In today’s world of endless information at our fingertips it is unsurprising that most people interested in solar begin with online research. It is also undeniable that the amount of information available to consumers is enormous, and helps people to be more informed than ever prior to investing in a solar system of their own. But as the solar industry grows, the accuracy and transparency of online information seems to be deteriorating, and nowhere is that deterioration more dramatic than from the mind-boggling number of companies engaged in solar lead generation.
As a home or business-owner innocently entertaining the thought of going solar from the safety of your laptop or smartphone you will likely come across a majority of search results from solar lead generation companies. There are a number of reasons this is problematic. First and foremost, when clicking on these results, and worse giving out your personal information for free solar quotes, you may have no idea you are engaging with a lead generator — rather than a qualified installation company.
For a solar PV installation company it is expensive and time consuming to reach consumers with an interest in purchasing a solar system. Installers are often happy to fork over cash for supposedly “qualified leads” to avoid this uncomfortable piece of the business. Thus, lead generation for solar became a lucrative niche service, and their business model seems to be working, given the number of new companies offering to sell us leads (an actual local installer) every day. Some lead gen companies are nothing more than telemarketers cold calling the masses. Others use search engine marketing techniques to capture people who are shopping around for information.
Here lies the crux of this post. The few supposedly “qualified” leads that we have received (as an inducement for us to sign up) have had two possible outcomes. First scenario: we call and introduce ourselves and mention that their interest in a free solar site assessment was brought to our attention via company X — and they promptly hang up! Or second scenario: they tell us they mistakenly clicked on something and now solar companies won’t stop calling.
We’re in this business to help people reduce their carbon footprint and electric bills. The last thing we want to do is harass people! That’s why as a company, Run on Sun does not buy solar leads.
Frankly we are worried about the reputation of solar as an industry if misleading click bait and telemarketing is how we are going to present ourselves to consumers. Online lead generators are essentially poaching customers away from local installers, taking a cut, and then selling the lead back to multiple installers who then descend upon the hapless consumer! Lead gen companies do not add value in the process and in many cases, create confusion or set up unclear/unrealistic expectations for the potential client. It stands to reason that a telemarketer with no experience in solar installation will not be able to give accurate answers to your questions.
Some online lead gen companies also have calculators (see right) meant to give you a sense of how much you could save with solar but these calculators are almost always inaccurate. Only a proper site visit to assess the many factors specific to your property along with an assessment of your usage history will lead to an accurate proposal detailing your return on investment and savings analysis.
We cannot stress enough our recommendation to simply do a bit more sleuthing on the website or company asking for your information before clicking on that “Have Solar Installation Contractors Contact You” button. Are you looking at an installation company, or just a lead gen mill? Do they have qualified installers on their staff (and preferably are NABCEP certified)? Are there positive reviews from past clients in your area?
When you’re ready to invite qualified installers to your property to do a formal assessment, contact the companies you have found to have a solid reputation by clicking on their online assessment request form or giving them a good old fashioned phone call. Avoid the lead gen trolls, and maintain control over the process!
It is official! One million solar systems have been installed across the United States providing more than 27 gigagwatts (GW) of clean energy over the past 40 years! This incredible milestone becomes even more impressive when you consider that projections have us reaching 2 million installations in just 2 years.
Every day at Run on Sun we are proud to be part of the solar movement helping our communities access clean renewable energy. Solar is no longer a fringe technology, nor is it a solution for the future. It is powering homes and businesses nationwide today, and the more solar we install, the more jobs and economic growth we support.
On Tuesday, May 3rd at 10AM EDT solar supporters across the nation are participating in a social media “thunderclap". Join us in celebrating and sharing this historic achievement and what it means for our energy future by spreading the word across your networks. Working together to raise our voice in unity shows our business leaders and lawmakers that solar is here to stay. We are #MillionSolarStrong! Join the SEIA organized movement and thunderclap here.
Second only to the flame-out of oft-maligned Solyndra, the bankruptcy filing this month of once high-flying SunEdison has gotten a great deal of press, particularly by those who follow the financial side of the solar industry closely. But what does it really mean for residential, non-profit, and small commercial solar clients? In a word - nothing, and here’s why.
SunEdison, is a developer of utility-scale solar projects, that is, projects that sell energy directly to a utility rather than offsetting the energy loads of a local customer.
