06/27/16

  04:03:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1072 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Ranting

Down the Solar Rabbit Hole

We recently wrote about the perils of click-bait, solar lead generation sites in our post, Researching Solar? Careful Where You Click!  Over the weekend it became clear to me just how pernicious this can be.

While wasting part of my Sunday morning on Facebook, I came across an ad from something calling itself The Solar Institute which was making the claim that “California Approves Program to Help Middle-Class Families Make the Switch to Solar at No Cost".  Wow, that was news to me, but gee maybe The Solar Institute - a name that seemed awfully familiar - knew something I didn’t.  I had better check this out. 
And down the rabbit hole I went…

Things are not as they seem…

The Solar Institute's deceptive webpage

Screen grab from http://thesolarinstitute.org/real-stimulus-for-middle-class/ - Visited 6/26/2016


First and foremost, it is important to point out that the image to the left is not the website for The Solar Living Institute which is entirely legit, and which helps train solar professionals.  But it certainly seems that the attempted name confusion is entirely intended.

No, this is quite the clever site - notice that they managed to slip in an Elon Musk quote to borrow some of that special magic.  It starts by claiming that it will cost you $32,000 to install solar which overstates the initial expenditure by about 100%  on an average 4 kW project (to say nothing of the fact that you then get 30% of that cost back in the form of the Federal tax incentive).

But then it gets to the point: “A novel initiative is, however, looking to change that."  Wow, really?  This must be the program that California “approved,” right?  So what is this incredibly novel initiative?

From the website:

Alternative Energy Solar Project has been made promotional manager over the Middle Class Affordable Solar Homes (M-CASH US) project, one of the country’s first dedicated solar repayment system for middle class families. The goal is to install solar arrays to over 32,000 homes by the end of 2016…

The state government in  California has talked about how they can contribute through raising money to be able to provide more rebates. In the attempt to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and move toward installing solar arrays. In total, the solar program has totted up to an impressive movement.

By ploughing at least 30% of the money from government incentives and using private investors to back the solar installation, the project aims to kill two birds with one stone – saving Middle-Class families money, while also making big fossil fuel polluting companies help to cut energy emissions in the state even further.

Anyone who is currently living in a neighborhood in California that is classed as middle-class is qualified to apply to get the arrays installed. The sun sets on the initiative as the year ends in 2016, so if you’re living in the state, you might want to jump on board soon.

Indeed, better jump right on board.  They sure make it sound official, what with references to the “state government in California” and all, but who are these people?  The website says nothing about who they are and their contact information gives only an 855 number but no address, or license number or anything else.  (Doing a whois on the domain name is equally fruitless.) Calling that number gets you to something identified as “Free Solar Quotes” - a lead gen website.

But since it identified Alternative Energy Solar Project as the “promotional manager” for this “M-CASH” program we decided to Google them, going farther down the hole…

Now isn’t that special?

Turns out that wasn’t as easy as we expected, though we did find a Reddit asking whether the company was a scam (and concluding it was, after determining that the photo of the alleged CEO was, in fact, a stock photo!)  Ultimately we found their website - but no more CEO photos, or any info about who they are, which is odd for a government-ordained program.  In fact, the home page is nothing more than a sign-up page, but some additional sleuthing led us to some landing pages within the site.  There we came across this:

m-cash-ca program text

Screen grab from: http://aesproject.org/index.php/m-cash-ca/ - Visited: 6/27/2016.

There is some sly stuff going on here.  Perhaps my personal favorite is the reference to the Private Utilities Commission - cause, that’s a thing.  Or how about “…helps connect companies who have set aside private funds raised for the California Solar Initiative be set aside for programs assisting middle-class households in accessing solar technology."  I have no idea what that word salad is supposed to mean, other than to somehow try to associate this scammy offering with the California Solar Initiative (which went out of business in 2014)

So yeah, lucky us, California, this great program has made it “all the way to California” - now don’t you feel special?  Well maybe not so special, since we then found this:

m-cash-njprogram text

Screen grab from: http://aesproject.org/index.php/m-cash-nj/ - Visited: 6/27/2016.

What do you know, this exact same program made it “all the way to New Jersey” from Maryland, too!  (Though Delaware just isn’t very big there - with apologies to Delawarians everywhere.) In fact, for sport you can replace the -ca or -nj with other state postal abbreviations to see what other poor states are being targeted by this scam!

So what, at the end of the day, is this all about?  Leases.  Yeah.  All this nonsense alluding to state-sponsored programs is nothing more than lead-gen gymnastics to lure in consumers and stick them with a lease (or PPA).

