02/20/19

  01:05:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 676 words  
Categories: Shortcut Solar

Meet Shortcut Solar!

Meet Shortcut SolarRun on Sun has been in the solar business for a long time - since 2006, to be precise.  And over the years we have come across a lot of - shall we say - less than inspiring things.  Shoddy work. High pressure sales tactics. Contracts not in the customer’s native language. And on and on. So we finally decided enough is enough, it is time to call these people out, and name names!

So let me introduce you to… Shortcut Solar.  For the purposes of this blog, we have decided that Shortcut Solar is the perfect generic descriptor/catchall to highlight the awful things that we see. 
Our tone is intended to be somewhat light-hearted in the hope that these posts will help consumers to be better educated when it comes to researching their options for going solar.

A Shortcut Solar Favorite - the Promise that is Just too Good to be True!

Shortcut Solar knows that they won’t win your business honestly, so they specialize in making stuff up!  Case in point: we had a potential client forward to us a proposal that they had received from Shortcut Solar.  The proposal conveniently included the contract, so the consumer didn’t need to waste any time signing on the dotted line!  (Oh, by the way, that one-page disclosure that is now supposed to be on the front of all solar contracts in California, yeah, it was nowhere to be seen.  Way to go, Shortcut Solar!)

Glancing over the proposal, one number jumped off the page, cumulative savings after twenty-five years of $331,000!!!  Say what?  This is a resi project (oversized at nearly 13 kW, another classic Shortcut Solar move), so how on earth could they come up with such an astronomical number?  Lurking in their assumptions was the key - they were predicting annual utility cost increases of 13%!  To put this in perspective, we use an annual increase of 3%. 

We decided to mock this up using our proposal generation tool, the fabulous Energy Toolbase, but guess what?  You can’t, because their tool rejects any value greater than 6% - less than half of what Shortcut Solar was using.  (Energy Toolbase prides itself on doing things in an honest and transparent manner - no wonder Shortcut Solar doesn’t use them!)

The power of compound growth!So that meant a quick trip to Excel.

The potential client in question had an annual bill of around $4,000 in SCE territory.  The table at left tracks the growth of your annual bill if the escalation rate is 3% (what we would use) versus 13% (what Shortcut Solar was using). For those of us who recall (the original) Mary Poppins, this is a table that would thrill the cold cockles of Mr. Dawes, Sr.’s heart as it shows the power of compound interest! 

That $4,000 utility bill, growing at 3% each and every year, will slightly more than double to be $8,131 after twenty-five years.  But that is a slacker number if you are Shortcut Solar!  Use their magical, mythical 13% and that bill will grow almost 19 times - to an eye-popping $75,000!!!  Now that is a number from which you can derive some staggering savings!

The problem, of course, is that it is a lie.  And as even recovering trial lawyers like to say: if they lied to you about one thing, how many other things that they have told you are lies?

Frankly, the entire area of financial projections is fraught. The utilities, particularly the investor-owned utilities like SCE, are doing everything that they can to erode the value of your solar investment (which is why the Solar Rights Alliance is so vital), and projecting utility rates over twenty-five years is a fool’s errand. 

The best anyone can do is to use the best tools available, and apply reasonable parameters (3% not 13%), over a reasonable period of time (our projections only run 20 years, not the 25 used by Shortcut Solar).

Consumer Takeaway

So here is your consumer takeaway: Look that proposal over carefully, and if those numbers seem too good to be true, you just might be dealing with Shortcut Solar!

Have your own Shortcut Solar story?  Let us know and we will add it to the collection!

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01/08/19

  07:24:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 455 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, SCE, Residential Solar

Clean Power Alliance is Coming - is that a Good Thing?

Clean Power AllianceThe Community Choice Aggregator (CCA) for LA County, Clean Power Alliance (CPA), is set to begin service to SCE customers in 31 cities starting February 1.  As this has just sort of been announced as a fiat accompli with very little information to consumers, we wanted to set the stage for an analysis that we will be publishing that should answer the question - is this a good thing or not?

Let’s start with the basics, what is a CCA? Here’s a definition from an EPA website:

Community choice aggregation (CCA), also known as municipal aggregation, are programs that allow local governments to procure power on behalf of their residents, businesses, and municipal accounts from an alternative supplier while still receiving transmission and distribution service from their existing utility provider. CCAs are an attractive option for communities that want more local control over their electricity sources, more green power than is offered by the default utility, and/or lower electricity prices. By aggregating demand, communities gain leverage to negotiate better rates with competitive suppliers and choose greener power sources.

That means that current SCE customers would still receive their service via SCE (including billing) but the energy is actually provided by the CCA, in this case CPA, at one of three rates: “Lean” (which is 36% renewables and lower than SCE), “Clean” (which is 50% renewables and comparable to SCE), and “Green” (which is 100% renewables and higher than SCE).  Different cities can choose for their residents the “default” rate - for example, Arcadia chose Lean, Alhambra chose Clean, and South Pasadena chose Green - but individual consumers can override that default and pick the rate they prefer.  (You can find the present list of cities switching to CPA and their default rates here.)

