Category: "Residential Solar"

11/07/18

  07:17:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 704 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Solar Repairs

Enphase announces Upgrade Program for Early Adopters...

One of the nagging concerns in the solar industry is what to do about those aging legacy systems?  As systems age there can be reliability issues and finding compatible parts can be a real issue in a fast moving technology environment like solar power.  Given all of that, we are pleased to announce the Enphase Update Program for Enphase Early Adopters.  There is a lot to this program, including three distinct upgrade paths, so let’s break it down step-by-step…

Who is Eligible?

This program is dedicated to the earliest adopters of Enphase microinverters, specifically the M175, D380, M190, and M210 models.  (Of the eligible microinverter models, Run on Sun only ever installed the M210.)  System owners that have M215’s, M250’s, or S280 microinverters are not eligible for this program.

Enphase M210 microinverter Enphase M215 microinverter
The Enphase M210 qualifies for the upgrade… While the subsequent generation M215 does not.

What are My Options?

There are three upgrade paths with varying benefits, costs, and timing, however, all three offer full 25-year product warranties and a two year service agreement. The three options are: Microinverter Upgrade, Full-System Upgrade, and Next-Generation Upgrade - let’s take them one at a time.

Microinverter Upgrade

The most cost-effective option is the Microinverter Upgrade because it takes advantage of your existing solar panels that are likely still in good shape.  This upgrade provides all of the following:

  • New Enphase IQ7-PD - the latest generation microinverter, powered down to be compatible with existing, earlier generation systems.
  • New interconnection cable
  • New IQ Envoy with both production and consumption energy measuring devices* (CTs).

Legacy owners can purchase this equipment directly from Enphase for just $67.50/panel - a really great price.  Removal and re-installation labor will vary widely based on various factors including the difficulty of the roof, the quality of the original installation, and whatever upgrades need to be done, probably on the order of $150/panel.

*Note that not all systems will be able to do consumption monitoring depending on the existing service panel configuration.

Full-System Upgrade

When microinverters like the M210 were being installed, available panel wattage was much lower than today, but with the advent of electric vehicles, homeowners are in need of more energy than ever.  The Full-System Upgrade provides a way to gain from today’s higher power modules, but in a cost-effective manner.

Solaria-Enphase AC module

Enphase Energized Solaria PowerXT-AC Modules

This upgrade path involves the Enphase Energized Solaria PowerXT-AC Module, which has an Enphase IQ7+ microinverter integrated onto the Solaria module. (You can see an image of the Solaria modules on the left.)

 The module has a power production of 295 Watts, substantially greater than what was available for legacy modules.   The cost to the homeowner for this upgrade path is $469/panel, which includes the AC module, cabling, and the Envoy for monitoring.  

Labor costs for this upgrade path are likely to be substantially higher, in part due to the need for new racking (the module dimensions are somewhat unusual - 63.8″ x 43.9″ - which could necessitate a racking change), changes in the sizing of the branch circuits, and the need to pull permits for the new system.  Those factors are mitigated somewhat by the upgrade cost most likely qualifying for the federal 30% tax credit since it is an all new system, as opposed to the Microinverter Upgrade, that won’t.

Next-Generation Upgrade

Finally, the last upgrade option is to wait for the rollout of the Enphase IQ8 microinverter system.  (You can read about what the IQ8 technology will provide here.)  Unfortunately, there is no pricing information available yet for that upgrade path, and its availability is not until sometime in 2019 - probably the second quarter at the earliest.

What Happens if I do Nothing?

If your system is working fine, you don’t really have a need to do anything.  However, these earlier microinverters came with a 15-year warranty, which means that more than half of that warranty period has expired.  Moreover, particularly compared to the M190’s, the newest Enphase microinverters have significantly greater reliability (Enphase claims by an order of magnitude), so you would be upgrading to a more reliable product and extending your warranty protection by 25 years.

We will post again when we have more information regarding the Next-Generation, IQ8  upgrade.  In the meantime, if you have questions about upgrading, please give us a call.

 

 

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08/17/18

  03:15:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1210 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Energy Storage

What I Saw at Enphase - Mind Blown!

Enphase hqLast month during Intersolar, I (along with colleagues Sara and Victoria) was lucky enough to get invited to see a microgrid demonstration featuring the Enphase next-gen IQ8 at their headquarters in Petaluma, California.  As I had to sign an NDA as the price of admission, I was unable to write about what I had seen until today, when Enphase hosted their annual Analyst’s Day.  But I am no longer bound by that agreement, and can now tell you about what I saw. 

To say that I was impressed would be a gross understatement - quite simply, it was the most astonishing thing I have ever seen in the solar industry.  Settle in and let me tell you what I saw…

What Happens Today

Before I launch into describing the demo, let me remind you of what happens today.  All of the systems that we have installed are what is referred to as “grid-tied” which means that if the grid goes down, the PV system that is capable of back-feeding the grid also goes down, and remains down until the grid comes back.  (This is to prevent your house from being an island of energy, feeding the grid, and potentially injuring a worker trying to restore grid service.  As a result, this feature is known as “anti-islanding” and it is required of all inverter systems that are connected to the grid.)

Normally this is not a problem, but last month, when it got super hot out here (think 115° F hot!), both SCE and LADWP suffered dozens of outages, taking down PV systems across large swathes of LA County, and leaving frustrated PV owners without power, or A/C, just like their PV-less brethren.  Not good.

What I Saw in the Lab

Which brings us to what I saw at Enphase last month.

