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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?

Tags: ,

03/28/14

  11:33:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1129 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Non-profit solar, Energy Storage, Net Metering

Net Metering Gets 20-Year Reprieve

CPUC LogoWhen Governor Brown signed AB327 last October, one thing was clear: net metering as we presently know it was going to go away, we just didn’t know how soon. Now, thanks to a ruling yesterday by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), we know: 20 years.  Here’s the scoop.

Background

Around the country, utilities have been pushing hard against net metering—the tariff under which solar customers receive credit for surplus energy production (say during the day when no one is home or on a weekend when a commercial facility is dormant) that offsets energy consumed from the grid (for example, at night).  The solar customer’s bill reflects the “netting out” of those two quantities (total energy exported versus total energy imported from the grid) and the customer only pays for the difference.  If the solar customer is a net energy producer (quite rare), the utility has to cut the customer a check for the surplus.  (Unless you are an LADWP customer, sorry.)  Last year’s bill sought to end the squabbling and provide certainty to solar customers.

CPUC’s Ruling

Under the law, the CPUC is required to devise a replacement for the current net metering arrangement, but yesterday’s ruling does not disclose what that will be.  Instead, the ruling establishes a sundown provision for customers who are either currently, or will become net metering customers under the current rules before July 1, 2017 (at which time the present net metering rules will be closed to new participants).

Solar system owners will be entitled to operate their systems under the net metering rules for a full 20 years from the year in which they interconnect their system.  That, decided the CPUC, will provide sufficient time for solar customers to recoup their investment.  However, solar customers can transition to the new rules, whatever those may turn out to be, sooner at the customer’s election.  The year of interconnection is determined by the date on the Permission to Operate letter received from the utility, and the twenty-year term ends on the last day of the twentieth year.

System Modifications

What happens to systems that are modified after July 1, 2017?  Does the new portion of the system get its own 20-year net metering extension or is it simply subsumed into the term for the original system?  The CPUC split this into two possible scenarios: repairs or modifications that did not increase system capacity by more than 10% of the original design will operate under the original 20-year term, neither resetting or ending it.  But system changes beyond the 10% limit will either have to be metered separately, or the entire system will have to be transitioned to the new tariff structure.

Change of Ownership or Location

The next question to be resolved was what happens if the system is sold or relocated?  After all, many solar customers purchase systems expecting it to increase the value of their home—but if the sale eliminates the net metering agreement, that added value could be lost.  The utilities, of course, disdained any such concerns, arguing that the net metering term should be tied to the original owner only.

Fortunately, the CPUC sided again with solar system owners. Thus, systems will remain under net metering for the full twenty-year term, regardless of changes in ownership, as long as the system remains at the original location.  However, if the system is physically moved to a new location, the CPUC deems that to be a new interconnection and the old net metering agreement would no longer apply.

Energy Storage Systems

The decision yesterday also took an important step in addressing the impact of adding energy storage systems to an existing solar system operating under the twenty-year net metering rule.  The CPUC ruled that “to the extent that energy storage systems are considered an addition or enhancement to a renewable electrical generation facility utilizing a NEM tariff, we find that they should be treated in the same way, and subject to the same transition period, as the underlying renewable generation system to which they are connected.”

IOU Reporting

The July 1, 2017 deadline is an absolute cutoff, but the actual end of new net metering agreements can actually be reached sooner if the utility in question has reached its “net metering cap.” The CPUC previously set the cap at 5% of the utility’s “non-coincident aggregate peak load.”  To allow perspective solar customers to know if their utility is going to hit that peak before the July 1, 2017 deadline, the CPUC ordered the three IOUs to report to the Commission (and on the utility’s website), on a monthly basis, their progress toward that cap.

Required Disclosures

Finally, the ruling addressed whether solar installers should be required to provide prospective clients with disclosures about the ruling, specifically as to the duration and limitations on existing net metering agreements.  According to the decision, IREC and SEIA opposed such a requirement on the grounds that it exceeds the authority of the CPUC.  As a legal matter, that may well be true, but SEIA’s position strikes a sour note.  Frankly, the solar industry is in serious need of mandated, standardized disclosures on everything from system components, warranties, energy yield, true costs, etc., to say nothing of issues surrounding the changes to net metering.  SEIA should be producing model documents for its member installer companies to use and drafting model legislation to mandate their use.

In any event, the CPUC punted the requirement issue for installers, saying:

Solar installers have a legal [citing Business & Professions Code § 17500] and ethical responsibility to disclose to their customers the terms that will apply to renewable distributed generation systems for the foreseeable future, including the applicable tariffs as well as the timing and terms for transition to a successor tariff. Such disclosures provide customers with the information that they need to make educated decisions about their future electric service. Because of this, we expect solar installers to provide honest and complete disclosures on the NEM transition, and we encourage customers to report to the appropriate authorities any misleading or fraudulent information that may be provided to them. At the same time, we require the large IOUs to post information on the NEM transition clearly on their Web sites along with other information about NEM terms, eligibility, and progress towards the statutorily mandated transition trigger level.

Of course B&P section 17500 is entirely generic and provides no guidance as to what disclosures solar companies should provide to their potential clients.  Clearly this is an area that requires legislation and California, as the most mature solar market in the country, should be leading the way here. 

As for Run on Sun, we will revise our Return on Investment materials to reflect a 20-year window instead of the 25-year model we have used previously.  Hopefully that will provide clients with a more accurate estimate of their true ROI.

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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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