These are the sorts of deceptive business practices that are giving the solar industry such a black eye, and one can only hope that the FTC and state AG’s are paying attention.  But we in the industry have an obligation to shut this sort of thing down.  If you purchase leads you need to know how those leads are generated and not support lead generators who are engaged in these sorts of practices.  Make no mistake - these lead-gen operators are making money because solar companies are buying what they are selling!  We can help ensure consumers are better served simply by refusing to participate - or we can wait for the regulators to step in and make all of our lives more difficult.

For the record, there are legit entities trying to connect solar customers with reputable solar installers, with everyone from NABCEP to Sunmetrix, to even this fellow in Australia.  But we need to make sure that the scammers aren’t carrying the day, and we do that by refusing to participate.

06/20/16

  11:06:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 110 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar News

Solar Plane Crossing the Atlantic! - UPDATED!

UPDATE - 6/23/2016 - SI 2 has arrived safely in Seville, Spain, and did so in just 71 hours, 8 minutes (of the planned 90-hour duration).  Read more on the SI2 blog page.


Solar Impulse 2- that amazing solar-only powered aircraft - is in the air again, this time undertaking a predicted 90-hour flight from New York City’s JFK airport to Seville airport in Spain!

You can see how its systems are performing - solar cells charging the plane’s batteries and powering its ascent during the day, and the batteries propelling the plane during the night as it descends - by following the very cool charts embedded below.  (You can read some of our earlier coverage of Solar Impulse 2 here.)

06/14/16

  07:32:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 237 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, PWP Rebates

PWP Rebates Fall August 1!

PasadenaBad news for Pasadena Water and Power customers - we have just learned that PWP’s solar rebates will be dropping by 1/3 effective August 1st!  Here are the details…

As we have noted many times in the past, Pasadena has one of the best solar rebate programs around - decent rebates, a well managed program, and good communications.  Consistent with that approach we have just learned that the solar rebates are going to be reduced effective August 1st.  That means that rebate applications submitted prior to then, and which are deemed complete when submitted, will qualify for the current rebate. Once the rebate is reserved, you would then have a year to complete the project.

Here are the current and upcoming rebate rates:

Customer Type

Current Incentives

Incentives Effective
Aug 1, 2016

EPBB
($/Watt)

PBI
($/kWh)

EPBB
($/Watt)

PBI
($/kWh)

Residential $0.45 $0.144 $0.30 $0.096
Commercial $0.45 $0.144 $0.30 $0.096
Non-Profit/Gov’t $0.90 $0.288 $0.60 $0.192
Income-Qualified $1.80 $0.576 $1.20 $0.384

Potential residential or commercial clients, your rebate will drop from 45¢/Watt to 30¢/Watt. That means that for a typical residential project of 5 kW, the rebate will drop from $2,250 to $1,500.

Non-profits will leave even more money on the table if they miss the August 1 deadline.  For a typical 40 kW school project, the rebate will drop from $36,000 to $24,000!  Ouch!

If past is prologue, this drop in the rebate amount will create a stampede as folks try to lock in the current rebate rate before it steps down.  If you are in PWP’s service area, please don’t wait, give us a call today!

06/13/16

  10:02:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1208 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Ranting

Scared of Solar?

Advocates of solar, such as the crew at Run on Sun, take it for granted that going solar is win-win for our clients, such as the folks at Chandler School.  But sometimes we forget that non-adopters have real concerns about putting solar on their roofs.  In this, our last cut on the data that we received from NREL (read our two earlier posts on who chooses Run on Sun and what generally keeps people away from solar), we wanted to address the greatest concerns that people have so that they don’t need to be scared of solar.

First off, here’s our last chart:

scared of solar - points of concern

Let’s take these concerns one at a time.

Cost concerns

Perhaps the greatest overall concern turns on cost and its counterpart, value.

Affordability

The greatest concern expressed was over the affordability of going solar.  The good news is that solar has never been more affordable.  Back in 2007 when we were first doing installations, solar systems cost more than $8/Watt installed.  Today we are at half of that cost, and even though most rebate programs have ended, the federal tax credit is still at 30%, meaning that more and more people can now afford to go solar!

Bang for the buck

Still, some consumers are concerned about getting enough bang for their buck - they wonder if solar really provides value commensurate with its cost.  To that we reply - it depends.  It depends on the quality of the equipment that you choose and the quality of the installer who puts that equipment on your home.  But how can a consumer know if they are getting quality?  It starts by taking the time to do your research - get multiple bids so you have a basis for comparison.  Be wary of low-ball bids - prices below market are a clear sign that there will either be nasty surprises by way of change orders down the road, or that your contractor is cutting corners. 

As to the quality of the contractor doing the work, ask for references and check them.  In California, look at the Contractors State License Board website to see if there are complaints against the contractor, and see if they are certified by NABCEP, the gold-standard for quality in the solar industry.  Review sites like Yelp and Angie’s List can also help.