SunEdison Alamosa PV Plant
In recent years SunEdison expanded aggressively, creating two captive subsidiaries known as yieldcos to purchase the parent’s projects at a premium, sell the energy and pay investors dividends from those projects - thereby enticing more investors, which provided more capital to purchase more projects, thus paying more dividends and on, and on.
Until it didn’t.
Possibly the straw that broke the investors’ back, however, was the deal that SunEdison announced last July to purchase Vivint Solar at a 52% premium. To a lot of folks this seemed like an odd move - Vivint is a major player in the residential solar space where it competes against SolarCity (and us!) - not a real fit with a developer of mostly utility scale projects. That deal spooked investors, liquidity became an issue, and the Vivint deal dissolved into litigation in March.
With the demise of the Vivint deal, rumors of bankruptcy grew, culminating in its filing for Chapter 11 reorganization on April 21. The announcement - ironically one week after coal giant Peabody Energy did the same thing - generated some pretty scathing coverage:
While certainly not the level of vitriol directed at the failure of Solyndra, those are still tough headlines (and interesting articles, should you be inclined to dive deeper).
So while there is a great deal of buzz about the problems facing SunEdison, they really have nothing to do with the markets that our clients occupy. We, along with the other local, independent solar installers out there, are still doing just fine, thank you! We have never purchased products from SunEdison, so none of our product warranties are affected.
In the end, this story does highlight one consideration for potential clients to consider as you mull over the trade-offs between a smaller, local company and a large, national chain. If even the biggest firm can fail, as SunEdison has shown, so can the other giants out there. So if there is no guarantee that either the large or the small company will still be around in ten years, where would you rather place your bet: with the small company that takes the time to get the job done right, or with the giant that is bragging to its investors how it takes a day or less to install a system?
At the end of the day, size may matter, just not in the way you would originally think!
Longtime readers of this blog will know that we have been following the progress of the Solar Impulse team for many years. Headed by adventurers/pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, the Solar Impulse project was about building an airplane that could fly around the world powered only by solar power!
The original craft, Solar Impulse 1, flew across the United States back in 2013 as a proof-of-concept design that could set the stage for the around-the-world attempt. That audacious enterprise begin in March of 2015 as Solar Impulse 2 launched from Abu Dhabi on its way around the world. Last summer, SI2 made it to Hawaii, but the effort needed for that extended non-stop flight from Japan damaged the batteries and required some redesign and retrofitting before the mission could proceed. But this Thursday, April 21, was finally the day, and SI2 departed from Hawaii, headed for a landing at Moffet Airfield outside of San Francisco - a 62 hour flight!
For those who haven’t been following the mission, since there is only one pilot on-board, he can never really sleep during the flight. Instead he takes power naps of 20 minutes at a time, assisted by self-hypnosis to quickly bring about a state of relaxation. In addition, the pilot does yoga and the limited exercises afforded by his incredibly small and cramped cabin.
But how does the plane itself - which is only powered by sunlight - manage to fly at night? By an ingenious combination of electric and potential energy storage. During the day, SI2 follows a flight profile of climbing from 5,000 to approximately 28,000 feet. Sunlight charges the batteries through a collection of more than 17,000 monocrystalline silicon solar cells. Then at night, SI2 begins a gentle descent, mostly gliding from its lofty height, to begin the process all over again.
So how did it turn out? As these great images make clear, pilot Bertrand Piccard, made it safe and sound. The revised systems performed with out a hitch, and SI2 cruised past the Golden Gate Bridge on its way to a successful landing.
Ah to have been in the San Francisco Bay area yesterday! What a beautiful and inspiring sight!
The Solar Impulse team still has a great deal of work ahead of them including crossing the United States (they will be flying into New York City which should be something!) before crossing the Atlantic as they complete their mission of showing the world the true capability of clean energy.
UPDATE - 5/28/16 - Despite our best efforts, AB 2339 was HELD in the Appropriations Committee, effectively killing the bill this session. Thank you to everyone who took the time to call and voice their support for the bill. Special thanks to Frank Andorka who created a podcast in support of the bill, all the way from Cleveland! We lost this battle, but the fight continues.
