A fascinating piece over at Bloomberg Businessweek Technology turns our question into a declaration: Why the U.S. Power Grid’s Days are Numbered in a piece by three authors, Chris Martin, Mark Chediak and Ken Wells. But it isn’t the grid so much as the 3,200 utilities scattered across the landscape that are headed for extinction. (H/t SolarWakeup.com)
The article traces the story, familiar to readers of this blog, about the downward spiral facing utilities - as their prices rise, more customers get to the point where solar makes economic sense. But that switch further erodes the revenue base for the utilities so they must raise their rates yet again, driving away yet more customers and on it goes. Clearly not a sustainable future - for the monopolistic utilities. (Perhaps that is why some - and here we mean you, SCE - have so little sense of humor these days?)
Here is one of the many insightful quotes compiled by the authors:
“The technology and energy sectors will no longer simply be one another’s suppliers and customers,” the report says. “They will be competing directly. For the technology sector, the first rule is: Costs always go down. For the energy sector and for all extractive industries, costs almost always go up. Given those trajectories, counterintuitively, the coming tussle between solar and conventional energy is not going to be a fair fight.”
(Quoting from the Bernstein energy industry black book.)
Hmmm… solar beating up on the utilities so badly that it isn’t a “fair fight” is a future that many of us would pay to see.
While that future might seem inevitable to reporters viewing this from a distance, those of us in the solar industry know that we have a major fight on our hands. Today we have a sympathetic legislature in Sacramento, but that could change and our allies replaced by adversaries almost overnight. Surely the utility industry has the bucks to lobby legislators in ways that the solar industry will never be able to match.
As I said, the article makes for great Friday reading and I commend it to you.
We saw two news reports about an impressive, 2.3 MW solar array powered by Enphase Microinverters - one at the Enphase Blog and the other over at Renewable Energy World. Interestingly, the two stories had somewhat different spins. Here’s our take.
First, and not surprisingly, the folks at Enphase are rightfully crowing over this development, and why shouldn’t they? An installation this large - the biggest PV project so far under the Ontario (Canada) feed-in tariff program - would be a feather in the cap of any inverter manufacturer. But for a microinverter company, a project of this size is huge as it shatters the ceiling on appropriate system size for microinverter projects.
Enphase notes that the usual drivers for microinverter adoption - increased yield in shade conditions, safety given the lack of energized DC runs and enhanced monitoring - all played a role in the decision to use microinverters on this project.
Meanwhile over at REW, the spin is a bit different with much of the piece - Microinverters Make a Move on Multi-MW Solar Power Installations by Tildy Bayer - devoted to discussing an analysis of the market for microinverters by IHS Research. It is that analysis that we found puzzling.
Take this excerpt for example:
The U.S. accounted for nearly 75 percent of [microinverter] shipments IHS recorded prior to 2013, but in many states the residential market for microinverters is approaching saturation. It will be increasingly important, said Gilligan, that microinverters are used by the third-party/solar lease companies which are very active in the country. While solar lease companies such as Vivint Solar and Sunrun have used microinverters in limited numbers, other large companies like SolarCity have preferred to stick with string inverters as the more proven technology, he said. IHS does forecast that microinverters will be used in greater numbers by solar lease suppliers in the coming years as the technology improves and new models are released.
Really? What states would that be? Certainly not in market-leader California where sales of Enphase microinverters are growing rapidly and show no signs of slowing down, let alone saturation. Indeed, our analysis of the commercial inverter market here in Southern California showed Enphase in the No. 1 spot, increasing its market share by 9% year-over-year. We should all be so saturated.
And does anyone really believe that SolarCity has avoided Enphase because they aren’t the “proven technology” - or is it simply that they can get lower prices by going with string inverters?
If SolarCity wanted to install products based on the quality of the technology, they would be using Unirac Solarmount Evolution for their racking, LG solar modules - and they would be using Enphase microinverters. But then they wouldn’t be SolarCity - they would be Run on Sun.
