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04/08/14

  11:26:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 866 words  
Categories: LADWP, Commercial Solar, Feed-in Tariff

2Q14 LADWP FiT Progress Report

Yesterday we provided a recap of the results from the third tranche of LADWP’s Feed-in Tariff (FiT).  Today we are going to look at the status of the program overall, based on the newly instituted FiT Dashboard found on DWP’s FiT website.

Credit where its Due

We are often critical of issues with utilities, whether its undue roadblocks to installing solar or outright hostility to the entire concept of net metering.  So it is equally important to give credit where it is due, and the introduction of the solar “Dashboards” that are now featured at the DWP website is a great step forward in transparency and one that deserves to be widely imitated by DWP’s peers.  Here is how DWP explains the purpose of their FiT Dashboard:

LADWP is implementing the largest FiT program of any municipal utility in the nation. As it goes through growing pains, we continually work to improve the experience of customers and businesses who participate in it. The goal is to achieve the target level of solar energy, catalyze the solar industry and create jobs, and streamline the process to increase efficiency. This Dashboard outlines the issues, actions taken, and plans for improvement. The graphs show the current and targeted FiT processing timelines, schedule, and status of projects from each allocation.

The data discussed below is from the Dashboard update as of April 7, 2014.

FiT Processing Durations

While the complete flow chart for LA’s FiT program is more than a shade Byzantine, the Dashboard highlights processing times associated with three key bottlenecks in that flow: the initial Technical Screening that takes place when a project application is first submitted, the interconnection study which determines the cost for the proposed project to tie into DWP’s grid, and contract execution for the PPA between the project developer and DWP.  For each of these milestones, DWP has a goal of completing the work in four weeks.  In each case, DWP is missing those targets by a lot.

As of this writing, DWP is taking, on average, 6 weeks to complete the initial technical screening, 12 weeks (3x the goal) to complete the interconnection study and 14 weeks (3.5x the goal) to execute the contract!  Unfortunately, the Dashboard does not reveal how much of that delay reflects internal DWP processing times versus delays caused by the developer—breaking these delays down to reveal how that works out would be an important modification to the Dashboard.

While we can understand how incomplete applications and general, technical complexity could add delays to the first two milestones, we are baffled by the 14 weeks of delay in executing the contracts.  These are standard form contracts which, at least according to the program guidelines, are not subject to negotiation.  What could possibly cause a three-and-a-half month delay in getting those contracts signed?  Alas, the Dashboard does not reveal an answer to that question.

FiT Active Project Status

Which brings us to the status of all project applications in the queue.  Here’s DWP’s chart (click for larger):

FiT Active Project Status

The chart shows all 22 applications from the third tranche in the initial technical review as would be expected.  Shockingly, there are still 13 projects from the first tranche, over a year ago, that are still hung-up in that initial review!

Missing from this chart is the number of projects that are designated as cancelled.  By our count, there are 47 projects that made it through the lottery but have been cancelled for whatever reason.  (The most likely reason would be due to learning that the cost to interconnect to DWP’s grid—the major wild card in the whole process—turned out to be too expensive.  However, according to the data, only 21 of those 47 projects ever had the interconnection study completed, which means the majority of the cancellations had to be due to other, unreported, reasons.)

Seven projects from the first tranche are still waiting for the interconnection study to complete along with 37 from the second tranche.  Thirty-four projects, 17 each from the first two tranches, are undergoing the mysterious contract review process.  Only 9 projects have managed to get contracts executed and just two, both from the first tranche, have been commissioned.  (The blue bars represent projects from the demonstration phase.)

That’s a lot of solar in the pipeline—hopefully DWP can get the cancellation rate down and the completion rate up in the coming months.

Issues and Actions

Again to its credit, the Dashboard acknowledges that the program’s overall status is: “Needs Improvement” and steps are underway to improve the process.  Perhaps the most significant development is that DWP has assigned seven additional engineers to help work through this backlog.  But the Dashboard makes clear that to get to target goals, DWP needs to climb a very steep hill: “To achieve target turn-around schedule, staff must complete 10 interconnection studies per week over the next 7 weeks and 10 contracts per week over the next 10 weeks.”

Bottom line - DWP is working on a big and complex program and the performance to date has been less than desired, but the institutional attitude seems better than expected. Hopefully DWP will be able to deliver on its targets in the next 10 weeks. 

Of course, DWP looks positively stellar compared to the FiT performance of its neighbors, a topic we will return to tomorrow.

04/07/14

  08:31:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 994 words  
Categories: LADWP, GWP, Feed-in Tariff

Feed-in Tariff Update: Tale of Many Cities, One Success

There are multiple Feed-in Tariff (FiT) programs in the Run on Sun service area, although only one is actually doing anything. We decided it was time to check back in on these programs and to see if any of them are living up to their mandate to actually get solar installed in the L.A. Basin.

