09/09/16

  02:08:00 pm, by Laurel Hamilton   , 432 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar

Run on Sun PSA: Time to Wash Your Array!

Here in SoCal we are blessed with endless warm sunny days. The down side however is that it can be many months between invaluable air-purifying rain showers. For your solar array, this means there is nothing to wash away the accumulated dust and detritus from nearby trees. In summer months ash from nearby mountain fires adds to the mix. Consider this a Run on Sun PSA…

IT’S TIME TO RINSE OFF YOUR PANELS!! 

Dirty panels

These panels needed to be cleaned just to get the inverter to turn on!

(Didn’t help that the installer put the panels under a tree!)

When discussing solar with new clients often the topic of cleaning comes up. This is because some solar companies use the concept of cleaning your array as a way to convince you you need a leased system with ongoing maintenance. However, we believe this is a bit of a scam. You don’t need to pay someone to get up on your roof with a squeegie every week. Most home owners have the ability to douse dusty panels from the ground with a strong nozzle attached to a garden hose. Really the benefit is nominal unless it has been six months since the last rain, such as the case in Southern California. As for cleaning the panels, rinsing with a hose is fine (though some insist that is heresy and only deionized water should be used). Do it first thing in the morning so there is no thermal shock to the panels.

Check out this recent case study that brought this issue to our attention:

Clean Panels

Shiny new panels at Chandler School

Last week we heard from a client who did some great analysis using the Enphase monitoring on their system before and after he decided to clean his panels. He found there was an 8% improvement in the period after cleaning. Run on Sun’s CEO Jim Jenal compared this to the monitoring on another system (Westridge School) which wasn’t cleaned and had a similarly unshaded southern facing array. Over that time period Westridge School’s daily average production reduced 8.66%. This means that our client actually had an increase of production of 16.6% by cleaning his panels!

Generally, cleaning an array results in an improvement of between 5-10%, so his panels were exceptionally impaired by the fallout from our summer fires! Not surprisingly, given his location in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. However, for anyone in the Los Angeles metro area, early September is a great time to get out and restore the shiny clean sheen to your array. After all, who knows when the first winter rain will come? 

09/08/16

  11:49:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1348 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Ranting

Is Solar Unsustainable? Part One: Shoddy Work

Next week at Solar Power International, I will be a speaker on a panel looking into the future of the residential solar industry. My message to my fellow solar professionals will be this: as it is presently constituted, the Solar Industry is unsustainable, and unless we change and change soon, we will face a backlash from eroded client confidence.  The consequences of that backlash will do more harm to the industry than anything the Koch brothers, ALEC, or the Edison Institute can conjure, and we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

I am dividing this series into three parts - the first two deal with the problem we are creating (shoddy work and shady business practices) whereas the third outlines my prescription for change.  I don’t expect everyone in the industry to agree with my observations or recommendations, but at the very least we should agree that a conversation needs to begin, and to the extent that it has begun, it must be expanded.

Shoddy Work is All too Common

This first installment is concerned with the shoddy, fly-by-night work that is becoming way too prevalent out there.  A growing piece of our business involves addressing problems that exist in the installed base of solar system owners.  These are folks, many of whom paid top dollar (sometimes overpaid outrageously) and yet ended up with inferior work that is now failing, has already failed, or should never have been allowed in the first place.

A System Under a Tree?

PV system under a treeWe are big fans of microinverters, but some amounts of shade even a microinverter cannot cure. Tellingly, the geniuses that built this system didn’t bother to use microinverters!  We got a call to replace a dead string inverter at this older woman’s home.  Turns out she has two systems (and two string inverters) - one on her main house, and this one on her guest house.  Just one small problem, the array is entirely underneath a tree!

Pretty much every day, all year round, that array is shaded.  In fact, that is not just dirt on those panels, that is accumulated sap from the tree that has created a layer of crud that no hose will ever be able to remove.  Indeed, when we replaced the inverter, it could not turn on because the combined grit and shading - even in the middle of a summer day - was so extreme that there was not enough power for the inverter to switch on.

