02/10/16

  03:18:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 339 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power

Solar Census: 10% of Solar Workforce is in LA Metro Area!

As solar installers here is sunny SoCal (it is 84° headed to a high of 88° as I write this in mid-February), we have the sense that there is a great deal of competition in the Run on Sun service area for solar clients.  Well the freshly minted Solar Census 2015 now provides the hard numbers to back up that contention - more than 10% of the entire national solar workforce is located here in the Los Angeles Metro area! 
More fun facts follow…

Solar jobs across the USAccording to the folks at The Solar Foundation, as of 2015 there were 208,859 solar jobs nationwide, including 119,000 installation jobs - 57% of the total.  But here’s the shocker, 21,263 of those nearly 209,000 workers are right here in LA!  No wonder you can’t sneeze without bumping into someone in the biz! 

To help put that in perspective, LA’s municipal utility - LADWP, the largest muni in the country - only employs 8,600 people.  And while everybody has heard the names of the biggest solar companies out there, more than half of all the solar installation companies actually have 10 or fewer employees.  So if you are looking to Go Solar with a local company, the solar industry has you covered.

More broadly, that national total exceeds the number of direct jobs in both the nuclear and coal industries.  (In the electric energy sector, only natural gas has more direct jobs than does solar.)  And those jobs are growing by leaps  and bounds - with growth in solar jobs expected to increase by nearly 15%!  (No wonder the federal solar tax credit was extended - that’s a lot of jobs at stake.) 

Overall, there are 9,900 solar companies in the US that have installed solar on over 5 million homes.  Nationwide, the cost of energy from those home solar systems is just 10.5¢/kWh (comparable to what we see) which compares quite favorably with utility prices that start around 15¢ and go as high as 40¢!

We are proud to be a part of this growing movement - give us a call and let’s see if we can’t help you join the ranks of your five million solar neighbors!

02/01/16

  03:12:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1953 words  
Categories: Utilities, SCE, Ranting, Net Metering

Net Metering 2.0 Explained

On January 28 the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted 3-2 to adopt new rules governing what is known as Net Energy Metering, thereby creating the framework for Net Energy Metering 2.0 (NEM 2.0).  Here is our take on what the CPUC did, and didn’t do.

What Hasn’t Changed

The first and most important thing to know is that for many people, the new rules adopted by the CPUC will not affect you at all!  These new rules only directly apply to customers of the three investor owned utilities (IOUs): SCE, PG&E, and SDG&E.  If your electrical service is provided by one of the municipal utilities - like PWP or LADWP - nothing that the CPUC did last month will directly affect you since the CPUC does not have jurisdiction over the munis.  (That said, the munis often follow the lead of the CPUC, so it is entirely possible that they will individually adopt their own version of NEM 2.0, but that will be a discussion for another day.)

Even for solar clients in the service territory of one of the IOUs, if you have already signed a net metering agreement, you will be grandfathered in and allowed to continue to operate under the old rules for 20 years.  Once the 20 years have elapsed, you will be transitioned to the net metering rules (NEM 5.0?) then in effect.

Beyond all of that, even for new solar clients in IOU territory, these new rules do not go into effect right away.  Rather, the old rules will still apply until your utility reaches their 5% of customer aggregate demand cap, or July 1, 2017 - whichever comes first.  In SCE territory it is an open bet as to which will occur first (see more below).

Bottom line: this is not happening right away, so you still have time to benefit from the existing rules.

What is Going to Change

Net metering is changing

Net metering is changing!

Proposals

Lots of people weighed in on NEM 2.0 including all three IOUs, CALSEIA, NRDC, and various advocates for rate reform and consumer protection.  While some of the proposals, and their proponents, were entirely predictable, others were not, and at least one such position was seriously disappointing.

For example, the three IOUs all advanced proposals that would have significantly reduced the value of going solar.  SCE wanted to reduce the rate for energy exported from full retail to just 7¢/kWh (with a 1¢ adder if you give SCE your renewable energy credits), plus a $3/kW/month “grid access charge", and a one-time $75 interconnection charge.  (SDG&E’s proposal was even worse, seeking a $9/kW/month charge!) On top of that SCE wanted to eliminate virtual net metering altogether.

