The new year is nearly a month old so we thought it was time to highlight a few of the changes that we have made around here (with apologies to the late, great, and deeply missed, David Bowie)…
Run on Sun website as seen on an iPhone 4
Ok, this was way more of a struggle than we thought it would be! Two years ago, when we rolled out the vastly revised website, no one was really talking about the need to design website with smartphones in mind. In 2013, 15% of our traffic came from mobile (i.e., smartphones) but by 2015 that percentage had nearly doubled to 28%, and the trend line was moving toward more and more potential engagement via mobile devices.
On top of that, Google announced last year that it would take into consideration whether your web page was “mobile friendly” in how it ranked your page in users’ search results! Ouch!!
So that meant that our terribly expensive web designer and code guru, aka me, would need to embark on an effort to make our website work on little tiny screens without having to pinch the screen to see what was going on. Now that sounds easy enough, but suffice it to say that in reality, not so much. The good news is that now our site should work well on all of your devices - from the largest desktop to an iPhone 4. (Here’s an amazing fact - according to Google Analytics, 127 different types of mobile devices have accessed our website already this year! So perhaps the result was worth the pain.)
We hope the changes will make the site (including this blog) more useful to all of our visitors. Please let us know what you think!
You may have also noticed that our website is now sporting an additional telephone number! We have been looking to expand our presence on the Westside of LA County (even extending into Ventura County for appropriately sized projects) and this year we are rolling out a 310 area code phone number to help make that a bit more concrete. In the coming months we will have more to say about our Westside presence, but for now, give us a call at 310-584-7755 and say hi!
Last, and yeah, pretty much least, we have finally broken down and created a Solar FAQ page on the website. I know, FAQ pages are sort of web design 1.0, and I don’t really know why I was so resistive to doing this for so long, but someone, who shall remain nameless (but her initials are Laurel Hamilton) insisted that we needed to do this and so, it is now a reality. (Well, at this present moment it is still very much a work in progress, but when it is completely finished it will be amazing!)
Actually, I’m hoping that this page especially is never complete, since there are always new things to learn in solar. Check out the new Solar FAQ page here, and feel free to let us know what questions you would like us to answer!
I like to think there are many ways in which Run on Sun stands out in the ever growing sea of solar contractors. But there is one particular feature which every client seems to comment on - our non-sales approach. I can’t count the number of times I have sat down at a kitchen table to discuss how solar works and whether it makes sense for that home, to hear remarks on how different the experience is compared to other solar pitches they’ve heard. The thing is, when someone from Run on Sun comes to your home to do a solar assessment, that person is not a sales person. We don’t have outside sales agents and we definitely don’t employ any “hard sell” tactics. As a small company, every employee is a solar professional who has taken the time to educate themselves on the intricacies of the industry. And perhaps more importantly, every Run on Sun employee truly takes pride in helping people go solar, for the right reasons.
Explaining more than selling
Some people might argue over what exactly are “the right reasons". The bottom line is this: we believe solar is an amazing solution to many problems the world faces today. From reducing the carbon emissions and water use over traditional power sources, and increasing the number of jobs with a living wage that cannot be outsourced, to providing property owners with huge savings over time — going solar is a great thing to do. But we can only accomplish growing this great solution if we do it ethically. The solar industry will only suffer by putting solar on spaces that aren’t good candidates and cause financial strain or debt for clients that would have been better off without solar.
In fact, our goal when we walk into a solar assessment is not to get a contract signed. Rather, the goal is to assess the solar potential accurately and make sure the client feels they have any and all questions answered about the process of going solar. And for clients who turn out to be great solar candidates, obviously we aim to help them save money, achieve some energy independence, increase the value of their property, and enjoy the peace of mind that using green energy provides!
During an assessment we work with clients to determine what the best solar system would be to meet their real energy needs as well as what would be their best possible investment. Then we take the time to explain exactly how we made the determinations that we did. Sometimes, as some of our Yelp! Reviewers have shared, that assessment leads to the unfortunate conclusion that solar is a poor investment for the client and we make sure to explain why. Perhaps external factors make the upfront cost too high such as re-roofing or electrical panel upgrades, or maybe the shade of that lovely oak tree would make any solar output too limited. Maybe your usage needs are just too low to justify all of the fixed costs to install. In these cases, the sad reality is that there are solar companies who would gladly install a system anyways and lock you into a contract which could cost you incredible amounts of money with little to no return.
