We have used Unirac’s products exclusively since we started in this business some seven years ago. We have worked with Unirac to supply donations to the owner of a wind-damaged array and for the USC team at the Solar Decathlon. We trust their products and believe in the company.
But what we have heard recently leaves us pleading, “say it ain’t so.” In response, here’s our Open Letter to Unirac Management:
To: The Decision-Makers Regarding Solarmount Evolution
From: Jim Jenal, Founder & CEO, Run on Sun
Subject: Say It Ain’t So
Dear Folks -
You may not know me, but many in your company do. I am the owner of a solar installation company in Pasadena, California, and I frequently blog about issues in the solar industry. Today my issue is your apparent decision to discontinue the Solarmount Evolution product. Folks, with all due respect, this is a terrible decision. Please let me explain.
We have always used your products on our projects - whether conventional Solarmount, tilt legs, Clicksys, Fastfoot, or Solarmount Evolution - Unirac has been or brand of choice. We appreciated our shared values - maximizing the durability of the systems that we were installing for our clients.
But one thing about conventional Solarmount always bothered us - the design of the end clamps that you featured.
That design has just never felt right - for a couple of reasons. For one, there’s the angle - no matter what you do, that clamp is never truly perpendicular to the rail. Over time, as things expand and contract in the sun, that nut is almost certain to loosen a bit and that clamp just looks like it longs to go “somewhere else".
But then we encountered a serious failure and that got us worrying about a second issue.
That T-bolt is stainless steel but it is sitting in an extruded aluminum channel. I had seen an overly enthusiastic installer torque that bolt right through the channel - clearly not following procedures, but then there’s lots of folks out there who don’t follow recommended torque settings! But when I saw what could happen when bad installation practices encountered a generational windstorm, I really became concerned.
Here that T-bolt has chewed its way completely through the aluminum channel resulting in a catastrophic failure of the array. When we came upon that failure, we turned to you to help us make it right - which we did, together.
The solution involved your Solarmount Evolution product and, having installed it once, I vowed I would never install conventional Solarmount again. Why? Because you had truly created a product that was superior in every sense: vastly stronger, clearly more secure over time, and even easier to work with on the roof!
Look at the difference between the end clamp on the left versus the one above and ask yourself - which of these would you want securing a solar array to your roof for the next twenty-five years? Not even a close call, is it?
You had done what every quality manufacture strives to do - you had built the better mousetrap. We told everyone we spoke to about the benefits of your new product and we used it exclusively on all of our projects thereafter.
We heard some people complain that it cost more than conventional Solarmount. Frankly, we didn’t notice and we didn’t care. The product was so demonstrably superior that what difference did it make if it cost a few cents/Watt more? We certainly didn’t ever lose any business because we specified it - but I can say with total knowledge that we closed some deals simply because of it.
So now we hear that you are going to discontinue the product altogether.
We would implore you to rethink this decision.
Some products, like some television shows, take a while to catch on with the public. After all, NBC nearly failed to pickup Seinfeld, a program that many critics ultimately considered one of the best ever aired. Solarmount Evolution is that good - but it needs a longer run to gain traction in the industry.
Here’s a suggestion - you are rolling out a new product for use with commercial flat roofs that greatly reduces your costs in providing that solution to the industry. Take some of that money that you are going to save thanks to that new product and plow it back into major marketing for Solarmount Evolution. (Maybe hire Solar Fred to handle the campaign - who better to kick start a product in this field?)
Solarmount Evolution deserves another season - it would be tragic if you were to cancel a hit before it gets a chance to find its audience and shine.
Jim Jenal, Founder & CEO, Run on Sun
The competitions are over and the results are in - Team Austria has won this year’s Solar Decathlon. Here is our recap and review…
The competition was really close - check out the final standings (click on image for larger):
Out of a possible 1,000 points, the top 10 teams all earned over 90% - high marks indeed for such a rigorous competition. Poor Team West Virginia, they were plagued with problems throughout the competition and, along with Team Texas finished way off the mark.
The California teams had a mixed showing with best overall finish going to Team Stanford, followed by Team USC (Fight On!), right behind them was Team Santa Clara, and bringing up the rear was the combined team from Caltech and SCI-Arc with their ambitious, but unorthodox split-house design.
We toured the houses twice - the first time on the eve of the official opening and then again last Thursday - an official day for the event and the crowds were decent despite being in the middle of the work week.
Ok, first and foremost, we have to give props to Team Austria for being the overall winner this year - here is a picture of their entry:
We will admit that it looks pretty cool - but we really couldn’t get behind those outdoor drapes - really? Nice concept and all, but how long would those last in the real world? The judges, however, were not concerned.
Run on Sun favorite, Team USC, was not without their bragging rights, earning a perfect score for energy balance, placing first in Appliance efficiency and third in Architecture. But then when you have an Eames Elephant roaming your halls, you know that your architectural chops are well established.
The Appliance competition was as tight as a tick with the top five teams separated by less than one point! I’m sure the folks at Bosch - who supplied the appliances (and solar modules) to USC’s fluxHome entry - will be happy to point out the team’s success in this very competitive field.
Finally, winner of the “People’s Choice” Award was the Team from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte for their entry, Urban-Eden. We have to admit, this was our second fave of all the houses (never fear, fluxHome, nothing could displace you from your Number 1 ranking in our heart!). This was a really clever concept:
On the street-side of the house is a wall 16″ thick made from four inches of concrete (made sustainable by substituting fly ash for cement), six inches of insulation and then six more inches of concrete. That thick barrier was designed to insulate the house’s occupants from the noise of the city and allow them to turn their gaze to the south - the Eden side of their home.