However, the only portion of the bill affected is the energy charge, which is generally a smaller component than is delivery.  For example, here is a comparison for SCE customers on the Domestic rate for what they pay now compared to under the “Lean” option from CPA:

SCE Domestic vs CPA Rate

So your savings is about 10% on the first 300 or so kWh (or about $5), but if you make it into the highest tier, your savings drops to just 4.5% on the largest usage.   (Interestingly, SCE’s delivery rates changed a lot more than what is seen in this shift to CPA’s Lean rate.  In particular, the delivery charge for the lowest tier went up by 5.8% as of January 1st, and by 22% for Tier 3 - ouch!)

You can find the complete list of CPA’s rates as of this writing, here.

This Domestic rate is the easiest to review - in a subsequent post we will talk about Time-of-Use rates (relevant to recent and future solar owners) and how to make the right choice to maximize your savings.

Watch this space.

01/03/19

  08:43:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 445 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, PWP

Pasadena Adopts New Integrated Resource Plan

Pasadena adopts IRP

As 2018 drew to a close, the Pasadena City Council adopted a new Integrated Resource Plan that shows the path forward for the City in the coming years. Not surprisingly, there are some big changes in store as PWP moves away from fossil fuels and toward a greener future. Here’s our take…

Where are we now?

We love Pasadena, but it has a long way to go before it becomes as green as we would like it to be.  For example, here is PWP’s latest power content label that shows the sources of its electricity, compared to California as a whole:

PWP 2017 Power Content Label

 

Yikes! 31% of our power overall comes from burning coal - compared to just 4% for the state overall!  

Somewhat surprising is the relatively low amount of natural gas in the mix, given that the Glenarm power plant is now entirely fueled by natural gas.

On the other hand, the City is doing very well in utilizing biomass and waste materials as a fuel source, well ahead of such efforts in the state as a whole.

So it is clear that a great deal of work is yet to be done, and it is the intent of the newly adopted IRP to show the way.

One thing that jumps out of the new plan is that coal is to be eliminated entirely by June of 2027 when existing supply contracts expire, and no new coal contracts will be signed.  Moreover, that plant is scheduled to switch to natural gas by 2025, so coal burning for PWP should end by then.

Distributed Energy Resources

As of the writing of the IRP, there were 1,303 PWP customers who have installed solar power systems at their homes or commercial/non-profit sites.  Collectively, those systems amount to 10.4 MW of installed capacity, with an estimated annual production of 16,600 MWh of energy.  That makes the average installed system size just under 8 kW.

One baffling detail in the planning section of the report: relying on a levelized cost of energy (LCOE) analysis by the Lazard consulting firm, they assert that the LCOE of residential solar (after allowing for the federal tax credit) is from 14.5-24¢/kWh!  Frankly, we aren’t sure how they arrived at that number, since our projects generally project an LCOE in the 9-11¢/kWh range.

So more solar is in PWP’s future, but they won’t be supporting it on homes, schools, or businesses anymore.  Sad.

Other Takeaways…

Here are a couple more takeaways from the 249-page report:

  • The City is planning on installing 122 EV charging stations in the next few years
  • Electric bill increases would range from roughly 2.7% for residential customers, and up to 3.4% for commercial customers

You can find the entire report here: Pasadena’s Integrated Resource Plan.

11/30/18

  07:50:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 947 words  
Categories: Climate Change

Climate Assessment Report: Dire Threat Largely Ignored

On Black Friday, the Trump Administration released the 4th National Climate Assessment report, presumably in the hope that most Americans would still be too stupefied  from their food coma and shopping binges to notice.  So here we are a week later, and hopefully woke.  Because the message of the report is a dire warning of what is already happening and what is to come. We ignore it at our peril.

From ClimateNexus:

This U.S. federal government report shows that:

  • Human activity, like burning fossil fuels, is the primary cause for the warming temperatures we are undoubtedly experiencing.
  • By the end of this century, fighting climate change will save hundreds of billions of dollars just in public health costs, and save thousands of lives a year.
  • Americans are already paying for climate change as it makes storms more damaging, heat waves more deadly, wildfires more common, allergies worse and some diseases more widespread.
  • The U.S. military, as well as many farmers, businesses, and local communities are already planning for and adapting to climate change.
  • Climate change is a clear and present danger to the health and wealth of the American people.

Topline findings of the report include:

Human activity, primarily burning fossil fuels, is causing climate change. There is no credible alternative to global warming emissions to explain the warming.

  • Global average temperatures have risen 1.8°F (1.0°C) since 1901, predominantly because of human activity, especially the emission of heat-trapping gases.
  • Globally, 16 of the last 17 years are the warmest years on record.
  • Depending on the region, Americans could experience an additional month to two month’s worth of days with maximum temperatures above 100°F (38°C) by 2050, with that severe heat becoming commonplace in the southeast by 2100.

Economic losses from climate change are significant for some sectors of the U.S. economy.