As consumers ourselves, we’d rather make our own educated decisions especially regarding large purchases and investments. Being pressured into something is seriously a turn off. If you are influenced more by hard sales tactics, we likely won’t be the ones putting solar on your roof as there are plenty of other companies who have motivated salesmen knocking on your door. But at least we can go home feeling good about the work we do every day.
So if you’re interested in going solar but the thought of dealing with salesmen is revolting, never fear! Run on Sun would be happy to walk you through the process today.
Run on Sun’s solar module maker of choice, LG Electronics, has announced that it will invest the equivalent of $435 million to triple its production of N-type solar modules, sold under the brand name NeON.
According to press reports (h/t PV-Tech), LG has entered into a memorandum of understanding with the South Korean city of Gumi to expand LG’s existing module production facility there (pictured at right).
LG’s roadmap would see it increase production from today’s ~1Gw to 1.8 GW by 2018 and a full 3 GW by 2020. If it can reach those targets, LG would become the largest producer of N-type solar modules in the world, overtaking present leader, SunPower.
Lee Sang-bong, President of LG’s energy business center was quoted as saying the expansion would place LG’s solar business in a “much stronger position” and allow it to be a “dynamic engine for growth” for LG.
“LG has been actively involved in the solar energy business for two decades and we believe that mainstream consumers are more than ready to give solar more serious consideration.”
This is great news for LG’s end customers - like the clients of Run on Sun. N-type panels, like the LG315 panels currently being installed by Run on Sun, have an enhanced performance warranty, produce more of their rated power when hot, and suffer significantly less Light-Induced Degradation over conventional solar modules. The significant increase in production offers the hope of lower prices for these premium modules over time, making top-of-the-line solar affordable for “mainstream consumers.”
But you don’t have to wait to get your hands on these best-in-class modules - we are installing them today! Just give us a call and let’s show you how with LG solar modules, Life is Good!
The new year is well underway (Happy New Year!), and so it is timely to revisit the question of financial incentives to Go Solar in the Run on Sun service area. (You can read more detail about all of these incentives on our Solar Financing page.)
Beyond a doubt, the most significant incentive for going solar is the 30% federal tax credit. Previously set to expire at the end of this year, the federal solar tax credit was extended late last year, continuing at the present 30% through 2019.
The credit applies to solar installations in every utility’s territory, so no matter where you live in the U.S., this credit applies to you. (NB: this is a tax credit, not an income deduction, so you need the tax “appetite” to take full advantage of this incentive - check with your tax advisor.) For residential clients, the basis for the credit is the full cost of your solar project, less any rebate that you might receive from the utility. Commercial clients, who must declare any rebate as income, do not need to deduct their rebate from the system cost when calculating the basis.
Once common everywhere, utility rebates are going the way of the dodo—with one or two notable exceptions. We have rank ordered the local utilities below, based on the reliability of their rebate program.
The big winner, again and by far, is the solar rebate program operated by our own Pasadena Water and Power. Year in and year out, PWP offers rebates to its customers in a transparent and consistent manner - something that cannot be said of any of its neighboring utilities.
As of this writing, PWP is offering a rebate of $0.45/Watt for both residential and commercial customers, and a rebate of $0.90/Watt to non-profit customers (who cannot take advantage of the federal tax credit). Alternatively, PWP also offers a performance-based incentive that is paid out over two years based on the actual production of the system. Residential and commercial customers are paid 14.4¢/kWh, whereas non-profit customers are paid 28.8¢/kWh.
LADWP offers a rebate, if you have the stamina to receive it. Vexed with the most bureaucratic process to be found this side of Orwell’s 1984 dystopia, applying for and receiving a rebate from DWP often feels like a reward for a life well spent.
That said, LADWP is currently offering rebates of $0.30/Watt to residential customers, $0.40/Watt to commercial, and $1.15/Watt to non-profits. Just don’t hold your breath.
These two municipal utilities often feel like one and the same given their similar approach to rebates - which is to say, now you see ‘em, no you don’t.
Unlike their neighbor to the east, neither BWP nor GWP is able to maintain a rebate program throughout the year. Instead, both open their rebate windows on or about July 1st (i.e., the start of their fiscal year) and then hand out money until it is gone, at which time the window slams shut until the following July 1.
Burbank’s program operates under a lottery, which last year opened on July 1 and was exhausted by August 15. In addition, BWP imposes restrictions on the azimuth and pitch of rebated systems, despite their being no technical justification for doing so.