As of this writing, there are FiT programs hosted by four cities: Anaheim, Glendale, Los Angeles and Riverside.  In this post we will check-in with Los Angeles and revisit the status of the other three later in the week.

LADWP’s Feed-in Tariff Program

Los Angeles brags that it has the largest FiT program in the country and that assertion is true, as far as it goes.  We have written extensively about the LA FiT in the past, documenting how it came about and how it has recently survived challenges from the Rate Payer Advocate who insisted upon comparing energy costs from utility-scale projects with the “in-city” projects called for by the legislation that mandated the program.

LA’s program has a 100 MW capacity goal and it divides that total into five, 20 MW allocations, or tranches, each to be offered roughly six months apart.  The first tranche was to be offered at a base price for energy (BPE) of 17¢/kWh, with each subsequent tranche offered for a penny less than its predecessor. So far, three tranches have been made available, the latest just last month.  As we have reported on both of the earlier two tranches (first tranche here and second tranche here), we will focus this post on the third tranche and overall program status.

Third Tranche Results

The third tranche, after some delays due to City Council concerns, opened on March 17.  The LADWP FiT website provides a PDF file of their spreadsheet showing the results of the tranche lottery, but unfortunately the underlying spreadsheet is not provided.  This means that the PDF has to be converted back to a spreadsheet before any real work can commence, an unnecessary waste of effort. 

Hey, LADWP listen up: if you are going to publish data, publish the spreadsheet, not just a PDF. (Thanks, I feel better now.)

Does Timing Matter?

Up until now the sense was that in order to have a shot you needed to submit your application as early in the five-day window as possible but these results belie that notion.  While the window went up on March 17, none of the 45 applications submitted came in on the first day!  The earliest application came in on the 18th at 11:53 (and, despite landing lottery number 21, missed the allocation cut-off) whereas the last application came in on the 21st at 3:46.  Interestingly, the last twelve applications received all got that same time stamp, which means that despite their best efforts to the contrary, one quarter of all applications received were received at the last possible minute—and four of those twelve made the cut.  More on this in a minute.

Does Size Matter?

The 20 MW of capacity in the tranche are not just one big pool.  Rather, 4 MW are set aside for “small” projects (i.e., capacity between 30 and 150 kW) and the remaining 16 MW to “large” projects (150 kW to 3 MW).  So does size matter in terms of the likelihood of success?  It certainly does—all four small projects made the cut, whereas only 19 out of 41 large projects did.  Of the small category projects, two were right up against the size limit (145 and 149 kW, respectively), while the other two were much smaller: 79 and 37 kW.  Frankly, in light of the relatively low payment in this tranche—a situation that will only get worse as the BPE declines in subsequent tranches—it will become harder and harder for small projects to pencil out.  Given how badly the small category underperformed in this tranche—barely reaching 10% of the 4 MW capacity set aside—LADWP should re-think its approach here.  If it is serious about maintaining a small projects category, it needs to increase the BPE for such projects.  Otherwise it needs to revise its rules so that the excess allocation in the small category can be used by large projects that otherwise would not make the cut.

Players

The large category is particularly interesting from the sense of who is playing.  The 41 projects in the large category came from only 19 different sources, and the biggest player of all is none other than the City of Los Angeles itself!  Here’s the list:

Players in LADWP's FiT 3rd tranche

Twelve of the nineteen large project applicants submitted only one project, three submitted two projects, one submitted three, two submitted four—and then there’s LA’s Harbor Department which submitted 12 with an average size over 1 MW each!

So how did these players fare in terms of making the cut? Well, the City only got four of its twelve projects in under the wire so one might think that their success was no more likely than anyone else.  But here’s an interesting thing—remember those twelve applications that all received the same timestamp of 3:46 p.m.on the last day to apply?  You guessed it, all twelve of them came from the City of LA’s Harbor Department!  How curious.

The other successful players were Pasha Stevedoring (2 out of 3), OM Solar LLC (2 for 2), PLH LLC (2 of 4) and SunRay Power LLC (2 of 2).

Coming to a Zip Near You?

Finally, we wanted to see where all of this solar is going and, given the success of the LA Harbor Department, not surprisingly the big winner is San Pedro, home to the Port of LA.  Five projects will be located in San Pedro’s 90731 zip code for a total capacity of 4.6 MW, and one more nearby in Wilmington.  The Port is about to become something of a solar center in Los Angeles—a welcome departure from its past reputation as a toxic hot spot.  Here’s the map:

 More to Come

There’s more to say about the state of LA’s FiT, so we will save that for tomorrow, including a look at their new dashboard that seeks to provide greater transparency into how the overall program is doing.

04/03/14

  07:40:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 499 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Residential Solar, Ranting

Study: Selling Solar to Women

What do women want? That’s a question that has confounded men for… ever.  But this is a solar blog, not advice for the love lorn, so we are really concerned about something more specific: What do women want when it comes to solar?  Since most of the folks in the solar industry are guys (sadly), we have tended to create marketing approaches that would appeal to… guys.  Which, when taken to frat boy extremes, can lead to disasters like the one perpetrated by the folks at RECOM.

