100 or more projects, and the winners there are: A1 Solar Power, Inc. (217 projects), Titan Construction and Solar (202), Natural Energy (186), Contact Electric (174), Future Energy Corporation (124) and TLP Electric Integrations (103).

LADWP Data

The LADWP data is, not surprisingly, somewhat more opaque.  For example, they do not track how many solar panels are installed on a given project so we cannot determine the total number of SolarWorld panels that have been installed.  We do know that there are some 759 projects overall where SolarWorld panels were used, and more than 100 different installers were involved.  Three of those installers were responsible for fifty or more projects, they are: A1 Solar Power, Inc. (120 projects), Sungate Energy Solutions (76) and American Solar Solutions (67).  Looks like the folks at A1 Solar Power are going to be busy!

What to Do?

If you are the owner of a SolarWorld installation, you will want to contact your installer and see what they are willing to do.  At a minimum, they should be willing to come out to your site, free of cost, and verify that the proper lugs were used.  Even if it were the company’s policy to always use “tinned” lugs, a system owner should not rely on those assurances since install crews have been known to substitute whatever is available at the local hardware store in order to complete the project and move on to the next.

If your installer is no longer in business, or is unwilling to come out and verify that your system is safe, you should contact SolarWorld themselves directly.  They have established a toll-free number to call: 877-360-1787, M-F from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

If you own one of these systems, please let us know in the comments about your experience.

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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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