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!
Three weeks ago the Run on Sun team took San Francisco by storm for the annual Intersolar events and exhibition. In the solar industry products are changing incredibly fast. Intersolar and Solar Power International (September 14-17th) are the two most important events for industry experts to come together and be able to put our hands on the latest and greatest products while establishing relationships with potential partners around the world.
As we mentioned in our Intersolar 2015 Preview blog, we were really on the prowl in the exhibition hall. Number one on our list was to find viable storage options as our client-base is quickly shifting to time-of-use rates and smart storage will be a huge asset to enable more local consumption of energy at the right time, as well as to reduce those high demand spikes for commercial clients.
Enphase Energy, of microinverter fame, actually had their own booth at IS this year, a first for them, and their emphasis was on their modular storage solution - which they call the AC Battery - made possible by their next generation, S-Series microinverter - which is bi-directional. Since the system sits on the AC side of a solar installation, it is compatible with any solar system whether it uses Enphase microinverters or not.
Enphase readily acknowledges that the economic proposition for local consumption is not really present in the U.S. yet, which is why they are first rolling the product out in Australia. However, as the present discussions before the CPUC demonstrate, net metering is changing and soon. When it does, the economic case for systems like the AC Battery will become compelling.
Second task on our list was to find out what panels LG would be offering and when we could start getting them on rooftops. Since LG didn’t have a booth at IS, hints toward panels with higher efficiency and higher output were verified by a meeting with our distributor, Baywa r.e. (formerly known as Focused Energy).We are now looking at 310 and 315 Watt panels available in September. This is up from the 305’s currently available and 260’s which were available this time just one year ago!
Our last mission as we weaved through the multitude of flashy products on display was to find better options for racking. While we have no intention of finding an alternative for our pitched roof racking company, Everest, our ballasted flat roof racking experience has left something to be desired by our installers. And the growing interest in solar carport systems means we need a good partner we can rely on to develop beautiful high-quality structures. We looked at several new products and talked to some great people on this front. We will be vetting these companies and discussing the applicability of their options with our clients over the next few months.
Any good industry gathering has GREAT parties, and the solar community definitely delivers in this department. The Run on Sun team enjoyed rubbing elbows with solar celebrities, new and old friends at various social events throughout the week. Laurel ate breakfast and discussed gender-specific solar challenges with WISE (Women in Solar Energy). The lunch hour Tweetup hosted by @SolarFred and put on by our friends at @Enphase, @RECSolar and @Grid was a blast. Of course the Solar Summerfest put on by CALSEIA and the Solar Battle of the Bands were not to be missed either. Who knew solar companies had such amazing musical talent?! The battle of the bands was more packed than we’ve ever seen, the only painful side to an ever expanding industry. Laurel’s favorite, the awesome funk band from Sungevity rocked the house and took home the winning title. If you attended either event you probably spotted Run on Sun’s Jim, Laurel and Josh making full use of the dance floor! No one on the RoS team will deny…we DO like to have fun.
The Run on Sun team cutting a rug at Solar Summerfest!
Thanks Kendra Hubbard for the pics!
Its hard to believe that in just over a month we will be boarding a local train to Anaheim for Solar Power International, “North America’s largest solar trade show". Beyond what we saw at Intersolar, our distributor Baywa r.e will have a presence as well as our favorite solar panel manufacturer: Life’s Good Electronics. We’re looking forward to more exciting product announcements and connecting with friends once again! Hope to see you there!
We couldn’t suppress an ironic smile when we read the headline, Los Angeles [County] Assembling Solar Action Committee to Address PV Challenges. “Physician, heal thy self,” immediately popped into mind given the propensity of LA County to create those very challenges! Here’s our take on what LA County is up to.
According to the article at Solar Industry magazine’s website:
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Works (DPW) has created a Solar Energy Action Committee (SEAC) to facilitate an expansion of residential and commercial solar photovoltaic power in the region.
According to the DPW, there are many challenges that are preventing the state and local governments in California from meeting aggressive renewable energy goals. Many of these challenges relate to the interpretation and application of codes and regulations in both the private and public sectors. Furthermore, solar technology is evolving so quickly and with such variety that jurisdictions are having problems determining how to apply codes and standards.
Oh heavens, don’t get me started! Well, ok, too late.
How about this for just one example (from many): we recently completed a commercial project in LA County. When we submitted our single line drawing to DPW (prepared and stamped by a licensed electrical engineer), it came back with nine “corrections". Ultimately we were able to demonstrate to DPW that seven of the nine did not even relate to our project since they all were focused on either the DC side of a PV system (and our Enphase-based system had no such components) or they related to the size of a non-existent load-side breaker. It took three iterations to whittle those bogus objections away, until we got down to the final nut: bonding.