At the other extreme, the “solar parties” (such as CALSEIA and The Solar Alliance) advocated for keeping net metering at full retail value.  However, in a nod to changing realities, they did support paying on nonbypassable charges (more on that mouthful in a minute) but not until after 2019.

Still, there was one proposal that strikes us as entirely reasonable which CALSEIA opposed - mandatory warranty periods.  Back when the California Solar Initiative was in place (i.e., when SCE was paying rebates), solar contractors were required to provide a ten-year warranty on their work in order to participate in the program.  With the demise of the CSI program, technically that warranty requirement also went away.  As part of the NEM 2.0 rulemaking, ratepayer advocates advanced the notion of restoring the warranty requirement - a common sense request that no one should oppose.

But the “solar parties” did oppose it, asserting that such a requirement could “discourage innovation in product offerings."  Seriously?  What “product” might we reasonably want to offer that having to stand behind it would be discouraging? When pressed about this position during CALSEIA’s NEM 2.0 webinar, Brad Heavner, CALSEIA’s policy director, said that the view was that the market could decide this: presumably if a company didn’t offer a warranty and that was important to the customer, they would go with a different company.  This was not, however, a position that CALSEIA pushed hard to win, and in the end, they lost on this point.

In our view, opposing a mandatory warranty paints solar in a bad light.  It puts the industry on the side of those who do the least reliable work, and penalizes those companies who go the extra mile to install systems that will stand the test of time.  From what we have seen it is tough enough to get a company to honor its warranty commitments, let alone relying on the “invisible hand” of the market to protect consumers.  CALSEIA did a lot of great work on NEM 2.0, but this position was a mistake.

Decision

The ultimate decision is a major defeat for the IOUs, and a partial victory for the solar industry.  For the IOUs, they clearly overplayed their hand, advancing proposals that were so clearly anti-solar that the Commissioners couldn’t really take them seriously.  According to a CALSEIA webinar, toward the end of the proceedings the IOUs suggested an energy export feed-in-tariff which, if they had proposed it at the start, might have gained traction.  Something to think about as we look toward subsequent iterations on NEM rules.

The solar industry retained full retail value for energy exports, but they also saw three changes that undercut somewhat the value of that victory: nonbypassable charges (NBC) for all energy taken from the grid, one-time interconnection fees, and mandatory time-of-use (TOU) rates.  Let’s look at each in turn.

Nonbypassable Charges (NBCs)

As part of their rate schedules, the IOUs have certain rate components that are known as nonbypassable charges or NBCs.  For example, if you were to look at SCE’s Domestic Rate schedule tariff page (check out page 3), you would see a whole host of factors that go into making up the rate that the customer ultimately pays.  The decision affects three of those NBCs: the Nuclear Decommissioning Charge, the Public Purpose Programs Charge, and the Department of Water Resources Bond Charge.  The sum of those three charges for an SCE residential rate payer  comes to 2.224¢/kWh.  (The lion’s share of which is the charge for public purpose programs, such as bill assistance to people on limited incomes.)

Under the old rules, solar customers would only pay for these charges on the net energy that they consumed in a month.  So, if your consumption was 1000 kWh per month, and your solar system produced 800 kWh, you would only pay these charges on 200 kWh, about $4.45.  Under the new rules, however, every kWh that you pull from the grid, whether it is ultimately netted out by energy you exported, is subject to NBCs.  Sticking with the same example, of the 800 kWh that you produce, imagine that 500 kWh of that are consumed at your home and the remaining 300 kWh are exported.  Meaning that you imported a total of 500 kWh from the grid.  As a result, under NEM 2.0 you will pay NBC on 500 kWh — raising the charge from $4.45 to $11.12, and increase of $6.67/month on the solar customer’s bill.

The relatively small impact of the NBCs is due in part to solar industry lobbying that held the line at around 2¢/kWh versus a proposal, apparently favored by the two dissenting Commissioners, to include more charges that would have brought the total above 4¢/kWh.  (Indeed, we are told that keeping the NBCs at 2¢/kWh is what caused those two Commissioners to vote against the final package.)