A group of solar advocates have received a cease and desist letter from Southern California Edison over a satirical video that dares to claim that SCE “is committed to rooftop solar - and by committed we mean committed to keeping it off your roof!" Proof that SCE lacks both a sense of humor and common sense. (H/t Chris Clark at the ReWire blog on KCET.org)
The three groups threatened - presente.org, the Sierra Club (really!) and The Other 98% - have a website titled Save Rooftop Solar where the video was originally displayed. On their website they make the case that rooftop solar is good for the Latino community. That seems like a fair message to be communicating, but it is the group’s attack on SCE’s lobbying efforts that drew the IOU’s ire. Here’s the video that SCE doesn’t want anyone to see:
Now this is clearly satire, and no reasonable person viewing this would believe that SCE produced this video. Moreover, in highlighting an issue of public interest - namely SCE’s lobbying campaign directed at Latino politicians (no doubt part of their faux “equity” argument) - the use of otherwise protected symbols and logos is certainly “fair use” and thus protected. But that didn’t prevent SCE’s thin-skinned legal department, in this case Ms. Janet Combs, from sending a short-sighted nastygram:
It has come to our attention that presente.org has funded and posted a video on its website and on YouTube that infringes the Southern California Edison and Edison International (Edison) name and logo and makes false and misleading statements regarding Edison.
Specifically, the video, entitled Edison Hates Rooftop Solar, misrepresents itself as an Edison video and claims that Edison wants to “keep solar panels” off customers’ roofs through a “business plan” to “force” customers to buy “dirty energy” from “dirty power plants” that “poison poor communities.” The video claims that Edison is “spending big on Latino politicians” to make installing solar panels on customers’ roofs more expensive and discourage customers from installing solar panels.
These statements, and similar statements in the video, constitute false and misleading advertising under state and federal law. Moreover, the video’s use of the Southern California Edison and Edison International marks constitutes both federal and state trademark infringement and violates both the federal and state laws against unfair competition.
Here’s the thing - first of all, the assertion that SCE has legal claims against the producers of this video is laughable. But beyond that, when a video that practically no one has ever seen goes up on YouTube accusing you of being an evil corporation that is trying to (literally) squash your opponents, you do not counter that argument by sending C&D letters that threaten to squash your opponents. (See also, the Streisand Effect.)
Let’s hope that these groups get lots of press over this and SCE is sufficiently humiliated over their strong-arm tactics. Well, a guy can dream, can’t he?
We've written before about the problems with solar roofing tiles on homes built by Centex, one of the nation's largest home builders. Now we have heard that they are suspending their repair program, leaving homeowners with no recourse but to shut down their systems. Here's our update.
Last December we wrote about how Centex was dragging its feet on repairing faulty solar roof tile systems in "solar homes" that they built. Despite a mandated recall from the Consumer Products Safety Commission, Centex was demanding that homeowners sign an overreaching release form before they would begin repairs. In the meantime, homeowners had been advised to turn their systems off to avoid a possible risk of fire. Here was the release language that concerned us:
Release. In consideration of completion of the CPSC Repair [i.e., repair of the solar tiles] owner releases and fully discharges Centex Homes from any and all liabilities, claims, causes of action, or damages of whatever nature, character, type or description, which Owner may have or may incur in the future, arising out of, or in any way connected with component parts, being replaced/added under the CPSC Repair.
We wrote then that it seemed unfair to make an innocent homeowner either release all of their rights regarding future problems or be denied the "benefit of their bargain" regarding owning a solar powered home.
Now we are getting word from affected homeowners that Centex has completely suspended its repair program in light of new fires that have occurred in allegedly repaired homes. Here is a copy of an email that Centex sent out to homeowners in July:
Dear Centex Homeowner:
Thank you for taking the time to read this update regarding your solar panels.
As you are aware, after months of working with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Suntech, Eagle Solar, and Sonoran Roofing, recall protocol repairs involving OE-34 solar panels began November of 2012. Once repairs are completed by Sonoran Roofing on a home pursuant to the Consumer Product Safety Commission protocol, and required testing has occurred, homeowners have been turning their systems back on. The vast majority of homes repaired have had no issue after the recall repair was performed. Recently, however, two homeowners have experienced fires at some point after turning their systems on.