So how to overcome this inherent, genetic limitation?

Well, perhaps listening to what some really smart women have to say on the topic would be a good start.

Shining a solar marketing light on womenWhich brings us to the work, released today, by two of the smartest women in solar that we know: Raina Russo and Glenna Wiseman.  Their study, titled “Shining a Solar Marketing Light on Women,” consists of 20 questions that track the “5 Stages of Buying” that women use, according to marketing researcher, Marti Barletta.  Compiling results from 34 different states, Russo and Wiseman have produced an analysis that should be a must read for any solar company trying to improve their kitchen table discussion with that all important “Chief Purchasing Officer."  After all, as they note, women actually initiate 80% of all home improvement projects and they are the driving force in deciding whether to go solar, and if so, with whom.

Yet much of the time, “women do not feel the solar industry is reaching out to them in techniques they will respond to or are speaking their language,” a trend that we continue at our economic peril. 

From today’s press release:

Solar industry marketers are encouraged to purchase the survey and then participate in the upcoming #SolarChat to get further insights from the experts.  The survey will be discussed on #SolarChat April 9, 2014, where a host of leading marketing to women experts will be featured including Marti Barletta of Trend Sight, Leah Segedie of Bookieboo LLC and Mamavation.com, Andrea Luecke of The Solar Foundation, Krystal Glass of The National Women’s Business Council and Glenna Wiseman of Identity3 and Women4Solar.  The panel will be moderated by Raina Russo, recently ascribed by The Energy Collective as a top 10 woman in solar.

A portion of the survey proceeds will go to Heather Andrews Scholarship Fund at Solar Energy International (SEI) to further its mission of women’s solar training. The SEI Women’s Program provides in-person, technical workshops in a supportive learning atmosphere to bring more women into the renewable energy field.

Count us in.  And we love the contribution to the Heather Andrews Scholarship Fund - I’m sure she’s smiling at the thought of helping to educate women in doing solar by educating men on how to speak to women about solar.

Oh, and if you are still casting about for a solar hero or two to nominate for the White House’s Champions of Change program, you’d be hard pressed to find two more worthy candidates than Raina Russo and Glenna Wiseman.

03/31/14

  05:47:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 347 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Events, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Non-profit solar

Nominate a Solar Champion!

White House website for Champions of Change

In the “How cool is this?” department we have learned that the White House is seeking nominations for their Champions of Change program, but this time specifically related to Solar Deployment!  Here are the details…

According to the White House website:

The White House Champions of Change program regularly highlights ordinary Americans from across the country who are doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. To celebrate the breadth of individuals who are taking action on solar deployment, we will honor “Champions of Change” to lift up entrepreneurs, innovators, legislators, affordable housing owners, community leaders, and others who are accelerating deployment. 

We are asking you to help us identify standout local leaders and businesses by nominating a Champion of Change for Deployment of Solar in the Residential, Commercial, and Industrial Sectors by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, April 4. These champions can include:  

  • Community leaders working to bolster solar adoption; including participants in DOE’s “Rooftop Solar Challenge,” through which 22 teams are working to advance deployment;
     
  • Business leaders promoting solar procurement (building supply chains and smaller organizations that provide information about the benefits of solar);
     
  • Companies and non-profits training veterans for solar jobs;
     
  • Multifamily housing owners, home builders/associations and organizers promoting onsite solar generation on our rooftops, and organizations providing innovative financing mechanisms to developers and homeowners;
     
  • Utility leaders seizing solar energy’s potential by supporting and facilitating solar deployment, including through community solar; and
     
  • Organizations working to help consumers navigate the regulations and paperwork necessary to install solar in their communities.

Click on the link below to submit your nomination (be sure to choose ‘Solar Deployment’ in the “Theme of Service” field of the nomination form).

Nominate a Solar Deployment Champion of Change

This is a great opportunity to help give some well deserved recognition to your favorite hero in the effort to build a clean, sustainable future.  You can submit more than one nomination, but the deadline is this Friday at 5 p.m. (and that’s Eastern time, so 2 p.m. here on the left coast).  So don’t hesitate, get those nominations in now!

  09:27:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 135 words  
Categories: Electric Cars that Run on Sun, Ranting

Humor Break: Who Do You want to Be?

As we close out the merry, maddening month of March, we thought we would share with you the best pair of ads we’ve seen in a long time. No, they have nothing to do with solar, per se, but they do both feature plug-in hybrid cars, so implicitly they cry out for solar.

But what drew us to them is the difference in attitude these two ads demonstrate: the “make your own luck” view versus the “make the world a better place” one.  Perhaps the world needs both types, but it seems pretty clear to us that one type is in too short supply, whereas the other, not so much.

Here’s the first ad, from Cadillac:

And here’s the second, from Ford:

So here’s the question: which one would you want to be?

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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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