Taking on debt or signing a lease

Going solar is a significant financial investment and it should be treated as such.  We have written at great length about the problems with solar leases, but even a favorable loan, like a home equity line of credit, carries costs.  Ideally, savings from your lower electric bill should offset the cost of financing the system, and once the system is paid off, you will continue to derive those savings for the lifetime of the system.

When you get a proposal for going solar, it should clearly spell out what your savings will be in Year 1, and provide a reasonable projection for your payback period over time.  But be careful about proposals with overly rosy projections based on unrealistic assumptions (like energy costs going up 7% each year for 25 years), or ones that don’t disclose their assumptions at all!

Reliability & Maintenance

Another general area of concern turns on how well a solar power system will hold up over time, and what it will cost you to maintain it.

Equipment quality and reliability

In solar, like most everything else, you get what you pay for, if you’re lucky!  Every day we get emails inviting us to purchase cut-rate panels at a fraction of the price we pay for top-of-the-line panels from LG.  We delete those emails without a second thought because we have no interest in dealing with junk.  But someone is buying those panels, and they are ending up on the homes of consumers.  Again, get multiple bids and do your research.  Selecting quality products from established manufacturers is your best assurance that you will have reliable equipment that will last.  (We install LG panels and Enphase microinverters because we believe that they are the best value for our clients.)

Performing regular maintenance

We are always a bit baffled by this one, since a solar power system is largely maintenance free.  We think this concern arose because leasing companies promised to perform all maintenance needed for the system, but this is a hollow promise since there is really nothing to do!  At Run on Sun we provide a ten-year warranty on our work, and we support the manufacturer’s warranties for the parts - so if something does go wrong, it will be fixed with no hassle for our clients.

Harm to your home

Properly flashed solar penetrations

The final category of concerns centers around harm to your most valuable asset, your home.  Solar, when done right, will improve that value, but that is not guaranteed.

Damaging the roof

One obvious point of concern has to do with damage to your roof.  After all, a solar array on a pitched roof is held in place by lag bolts driven into the roof rafters so that means lots of holes being put into your roof.  However, when done correctly, as shown in the photo on the right, all of those penetrations are covered by a flashing that guarantees that water cannot penetrate. 

The other issue to consider is the status of your roof - if it is nearing the end of its usable life you will want to re-roof before you put solar on it! 

Detract from curb appeal

Ugly solar

Image from the very cool Solar Hall of Shame page by
Green Sun Energy Services, LLC. (Used w/permission)

Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder and we love seeing solar on a home.  (Although not when it is installed like the bozos did in the photo on the left!)

Still, not everyone wants to see solar panels, and many of our installations are done so as to make the installation as inconspicuous as possible.  (In the photo below the only way to see that lovely layout is to go up on the roof.)  A properly designed and installed system should look clean and neat.  We take pride in our craftsmanship and we work very hard to make our systems as visually appealing as they are economically beneficial.

Make it harder to sell

Beautiful solar curb appeal

Finally, there is the concern that adding solar will make it harder to sell your home, which can be true if you have leased the system since the new owner has to assume that lease as part of the deal. We have written at length about the perils of solar leases, and  making it harder to sell your home is just one of many reasons to give them a wide berth.

But if you were smart enough to avoid a lease, the latest research indicates that having a solar power system installed increases the value of your home.  How much?  Roughly $4.00/Watt for a typical installation - which pretty much means that the cost of the system is offset by the increase in resale value!  Try doing that with granite countertops!

Fear Not!

Consumers need not be scared of solar, provided that they choose a reputable installer and pay for quality equipment.  At Run on Sun we specialize in both, so give us a call today!

06/10/16

  02:56:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 142 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Pasadena Solar, Ranting

Happy Birthday Pasadena... and Run on Sun!

Everyone knows that when it comes to Pasadena, Run on Sun is the premier installer of solar PV systems for residential, commercial, and non-profit clients (if you doubt it, just ask us!).  But we have one other cool thing in common - we are both marking milestone birthdays this year!

Happy Birthday, Pasadena!

While our hometown is turning 130, Run on Sun is turning 10 years old this year!  (Which, if you think about it, is nearly 130 in solar-installer years!)  So when we heard that the folks at Pasadena Weekly were looking to feature ads that wished the City a Happy Birthday, we just had to get into the act!  (If you are in the Pasadena area, you will find the ad - with art work by that Solar Kid Julia who will soon be a college sophomore - on page 42.)

Happy Birthday to us both, and many happy returns!

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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.
Laurel Hamilton is Run on Sun's Projects Coordinator, and together they author this blog.
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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