Now one of the two remaining concerns was legit - DPW wanted our plans to call out two grounding rods. Fine, easy, done. But the remaining sticking point was a killer. We were using Everest Solar racking, which has UL 2703 listed splices for its rails that bond those splices together.
DPW refused to accept the splices for bonding, requiring bonding jumpers (like you see in the picture) across each splice. Which begs the question: what is the point of manufacturers building products to meet a national spec, if a local jurisdiction like DPW can simply say, “not in my backyard?”
Everest also had at the time an approved mid-clamp with WEEB solution for bonding between modules. In Pasadena, just across the street, that combination would have been approved without comment. But not DPW, which rejected the WEEB solution, requiring us to run a continuous #6 wire from module to module - all 246 of them!
Now when you talk to the folks at DPW they insist that this is all about safety. To which we respond - rubbish! What is the failure scenario that we are actually protecting against? In theory, you are trying to ensure that no metallic part becomes energized without a pathway to ground. That way if there is a fault, and someone touches the affected metal surface, current will not flow through them to ground (causing injury) because it has a lower resistance path to ground via the system bonding.
That is certainly a noble goal, but did the changes DPW insisted upon improve safety in the real world? This array is on a free standing structure, 14′ above the ground so it isn’t likely that someone would ever casually come in contact with a metal surface to begin with. But even if they did, what would that failure mode have to be? On the one panel that happens to develop a fault, a minimum of two, and in most cases four, WEEB clips would have to fail at the same time! Call me cynical, but I find that a highly unlikely event.
In contrast, the economic consequence of what had to be done to placate DPW was very real, adding thousands of dollars in parts and labor to the cost of the project, for an at best marginal improvement in safety.
So we are all for DPW taking steps to eliminate “PV challenges", but we would suggest they look at cleaning up their own act as the proper place to start.
Intersolar North America 2015 (IS) kicks off this week in San Francisco, and as we have for the past several years, Run on Sun will be there to learn, to mingle with the rest of the Solar Tribe, and yes, to party! Here’s our preview (with more to come after the show).
One of the biggest attractions of IS, the exhibition floor is crammed with every solar-related product and service imaginable (and some you wouldn’t have believed until seen!). Here are some of the things we are actively looking for as we roam the floor (and it really is a “we” this year as Laurel and Josh will be attending as well!)
We have been writing about, and longing for, viable energy storage solutions for as long as we have been attending IS. While the hype around storage has only grown exponentially since, the number of viable products still remains depressingly thin. Will this be the show when that finally changes?
Number one on our cross-your-fingers list is the previously announced, but not yet available, storage offering from Enphase Energy. Given that we have a whole lot of Enphase systems in the field, and a client-base that is rapidly shifting to time-of-use rates, the Enphase product, if it is a product, would be huge. While the timing would surely be right, our anticipation is amped-up by the knowledge that Enphase will have a booth at IS (a first for them, to our knowledge).
Interestingly, neither SolarCity nor Tesla is listed among the exhibitors as of this morning - I guess we won’t be seeing any Powerwalls on display.
Beyond storage, manufacturers are always touting their bigger, better products at the show and this year should be no different. Of particular interest in that regard is the potential release of a slew of new, larger module options coming from our favorite solar panel maker, LG. We have seen the hints on this front for sometime now as the CEC approved list of LG modules includes units as large as 325 Watts - compared to the LG 305’s which are presently the largest thing we are seeing in distribution. So will we now have multiple options for higher efficiency, higher output panels from LG? And if so, when and at what cost?
Meanwhile, Enphase appears poised to announce a new microinverter product, the S280 (just in time to pair with those higher power LG modules?), as it too now appears on the CEC list.
We know that we have clients eagerly awaiting these developments - watch this space!
Racking solutions continue to be an area where the cleverness of the design rarely survives the realities of the roof. We are constantly exploring new approaches for difficult problems such as viable ballasted systems (that will be accepted by AHJ’s like LA City and County) and structure suppliers for the growing interest in carports, pergolas and the like. While we have worked with a number of companies in this area, we are still on a quest for solutions that not only look good on paper, but that our installers can grow to love. We will be prowling the floor of IS with that as our number one must have.
We should note, however, that we remain quite pleased with Everest Solar as our pitched roof solution, and that view was enhanced by the long-awaited release of their UL-2703 listed end and mid-clamps. The inspectors who have looked at that system on the roof have been quite impressed with it, as are we.
It wouldn’t be IS without the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and, hopefully, make some new ones amidst the Solar Tribe. After all, these are people who work every day to make the world a better, cleaner, more sustainable place. They are a great bunch of folks and we are honored to be counted among ‘em!
First up is the Tweetup, hosted once again by solar celeb, Tor - @SolarFred - Valenza, with backing from @Enphase, @RECSolar, and @Grid. This has turned into an annual, and eagerly anticipated event, and we thank in advance Solar Fred and friends for making this happen.