Who in good conscience would sell such a system?  The homeowner did not realize how big a factor that tree would be, but certainly the installer knew (or should have known).  This is the result of someone willing to make a few bucks off an unwitting  senior citizen even though the installer knew that the system would never provide the promised benefit to the homeowner.

A System Waiting for Take-off

Take-offs are great, when you are in an airplane with a proper pilot at the controls.  Not so great when the take-off in question is the entire array ready to launch itself from the hapless homeowner’s roof.  Check this out:

Tilt-up L-foot in space Ad-hoc engineering

This is a tilt-up system, mounted on a north sloping roof face, tilted toward the south.  Ok, that has a host of potential issues given that our strongest, most dangerous winds all come from out of the north, so if you are going to do something like this, you want to make sure that it is properly engineered and properly installed.  It is abundantly clear that this system was neither.

Take a look at how that L-foot is attached to the roof.  These are flat concrete tiles, and the installer appears to have removed the tile and attached a hanger bolt (hopefully into a rafter), then drilled a hole through the tile and re-inserted it over the bolt.  (The little daub of sealant is a nice touch - given that there is no flashing of any sort to be found.)  The L-foot is floating on the end of that bolt and the bolts are deforming under the load.

I feel bad for the manufacturers of racking gear who see their products misused in such an extreme fashion.  (In fact, the manufacturer of this racking expressly disclaims using its product for this type of reverse tilt application! The last picture shows that the installer - perhaps nervous as to the strength of his creation - added some ad hoc pieces of black rail to cross brace the structure, attaching them to the tilt-up legs and railing with Tek screws, as opposed to the through-bolts, washers and nuts that the manufacturer provides for tilt-up racking.

That system has been in place for a few years and when the homeowner tried to contact their installer about a problem, the installer never returned their calls.  The roof is already leaking (no surprise there) and it is anyone’s guess as to how long it will be until that system takes off for a destination unknown.  The homeowners had no idea what the system actually looked like (this is on top of a two-story house and they had never been on the roof) until I showed them these pictures.  They paid top-dollar for this installation but all they’ve received in return is a leaking roof and an accident waiting to happen.

Conduits in Space

Conduits in spaceIt is pretty basic that conduit runs need to be supported, and where running between buildings, those conduits should be underground.  But apparently sometimes that’s just too much of a bother.

This is another instance of senior abuse - the homeowner was an elderly man who had already installed one solar system on his property, but it wasn’t meeting his needs so he hired a second company to expand his system.  After he died, we were called in to assess the state of the system for the estate.  The entire system was a disaster, but this one photo pretty well sums it up - the people doing this work simply did not give a damn. 

That didn’t stop them from extracting top dollar - the elderly gentlemen paid $50,000+ for a 5 kW system addition, three years ago!  (It turns out that the contractor responsible for this abomination has multiple complaints against him with the AG’s office and has had his license revoked.)

Here is the real kicker with this project - they pulled a permit and had plans approved by LA County (I saw them).  Those plans called for the conduit run that is presently flying between the two buildings to be buried in a trench a minimum of 18″ below grade - which is code.  But that was never done and somehow this still got approved!

Where are the Inspectors?

Which brings me to the other real scandal here - on top of those doing this shoddy work - everyone of these installations should have been inspected, and presumably they were.  But none of them should have passed, so how did they?

Our experience with inspectors varies greatly.  Many are extremely diligent, looking closely at every component, and  wanting us to open every box and remove each dead front (they are always astonished by the sheer beauty of Velvet’s work so we are always happy to oblige).  But there are others who don’t even go on the roof, thereby doing a terrible disservice to the homeowners who are counting on the inspector’s expertise to protect them from these sorts of nightmares.