In late March of this year we were contacted by a homeowner who had a fire start at one of their solar panels. Upon completion of expert investigation by independent inspectors it was determined the fire originated at a single defective panel. The fire was not linked to the recall repair performed earlier on that home; rather, it was due to a defective tile manufactured by the solar panel company.
We were recently contacted by another homeowner who had a fire start at their solar panels earlier this month. We are currently working with independent inspectors from multiple companies to determine the cause of this recent fire. It is imperative that we know whether the cause was another defective panel or some other issue.
Until such time as we determine the cause of this fire and are confident that repairs can safely continue we are suspending all repairs. We expect to have the results of the investigation in the next 4-6 weeks. Once we have those results we will contact you again to advise you of the findings and the status of future repairs.
It is our direction, based on that fact that there have now been two reported fires involving these particular solar panels, that you shut your solar power system down immediately until further notice if your system is currently running. We advise you to keep your system off until notified otherwise.
Again, please make sure your solar power system is completely shut off until further notice.
If you have an urgent issue, please contact our office at Norcal@Centex.com. Otherwise, we will update you as soon as we have any new information. Please be assured that we want these repairs completed as quickly as possible, but we will not sacrifice safety for speed. Thank you for your patience and understanding.
Centex Homes Northern California Division
(Underlining in the original; other emphasis added.)
Now we have no complaint with not wanting to "sacrifice safety for speed", but it seem that at least so far, Centex has provided neither. One of the homeowners who contacted us indicated that a neighbor's house had also suffered a fire in their roof as well - bringing the total to at least three fires associated with these systems, since the Centex repair program began.
The existence of these fires makes the pernicious release that Centex was trying to extract from homeowners even more disturbing. Based on the language above, if a Centex customer had signed that release, allowed Centex to send in its repair team, and then suffered a fire caused by the solar roofing tile system, Centex would have no liability or obligation toward that customer at all.
We contacted Centex at the email above last week seeking comment but aside from an automated reply we have not received any response from the company.
As always, we welcome any comments from affected readers and if we hear back from Centex we will update this post.
It's been a long time coming - more than thirty years by some accounting - but solar panels are finally being re-installed at the Nation's most important home, the White House.
We first wrote about the President's promise to put solar panels on the White House back in October 2010 - and then about the mocking that the solar industry took from visionaries like Glenn Beck when that promise went unfulfilled. But now, multiple news outlets are confirming the story that originally broke in the Washington Post: work has actually begun on installing solar - specifically U.S. made solar modules - at the White House. Boy, talk about being delayed by the AHJ!
Of course, this isn't the first time that solar has been installed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue - in fact, it isn't even the second. Jimmy Carter installed a solar thermal system back in the 1970's only to have his successor, "Mr. Morning Again in America" Ronald Reagan, remove them. Make what you will of that sequence of events, but perhaps more interestingly is that solar came back to the White House, or at least its grounds, during the presidency of George W. Bush. That project was done with very little fanfare - indeed, we had not even heard about it until this week - but this New York Times article from February 2003 lays it out nicely:
Since September , a grid of 167 solar panels on the roof of a maintenance shed has been delivering electricity to the White House grounds. Another solar installation has been helping to provide hot water. Yet another has been keeping the water warm in the presidential pool.
James Doherty, an architect for the National Park Service, decided to install the systems a few years ago. It was time to replace the roof on what is affectionately called the Pony Shed, a maintenance building that replaced the stable that once housed Macaroni, a pony owned by President John F. Kennedy's daughter, Caroline.
The Park Service, which is responsible for the building, had already mandated that any refurbishments of its facilities should include environmentally friendly design where possible.
''We thought if we were able to reduce our energy consumption, that was a positive step forward,'' Mr. Doherty said.
That NYT piece is also interesting as it recaps the State of Solar as of 2003, noting that in all of 2001, just 36 MW of solar were sold in the entire U.S.! Contrast that with the more than 160 MW that was installed in just the SCE service territory during the first six months of this year and we really have come a long way.
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