Then comes Summerfest, a huge gathering of folks with lots of different types of food and drink and great views of the downtown San Francisco skyline. Summerfest is a great place to exchange views of what was on display on the exhibition floor, and to plot strategy for the next day, as in, “Did you see what they had over at the XYZ booth? It was amazing you have to check it out!”
But it is Wednesday night that really crowns the show. Starting with the great afterparty/pre-SBOB party thrown by Impress Labs - thanks to Solar Curator Tom Cheyney for hooking us up - we are able to get warmed up for the main event - the Solar Battle of the Bands! For the first time ever we are heading into the show knowing where are ducats are coming from - thanks to Jessica over at Solar Power World for the connection!
It is going to be a busy week, and we look forward to learning a lot. Look for our recap of the show next week!
A little over three years ago (my how time flies), we installed a 52kW solar project at the Westridge School for Girls, here in Pasadena. At the time, the project got a fair amount of attention (including an award from the City), was featured in a video (watch it here), and was the lead story in Enphase Energy’s Summer 2012 Newsletter.
Three years down the road, the folks at Enphase decided to circle back and check-in to see how the Westridge project had performed over the years - both in terms of saving money for the school, as well as being incorporated into the curriculum (another key goal of the project).
The article, titled — Solar on the Roof, Power in the Classroom — details how the Westridge Solar system has outperformed the modeled performance, producing 105% of the expected yield. That overproduction actually benefits the school twice: most obviously by lowering the bills that much more, but secondarily, by providing a larger than expected performance-based rebate payment.
Beyond that, however, the system has also proved to be an effective teaching tool, allowing Westridge students to analyze the copious amounts of data provided by the Enphase microinverters through the Enlighten, cloud-based data reporting service. One science class, for example, was able to discover how analyzing that data could detect the occurrence of a partial solar eclipse.
We are very proud of our partnership with Westridge and we look forward to doing another project with them in the near future.
Likewise, we are grateful for partners like Enphase Energy who are as committed to producing long term solutions as we are. That is one powerful pairing!
Recently a potential client was asking us about an oddity in their Pasadena Water and Power (PWP) electric bill. PWP has a tiered rate structure, but the most visible component of that tiering, the Distribution charge, steps up above 350 kWh of usage in any one month, but it steps down above 750! Which lead us to the question, are PWP’s electric rates regressive?
PWP’s Residential rate structure, like many utility tariffs, is a model of complexity. On your bill there are a number of obvious charges, and a few that are not so obvious. The obvious ones are on the right-hand-side of the bill and include a Customer charge, a Distribution charge, a Transmission charge, and an Energy charge. (The not-so-obvious charges include those related to public benefit programs and paying to put power lines underground.)
All of these obvious charges are tied to the customer’s usage, but only one, the Distribution charge, is tiered. At or below 350 kWh of usage per month, the customer pays just 1.5¢/kWh. Between 351 and 750 kWh of usage the Distribution charge increases dramatically all the way up to 11.65¢/kWh, nearly an eight-fold increase! Ok, the whole point of a tiered rate structure is to discourage higher use by making you pay more as your usage increases. But PWP’s rate then does something truly odd - above 750 kWh/month the rate comes down, dropping from 11.65¢/kWh to just 8.5¢/kWh! What sort of an incentive is that?
That rate design is certainly counter-intuitive, to say the least, but is it regressive? In other words, is there a point at which a large residential user ends up paying less per kWh than does someone who uses less? To find out, we modeled daily usage from 10 kWh/day all the way up to 60 kWh/day. As a reference, a typical Run on Sun client in PWP’s service area averages around 25 kWh/day. Since the Transmission and Energy charges are adjusted higher in the summer months, we broke out the overall rates seasonally as well.
Here are our results (click for larger):
The blue line is the winter rate and the orange is summer. If you use a tiny amount of energy you will pay between sixteen and seventeen cents per kWh, with rates rising sharply until you get to 25 kWh/day. Beyond that, the rate of growth flattens out markedly, but it never dips down. (That is true even if you carry the analysis all the way out to 200 kWh/day!)
Contrast this with the SCE Domestic rate - that is a truly aggressively progressive rate structure with energy charges of 14.5¢/kWh for those using within the smallest (baseline) tier of energy, going all the way up to 30.8¢/kWh for energy used in the fourth tier, which kicks in for monthly usage above approximately 900 kWh.
So no, PWP’s Residential rate is not regressive, but by flattening out the rate for usage above 25 kWh/day, it sends at best a mixed signal if the utility is trying to encourage its customers to reduce their usage.
How does this relate to solar? Well, if your usage is above 20 kWh/day you are spending at least 20¢/kWh whereas the cost of a solar power system will be less than half of that! So yes, in PWP territory - and particularly while they still have rebates in place - installing solar will still pay you big dividends.