Glendale’s program is even less transparent, and the installation/rebate process is outlined in a 23-step ode to inefficiency.
We will revisit both of these program in mid-June to provide what guidance we can to the residents of these two cities.
The “Solar Partnership Program” in Azusa is fully subscribed. There is a wait list that solar-hopeful customers can get on in the hope that at some point there will be rebate funds available - with no guarantees that there ever will be.
The Anaheim Solar Incentive Program was fully subscribed as of October 1, 2015 and is now closed, with no published plans to revise the program in the future.
SCE’s rebates, which were part of the larger, California Solar Initiative, have expired and no new funds are anticipated. Of course, SCE customers still have the highest electricity rates around, which provides its own—albeit perverse—incentive to Go Solar!
We’ve noticed some considerable hubub about the new solar mapping tool Google has been rolling out to cities across the country called Project Sunroof. Property owners can happily plug in their address, see a glowing image of their home showing the solar potential of their roof, the cost savings over time with a solar array, and a short list of installers ready to start you on a path to solar savings today!
What much of the media have failed to report however, is that solar maps are not a new technology and Google is not in it for some warm fuzzy benefits-to-the-world reasons. Google, in partnership with solar installation giants, are succeeding in cornering growing solar interest with property owners who don’t know where to find accurate information. Obviously as a household name anything Google does gets much more marketing attention than anything any municipal program can get. But I’m here to tell you solar mapping tools have been around since 2008, starting in San Fransisco, and are now active in over 18 cities across the country. The following are some of the free (and objective) mapping tools available:
In addition, a solar mapping tool developed by MIT called MapDwell covers Boston, Boulder, Cambridge, New York, San Francisco, Portland, Washington DC, and Wellfleet, Massachusetts. To that point, it would have been nice if Google had invested in one of the numerous start ups already working in the solar mapping world.
The purpose of a solar map is to promote greater public awareness about solar energy, enable consumers to discover the solar potential of their properties, facilitate increased solar usage in communities, and track community renewable energy goals. They are generally user-friendly and interactive, generate immediate results, and can provide all sorts of valuable resources. They use topographical data combined with historical meteorological data to magically estimate the solar potential of any particular address in the map’s database by taking into account the impacts of shading obstructions, roof tilt, and the amount of roof area that can be used for solar. Some mapping tools also include a myriad of locally relevant resources such as incentive calculators, records on existing solar installations in the area, and links to local installers. This provides a great initial assessment for a property owner to start understanding whether solar is a good investment for them. (However, be aware that many assumptions go into solar mapping and 100% accuracy cannot be guaranteed.)
Google states that their “intent is to streamline the screening process for rooftop solar and reduce the costs to installers of evaluations for sites without potential.” But so far they have only partnered with solar giants Vivint Solar, Verengo Solar, Sungevitiy, etc. These are all national solar companies who often push lease contracts. (Here at Run on Sun we often refer to them as financial institutions as opposed to solar companies for this reason.) When you plug in your address into Project Sunroof and get a list of “solar providers in your area” its limited to these companies partnering with Google.
So I did an experiment. I hadn’t heard whether Google had rolled out in LA yet so I input a local address in their tool for Pasadena, CA. Low and behold a beautiful image appeared and my report steered me to the installation companies I just mentioned as well as a third party lead generation site. So I emailed them to see if Run on Sun could join the ranks and be included in this list of local installers. This is the automated response that came back:
Thank you for your interest in Project Sunroof. We are running a pilot in the San Francisco Bay Area, Fresno (in central California), the Boston area, Sacramento and Long Island for now. We’re not currently adding new partners, but we may contact you once we have plans to expand partnerships in your area.
So it appears that Google’s site is in fact working in our area and our clients are being referred to these financial solar behemoths rather than any of the local companies with local expertise and honest business practices. Perhaps they will get around to expanding their site in our area and open up to other installers… but something tells me not to hold my breath. In the meantime we will continue to direct property owners interested in solar to check LA County’s Solar Map for their initial solar prospecting.
Let me just add briefly that Google’s tool is going to be more polished than many of the other municipality-managed tools. That is a given. Google’s growing involvement in the solar world will also have many benefits; mostly in growing general awareness about solar energy. From our perspective as a small installer we would just hope that a large entity like Google, who supposedly claim objectivity in the services they provide the connected world, would avoid solely promoting partners with deep pockets and masking it as providing local listings to consumers.
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