The living wall is filled with plants and a drip irrigation system which also incorporated a reflecting pond - part of the rainwater capture system - which was actually put to the test when an unseasonable deluge moved through the village the day before. For us, this was one of the better thought-out concepts and the execution was really impressive.
Oh, and another clever feature of the house was the movable solar array. While not a tracking device, the solar system was mounted on rails that allowed it to be extended over the patio/deck area to provide shade in the summer (as it was during the competition) or retracted back over the house to allow more sunlight into the house during the winter.
Throughout the village, the creative students from all across the country and all over the world, demonstrated again and again that sustainable living need not imply some terrible hit to one’s standard of living. Clever designs, competent craftsmanship, and attention to detail was everywhere on display. This was a great event both for the public who toured these houses and for the students who designed, built, and all but lived in them. They are all winners - congrats to them all!
And now, bring on 2015!
The 2013 Solar Decathlon is well underway and one important competition is actually not only open to the public, it is determined by the public. Here’s how you can play a part!
We are talking about the Solar Decathlon’s People’s Choice Award - where the general public gets to cast a vote for their favorite entry. Now we have a dog in this hunt, and that is the awesome fluxHome from Team USC. Above you see the home, ready to welcome the public, at Orange County Great Park in Irvine. And here’s a look inside on an especially sunny day:
Check out the plea for support from USC Team member, Evyn Larson:
Thank you for your support of the USC Solar Decathlon Team thus far. We have one more request: Vote for #111, Team USC, in the People’s Choice award! All you need is an email address. Votes must be cast before 11:00 am on Friday, 10/11/13.
Please pass the link around to your family, friends, and colleagues. We need all the votes we can get - together, we can win this!
Always, Fight On!
Evyn Larson and the Team USC students
So there you have it - do your part to support our local team by clicking on the link above and vote for #111, Team USC!
We have previously reported on - and been critical of - the handling of defective solar tile systems installed in new “solar” homes built by Centex. Now we are happy to report that after much delay, Centex is stepping up to the plate and replacing defective solar tile systems with new, conventional solar arrays. Here’s our update.
Centex Solar Home in Pleasanton, CA
First some background - between 2006 and 2009, Centex built “solar” homes like the one at the right in Pleasanton, California. These homes featured solar roofing tiles that became the subject of a recall by the Consumer Products Safety Commission and were manufactured by Open Energy Corporation, which became Applied Solar, Inc., which became Applied Solar LLC - which then went bankrupt and ceased operations.
That left Centex to address these problems and as we previously noted, they were taking their time in doing so and were asking homeowners to sign an especially pernicious release of rights before agreeing to undertake repairs. Then this summer, Centex stopped making repairs altogether after a series of fires broke out in homes that had been “repaired". Clearly what was needed was for the old tiles to be completely removed, the roof restored and a new, conventional solar array installed.
Well now we are happy to report that Centex has agreed to do exactly that.
Based on an independent review of the OE-34 panels, Centex is not confident in their long-term viability and safety. Because of this, we are pleased to inform you that we will replace all existing OE-34 solar panels with new solar panels at no cost to homeowners. This includes all homeowners who have previously had their systems repaired.
In short, we believe resuming repairs is simply not sufficient to address the issues with the original solar panel system. When repairs were suspended and investigations underway, all homeowners were instructed to turn off their systems. We remind you to continue to keep your solar system turned off until the new system is installed.
Our goal is to replace all existing solar panel systems by February 2014. This replacement schedule is aggressive, but we have retained several companies to conduct the necessary work that entails: removal of current solar system panels, installation of new roof tiles in their place, and installation of a new raised-panel solar system. We estimate that it will take approximately two days per home for the removal and installation process.
This is very good news indeed and we applaud the decision by Centex to take this step. Finally these homeowners will have the “benefit of their bargain” and once again have the opportunity to live in a solar home.
The letter identified the solar modules to be used as coming from either Hanwha or ET Solar and had links for more information about each of those. Unfortunately, those links appear to be broken so we have uploaded the datasheets for the identified solar modules. Here they are:
We will continue to monitor this story and we encourage affected homeowners to provide us with info about their experiences with this repair and replacement program in the comments below.
Regular readers of this blog will know that we have been actively involved with Team USC and their fluxHome entry into the competition - and things are moving along great for them. But for the overall competition to be a success, lots of volunteers are needed and that’s where you come in.
So without further ado, here’s a word or two from the competition organizers at the U.S. Department of Energy:
The Orange County Great Park is very excited to announce volunteer opportunities with Solar Decathlon 2013 and XPO!
When: Event dates are Thursday-Sunday October 3-6 and 10-13, 2013. Volunteer opportunities range from September 22-October 17, 2013.
Where: Orange County Great Park, Irvine, CA
Experience the excitement of being an important part of the West Coast debut of the Solar Decathlon and the first-ever XPO clean, renewable and efficient energy exposition as a volunteer. Hundreds of volunteers are needed for roles that include greeters, docents, production assistants and more.
The volunteer experience promises to be unforgettable and rewarding. Volunteers will feel the passion and excitement of the 20 collegiate teams competing in Solar Decathlon 2013 and work side-by-side with event organizers as well as other volunteers from all over the United States and the world.
“I’ve been a part of several Solar Decathlon events as the volunteer coordinator and the experience is something people never forget,” said Mary-Lyn Chambers, Volunteer Manager for Solar Decathlon 2013 and XPO. “It’s why we have volunteers traveling from as far away as China and Columbia and returning to volunteer in their second or even third Solar Decathlon.”
To sign up now and for more information:
- To register an individual volunteer, please visit http://www.solardecathlon.gov/volunteers.html .
- For more information, please visit http://www.solardecathlon.gov/volunteers.html.
- Please print or share the attached digital flyer (Recruiting-Flyer).
Hope to see you there!