  • In some sectors, losses driven by the impacts of climate change could exceed $100 billion annually by the end of the century.
  • If emissions continue unabated, extreme temperatures could end up costing billions upon billions in lost wages annually by the end of the century, and negatively impact the health of construction, agricultural and other outdoor workers.
  • Many aspects of climate change – including extreme heat, droughts, and floods – will pose risks to the U.S. agricultural sector. In many places, crop yields, as well as crop and grazing land quality, are expected to decline as a result.
  • We may be underestimating our level of risk by failing to account for multiple impacts occurring at once, or not planning for impacts that will span across government borders and sector boundaries.
  • Our aging infrastructure, especially our electric grid, will continue to be stressed by extreme weather events, which is why helping communities on the frontlines of climate impacts to adapt is so crucial.

Americans are already responding to the climate change impacts of burning fossil fuels.

  • Increased global warming emissions have contributed to the observed increases in Atlantic hurricane activity since 1970.
  • Climate change doubled the area burned by wildfires across the West between 1984 and 2015, relative to what would have burned without warming. Climate change was a greater factor in area burned between 1916 and 2003 than was fire suppression, fire management or non-climate factors.
  • By 2100, annual acreage burned by wildfires could increase by as much as 6 times in some places. The U.S. spends an average of about $1 billion annually to fight wildfires, but spent over $2 billion in 2015 due to extreme drought. Costs exceeded $2 billion in the first 8 months of 2017.
  • The U.S. military is already working to understand the increased risks of security issues resulting from climate change-induced resource shocks (droughts causing crop failure, for example, which can contribute to civil unrest) as well as extreme weather events and direct impacts on military infrastructure, like sea level rise or extreme heat at military bases.

Storm surge and tidal flooding frequency, depth and extent are worsened by sea level rise, presenting a significant risk to America’s trillion-dollar coastal property market.

  • Global sea level has risen about 8-9 inches since 1880, 3 inches of which have come since just 1993. We can expect at least several inches more in the next 15 years, with 1-4 feet very likely by 2100, and as much as 8 feet physically possible by 2100.
  • Sea level rise has already increased the frequency of high tide flooding by a factor of 5 to 10 since the 1960s for some U.S. coastal communities.
  • Climate change is already hurting coastal ecosystems, posing a threat to the fisheries and tourism industries as well as public safety and human health. Continuing coastal impacts will worsen pre-existing social inequities as vulnerable communities reckon with how to adapt.

Every American’s health is at risk from climate change, with the elderly, young, working class and communities of color being particularly vulnerable.

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions will, by the end of the century, potentially save thousands of lives annually, and generate hundreds of billions of dollars of health-related economic benefits compared to a high emissions scenario.
  • Allergies like hay fever and asthma are likely already becoming more frequent and severe.
  • Warmer temperatures are expected to alter the range of mosquitoes and ticks that carry vector-borne diseases like Zika, West Nile virus, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.
  • Drier conditions in Arizona and California have led to greater growth of the fungus that leads to Valley Fever (coccidioidomycosis) while Cryptococcal infections were strictly tropical before 1999, but have moved northward, with Oregon experiencing 76 cases in 2015.
  • West Nile is projected to double by 2050, with a $1 billion annual price tag.

Transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources will reduce the risks of climate impacts.

  • A certain amount of warming is likely “locked in” so adaptation is still required.
  • The faster we reduce global warming emissions, the less risk we face and the cheaper it will be to adapt.

 

11/16/18

  12:14:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 350 words  
Categories: Climate Change

NY Times asks: How much Hotter is Your Hometown than when You were Born?

Nothing warms the cockles of a data-geek’s heart more than seeing really cool data visualizations, and if that visualization  helps illustrate a vital subject in an easy-to-grasp manner, well that is a data geek jackpot.  Probably no one does data visualizations better than the folks at the New York Times, and their latest is amazing - driving home the impact of climate change in a way that is both personal and dramatic.

Titled, “How much Hotter is Your Hometown than when You were Born?” it allows the user to enter their hometown (Los Angeles, in my case) and year of birth.  According to their dataset, there were roughly 55 days when I was born where you could expect temperatures to reach 90 degrees (F).  Scroll down the page, and a graph is charted, showing the increase in days reaching 90 over the years, hitting 67 days in 2017, as you can see here:

 hotter in la

But if you continue to scroll down it gets even more alarming:

LA temps in 2089

Wow - at present trends, by 2089 there could be anywhere from 84 to 104 days of 90 degrees or better, with 93 days being the most likely number.  But these predictions assume that the world will adhere to the Paris Climate Agreement, and given recent developments in both the U.S. and Brazil, that is increasingly unlikely.

Of course it isn’t just the heat, it’s the humidity, and the visualization notes that areas with higher humidity than LA will feel the heat even more.

On the other hand, areas that experience dry heat, are likely to experience greater drought, and as we have so painfully seen these past few weeks, even more intense and deadly wildfires.

In other parts of the world the forecast is even more daunting.  Take a city like Jakarta - it already averages more than five months of temperatures above 90!

Map showing heat in Jakarta

According to those projections, by the end of the century, temperatures above 90 degrees in Jakarta, “may last for most of the year.

There is a lot more useful information there and I encourage you to check it out.  Would that all information about Climate Change were presented in an equally compelling manner - bravo, NYT!

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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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