California is not Unique, nor even Uniquely Bad

Lest you think that this is just a California problem, believe me it is not.  We previously posted a photo from a New Jersey based company that has a webpage devoted to New Jersey’s ugliest solar installations, and some of them are truly appalling.  Nor is the scourge of shoddy work even a uniquely U.S. problem, as the Facebook group, Crap Solar, highlights some of the worst solar installations Australia and New Zealand have to offer.

But as the US solar leader, it is up to California solar companies to lead the way.  We need to do better.

In Part Two we will look into solar business practices that are making the industry unsustainable.

09/02/16

  11:04:00 am, by Laurel Hamilton   , 631 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar News, Pasadena Solar, PWP, Energy Efficiency, Residential Solar

Variable Speed Pool Pumps = Huge Savings

Going solar isn’t the only thing you can do to reduce your electric bills and your environmental footprint. In fact, the first thing you should consider is how you could make your home more efficient BEFORE investing in solar. Investing in a solar system that is bigger than you really need is just a bad investment strategy since efficiency upgrades are often much more affordable than the solar system required to offset the ineficient loads. 

Pool with SolarOne option is to hire a professional to give you a thorough energy audit which will help to pinpoint where your electrical hogs are and what you can do to improve efficiencies. Alternatively, there are a lot of relatively simple steps you can take if you know what to look for. Changing out your old light bulbs to LEDs is an obvious and easy fix for example. But one of the biggest and often under the radar culprits that I’m here to tell you all about are pool pumps.

Pool pumps can have such a big effect on your electric bill that we always discuss it when doing a solar site evaluation at any home fortunate enough to have a pool. Of course we don’t recommend eliminating your pump altogether as they are necessary to keep your water filtered and clean. So what is the solution? There are all sorts of newer “efficient” pool pumps out there and likely your pool guy/girl will happily install if you say you’d like an upgrade. However, what you really need if you want to make a dent in your electrical load is something called a “variable speed” pool pump.

A variable speed pool pump is exactly what it sounds like… Rather than pumping water with a consistently high speed you really only need max power at the outset to get the water moving. Once its moving the variable speed pump then downgrades the output power to keep the water moving since less energy is required to keep something moving than to get something going from a standstill. This reduced speed equals reduced energy loads! 

We have heard clients who installed variable speed pumps have seen reductions on their bill on the order of over $500 per year!

The downside for these pumps is often the price is much higher than regular pumps. But I come bearing good news! Many utilities offer rebates and incentives for Energy Star qualified pool pumps. In our home turf of Pasadena, California we are fortunate to have a very proactive utility, Pasadena Water and Power, striving to help residents lower their footprint. They normally offer a rebate of $400-$450 off the sticker price for a variable speed pump. However, I was just notified that PWP is running a promotion on all of their energy efficient appliance rebates through October 31st, 2016: 

“PWP is offering a $900 (bought outside Pasadena) to $950 (bought locally) rebate to all PWP residential electric customers who replace their old pool pump with a new energy efficient variable speed or variable flow pool pump and motor. Replacing older inefficient pool pumps with new efficient models will not only help you reduce energy use but save you money. With the summer heat and the possibility of rolling blackouts, PWP wants to make sure you do your part to conserve energy." 

We couldn’t agree more! Check PWP’s rebates listing for a list of other rebates to take advantage of. The listed prices on the website include the current promotion. 

If you’re not in PWP’s service area, never fear! You can check if your utility has rebates on the Energy Star website

After you’ve addressed all the drafty windows, switched out your lightbulbs and upgraded all your appliances, then it is time to give Run on Sun a call (626-793-6025) and we’ll help you offset the rest of your energy needs!  

09/01/16

  07:59:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 231 words  
Categories: Solar Events, Residential Solar, Ranting

It's our Birthday - but You get the presents!

It's Run on Sun's birthday!Ten years ago this month we founded Run on Sun—which, to paraphrase Vice President Biden, “was a pretty big [freaking] deal."  Think about it: when we started in 2006, the California Solar Initiative didn’t exist, the federal tax credit was capped at $2,000,  and looming in the near future was the Great Recession. 