UPDATE - 5/26/16 - We passed the Assembly Utilities Committee on a 10-2 vote, but right now we are stuck in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, chaired by San Diego Democrat Lorena Gonzalez. The decision of whether to allow AB 2339 to advance to the Assembly Floor rests in the hands of two people: Chair Gonzalez and Speaker Rendon. Please take a moment to give them a call and urge them to support the bill. Here are their numbers:
Back in February we wrote about the new Net Metering 2.0 rules that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved over the objections of the Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs), SCE, PG&E, and SDG&E.
We noted at the time that the CPUC rulemaking did not directly affect the Municipal Utilities (munis, like Pasadena Water and Power). Boy was that right as muni after muni is looking to shut down Net Metering altogether! Here’s our take, and more importantly, an action item that you can take to preserve Net Metering with the munis.
The munis are generally free, within the limits of state law, to set their own policies as confirmed by the local city council. So here in Pasadena, PWP sets its policy but has to have that policy ratified by the city council’s vote. When it comes to Net Metering, state law requires that the munis, like the IOUs, offer Net Metering agreements until the amount of solar deployed exceeds “5% of the electric utility’s aggregate customer peak demand.” (CA Public Utilities Code § 2827) Now if that quote seems like less than a model of clarity, you are quite right. Before the CPUC, the IOUs argued that it meant that you look at a utility’s highest peak demand as of a certain point in time, and that would be the cap. Such an interpretation, however, reads the words “aggregate customer” out of the statute. The CPUC agreed, and the proper interpretation requires the utility to sum the aggregate demand from each customer and that becomes the cap.
The results are dramatic - the proper interpretation effectively doubles the total amount of solar allowed under the cap. That decision by the CPUC back in 2012 redefined Net Metering, but only for the IOUs. At the time there was little concern regarding the munis since none was close to reaching their cap.
Fast forward to today and five munis have already reached their caps, as calculated under the old, pre-CPUC ruling, methodology. That leaves them free to replace Net Metering with whatever they choose, and at least one, Turlock, has adopted new rules that have resulted in an 85% decline in the solar market there! (In contrast, LADWP has already agreed to the new methodology thanks to leadership from Mayor Garcetti.)
Fortunately there is a fix in the works. AB 2339 (Irwin - D-44) will require that the munis calculate their caps in effectively the same way as the IOUs. The bill is presently in the Assembly Committee on Utilities and Commerce, chaired by Mike Gatto (D-43) - a former student and colleague of mine, and a champion of clean energy.
We need the strongest bill possible coming out of the committee, and you can help make that happen. How? Our friends at CALSEIA have compiled a target list of key assembly members who need to here from their constituents on this bill. From the CALSEIA newsflash:
- Jim Patterson (R-Fresno/Clovis) 916-319-2023
- Susan Eggman (D-Stockton/Mountain House/Thornton/Tracy) 916-319-2013
- Mike Gatto (D-Burbank/Glendale/La Canada/La Crescenta) 916-319-2043
- Bill Quirk (D-Hayward/Ashland/Castro Valley/Cherryland/Fairview/ Fremont/ Pleasanton/San Lorenzo/Sunol/Union City) 916- 319-2020
- Miguel Santiago (D-Huntington Park/Vernon) 916- 319-2053
- Eduardo Garcia (D-Imperial/Blythe/Brawley/Calexico/Cathedral City/Coachella/Desert H.Springs/El Centro/Indio) 916- 319-2056
- Christina Garcia (D-LA/Bell Gardens/Bellflower/Cerritos/Commerce/ Downey/Montebello/Pico Rivera) 916- 319-2058
- David Hadley (R-Torrance/Gardena/Lomita/Manhattan Beach/Palos Verdes Estates/Redondo Beach/West Carson) 916- 319-2066
- Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) (916) 319-2019
- Rocky Chavez (R-Oceanside/Calsbad/Encinitas/Vista) (916) 319-2076
If you live in one of those districts, or if you run a business in one, or have customers there, please contact that member.
More generally, there is a website where anyone can go to express their support for expanding the benefits of Net Metering to muni customers throughout the State. Just click on the button to make this happen:
Sadly, the list of entities opposing this bill includes Pasadena Water and Power - looks like we need some political leadership here in our own backyard to get PWP on board.
We will update this post as the bill progresses through the legislature - watch this space!
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