Frankly, we think the NBC costs are fair.  The programs supported by the NBCs are a public benefit and all other customers pay for those based on every kWh they pull from the grid.  Under the new rules, so will solar customers.  Of course, if you are in a lease and only saving $20/month from your old bill, this is a much bigger hit.  Yet another reason to avoid leasing!

One-Time Interconnection Fees

Also reasonable was the imposition of one-time interconnection fees to be set based on the IOUs actual cost of handling the interconnection.  The CPUC estimates that the fee will be somewhere between $75-150.  (Recall that SCE advanced a $75 fee as part of its proposal, so it will be fascinating to see if they try to come back for a higher fee now!)

Mandatory TOU Rates

The biggest hit to solar mandated by the NEM 2.0 rules was the requirement that solar customers get switched over to TOU rates.  (SCE is moving all customers to TOU rates eventually, but that target date is 2019.)  Under TOU rates, you pay more for your energy depending upon the time of day when you use it, as opposed to being on a tiered rate schedule where you pay more when you use more during a billing cycle.  For residential customers, SCE sets its peak charge time as the hours between 2 and 8 p.m., and Noon to 6 p.m. for commercial customers.  This means that, for residential customers, solar exported to the grid before 2 p.m. will be valued less than energy that needs to be pulled from the grid after the sun goes down, but before 8 p.m.

It is this change to the rate structure, and to a lesser extent the imposition of the full NBCs, that makes intelligent energy storage that much more valuable.  With smart storage, you won’t export energy during the day, you will store it for later use.  That reduces the total amount of energy pulled from the grid (lowering the NBCs) and allows you to shift the availability of the energy to the evening so as to avoid peak TOU rates altogether.  There can be no doubt that this is the future for how solar installations under NEM 2.0 (and likely beyond) will be the most cost-effective.  We are optimistic that by the time NEM 2.0 goes into effect for SCE clients in our service area, we will have an intelligent storage solution to offer.

Timing

So when does all of this go into effect?  As we noted above, at the very latest, the new rules go into effect on July 1, 2017. Most likely, however, they will go into effect sooner than that since the actual start date is tied to when the IOU reaches its 5% cap.  In SCE territory, the following NEM report is informative:

SCE's NEM report

SCE’s total customer aggregate demand, the basis for the 5% cap, is 44,807 kW.  5% of that is 2,240 MW of solar installed.  As of the end of December, 2015, SCE had 1,388 MW of solar either installed or with net metering agreements in place, leaving 852 MW remaining under the cap.

The report also shows that applications for 48.1 MW of new solar were received during the month of December.  If we take that number as  a fair monthly average, we can expect SCE to reach its cap in 17 to 18 months. So to lock-in your system under the existing rules, you will need to have your net metering application complete and on file with SCE before then (May-June 2017).  We will continue to update on the status of SCE’s progress toward its cap.

Final Thoughts

On the whole, the solar industry dodged a bullet, especially when you look at the latest battles over NEM in other states, like Nevada.  This success is a tribute to the thousands of people who took the time to advocate for solar, whether they be our trade association, CALSEIA; individual solar companies, like Run on Sun; or solar customers who reached out to inform the Commission of the true value of solar.  Not lost in the debate was the importance of solar as a job creation engine in California.

Moreover, the political climate in California, from the Governor on down, has been strongly supportive of solar and they deserve our thanks as well.

We would love to hear your thoughts and if you have questions that haven’t been answered here, please leave them in the comments and we will do our best to address them.

01/30/16

  08:17:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 522 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Ranting

Ch-ch-ch-Changes at Run on Sun!

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)…

We're mobile friendly!

Run on Sun website as seen on an iPhone 4

We’re Mobile Friendly!

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!

We are Expanding on the Westside!

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!

We’ve Added a Perpetually Growing FAQ Page!

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!

01/28/16

  11:23:00 am, by Laurel Hamilton, Projects Coordinator, Run on Sun   , 651 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Ranting

The Run on Sun Approach to Solar...Without Salesmen

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, not selling

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.

01/13/16

  03:25:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 283 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, Residential Solar

Tripling Down - LG to Triple NeON Production by 2020

LG Solar Module Production facilityRun 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!

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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.
Laurel Hamilton is Run on Sun's Projects Coordinator, and together they author this blog.
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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