Despite that inauspicious start, we have gone on to install solar at major schools like Westridge and Chandler, ditto at countless homes around SoCal, and we have been honored to make Solar Power World’s list of the Top Solar Contractors four years in a row! It has been quite a ride and we are ready to celebrate!

We are planning a party to share our achievement with our wonderful clients in the coming weeks (watch your email for an invite soon!), but today we want to invite our neighbors to join us in greening their energy.  For all new clients who sign contracts with us during the month of September we will be offering a Birthday discount of $500 off the proposal price!  This applies both to folks who already have proposals in their hands as well as those who get a proposal during the month.

But September is a short and busy month so you need to act now! 

Click on this link to request a free solar site evaluation, or just give us a call at 626-793-6025 or 310-584-7755.

Let’s party!

08/25/16

  05:48:00 pm, by Laurel Hamilton   , 657 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Ranting

Velvet Dallesandro - Electrician and Solar Jedi Master

I love conducting solar site assessments and having that first conversation with a potential client. Often we spend far more time discussing all the ins and outs of going solar with the property owner than is necessary for the solar assessment measurements. One of the questions we always spend some time on is: “How exactly is Run on Sun different than other solar companies?” Here in sunny Southern California this is an important question as there are so many people offering PV solar services. Of course I describe how the products we use are selected for their high quality, warranties, and trust in the manufacturers. I also explain how as a small company with a mission focus, we take a very honest and ethical approach to helping people green their energy. But one of the major ways we stand above all the rest is also a feature that is hard to convey in that first conversation. Hence, the theme of this blog post…

My best answer to the above question, “We have Velvet Dallesandro as our Chief Electrician.”

The work that Velvet does connecting the power of the sun to your electric meter is akin to an art form. But alas, the art of a solar electrician is often hidden behind dead plates and easy to overlook if you’re not paying attention. So here are a few examples of Velvet’s work. She may not be in a Los Angeles art gallery but her work is providing people with beautiful, safe, and emission-free energy across the county! 

 

Service panel

Disconnect

If you’ve ever looked behind the dead plate on your electric bus (where all your breakers are) you likely were frightened by what you saw. A mess of cables, cobwebs, and sometimes outright dangerous circumstances - like the time I saw one missing its main breaker entirely. However, if Velvet is re-wiring your service panel it may look more like something you could put on your wall with rainbows of color coded wires and perfect 90 degree bends. (Service panel shown at left by Velvet, solar AC disconnect work at right by Ralph Carillo.)

Chandler Conduit 

Wiring is far from Velvet’s only art form. How do installers bring solar power from the roof to the electrical service? While the most visually appealing is to hide the magic completely by going thru an attic space and inside walls but sometimes that just isn’t possible. 

conduit

Velvet doesn’t just throw flex conduit around willy nilly to get the job done quick like some installers. It takes a lot of creativity to make the wiring run as attractive as possible. First and foremost, she always uses galvanized conduit for outside wiring as opposed to flex - it lasts for the long run and it is much more difficult to punch a fire axe through than flex, making it much safer. Second, Velvet avoids piecing together conduit as much as possible. Her goal is to make whatever crazy runs are necessary as seamless as possible - think avoiding possible leaky weak spots at seams. This means she has become a jedi master at bending conduit. Eight bends in one stick of conduit paralleling windows, gutters, or that pretty bush you don’t want to disturb? Not out of the question when Velvet is on the job (or her prodigy apprentice Ralph for that matter). 

 

Beyond the art she’s also an all around rock star. Check out this classic; pulling wire for a 45kW job at Chandler School…(That’s her on the right pulling wire through at least 30 feet of conduit on a 100+ degree summer day.)

Pulling her weight

She more than pulls her weight! So if you’re looking into going solar take note, there is an art that goes into the details. And the details really do count! Velvet’s wiring is the safest you will find and truly built to last. A rarity in an industry where most companies are trying to race through projects at lightning speed. Bottom line…we are so thankful to have Velvet on our team!

Velvet

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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.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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