The lab looked like an ordinary industrial space, but with a series of household appliances and tools at one side.  There was a simulated array feeding a bank of IQ8 inverters, and a display that showed the output of the array (i.e., PV production), the total consumption from the loads, and any power being exported or imported to support those loads.  At the start of the demo the only load was a single red lamp, and the display indicated that it was drawing roughly 90 Watts.  The PV array was producing roughly 1.9 kWs, so the excess 1,800 Watts was being exported to the grid.  All super normal stuff.

But then things got interesting…

One of the engineers switched off the breaker that connected the PV array to the grid… and nothing happened!  Well, actually, a lot happened, but what didn’t happen was that the red light did not go off.  It didn’t even flicker to the extent that we could detect it.  But then when you looked at the display you noticed something amazing.  Not only had the microinverters created a grid on their own in fractions of a second, but they had throttled the output down so that now the production of the PV array exactly matched the load of the red light!  And here’s the kicker - there were no batteries attached to this system!!!

But what fun is just having a light on?  How about some toast?  So they switched on a toaster, and it lit up, and the total load jumped by about 1,000 Watts, making the total load now around 1.1 kW, and the PV array scaled up to meet it!  Still no batteries.  And how about this - there was no central controller, no master-slave relationship between the microinverters.  Rather, this was the “hive mind” at work, as the micros sensed the demand and scaled up or down as necessary to meet that load!

But wait, there’s more!

The next load to be added was a grinder like you might find on your workbench in the garage.  All by itself, that device drew roughly 1,200 Watts, bring our total load to roughly 2.3 kW - more than the maximum output of our simulated array.  What would happen when that was added to the mix?  Surprisingly little.  The grinder spun normally, but the red light dimmed slightly.  What was going on?  The system’s “hive mind” had lowered the voltage slightly (a microgrid equivalent of a brown out) to meet the amperage demand of the new load mix!  So slightly slower than normal, cooler than normal, dimmer than normal, but all operating.

Of course, all good things must come to an end.  Our already overloaded microgrid faced one more challenge - a vacuum cleaner with a significant in-rush current, far in excess of what the grid could sustain.  Indeed, as soon as they switched the vacuum cleaner to “on", everything shut off.  Nothing was damaged, the microinverters just shut off to protect themselves.

Turning on the vacuum cleaner served as the “ah-ha” moment for the potential homeowner - I guess I can’t run everything in grid outage mode.  So what do you do when something you just did produced an undesired result?  Well if you can, you undo it!  Turning the vacuum cleaner off, immediately restored the microgrid to its previous state of operation!  No delay.  No human intervention - just turn off that latest (over)load, and the system recovers on its own!

How cool is that?  Pretty damn cool, if you ask me!

Batteries Please?

So what about batteries, how do they play with this new system?  Just exactly as you would want.

The engineers added a bank of batteries to the mix, each with an IQ8 installed.  Now the display also indicated the battery’s overall state of charge, and whether they were charging or discharging.  Reset the demo to just the red light as a load and the batteries at 30% state of charge.  The PV array output jumped back to its maximum, with the surplus energy being used to charge the batteries.  As more loads were added, the PV array remained at maximum output, and as needed, drew power from the batteries.  Should the batteries reach full capacity and the PV output is greater than the loads, the microinverters will once again throttle down.

Sweet!

What’s Next?

I hope you agree that this was an amazing demo, and the IQ8 (or Ensemble, as Enphase refers to the overall system) has tremendous potential, both for Enphase as a company, and for so many nascent markets.  Think of how this product could have helped out in Puerto Rico, or in parts of Africa which have never, ever seen a grid!  Makes me want to book a trip to bring power to a village somewhere - hey Laurel, what do you say?

For our own clients, this has the potential to be the answer we have been seeking ever since Elon’s whoppers got people thinking about storage for the first time ever.

A point we raised with Enphase management is the need to have a reasonable upgrade path for existing clients.  Indeed, I have a call with Enphase tomorrow to discuss that very topic.  We know that current Enphase IQ products (the 6+ and 7+ we have been installing this year) will be compatible with Ensemble.  We expect to be able to work with older systems, though there may be a higher retrofit cost.  When we have that information, we will surely let you know!  The IQ8 is expected to be available in 1H2019… watch this space!

08/04/18

  09:01:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 199 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Non-profit solar

Introducing Victoria Villalobos!

Victoria VillalobosRun on Sun is excited to introduce Victoria Villalobos as the latest member of the RoS Team!

Victoria comes to Run on Sun with more than ten years of project management experience.  Although new to the solar industry, Victoria is a very quick study and is already looking to help streamline operations - an area of particular expertise!

A dog lover herself, Victoria has already bonded with Prosper, the Solar Dog, and we especially were drawn to her passion for building relationships, connecting with folks from diverse backgrounds, and finding common ground.  

Victoria is also a ten-year Army veteran with deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan - so Southern California heat doesn’t phase her.  In her spare time, Victoria is studying to be an instructor for a national organization dedicated to healing the trauma of United States military veterans, and she takes great pride in doing what she can to strengthen the veteran’s community and welcome them home from service.

Bringing Victoria onboard increases our resolve as a company to do more to integrate vets into our operations, and we are eager to work with Victoria to make that resolve a reality.

Please join me in welcoming Victoria to the Run on Sun family!

07/30/18

  08:45:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 500 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, Residential Solar, Ranting

Think Your Solar Investment is Safe? Think Again!

Those of us involved in solar in sunny Southern California generally think that we have it pretty good.  The climate is just about perfect for solar - and by that I mean the political climate, every bit as much as our abundant sunshine.  From the Governor, to the legislature, to the CPUC and the CEC, generally those forces support the growth of not just solar power in general, but distributed, on your own rooftop solar in particular.  But we become complacent at our peril - both to the jobs of those in the industry as well as the investment value of all of those solar installations out there.

A recent story from Columbia, South Carolina brought this peril to mind.  As portions of the state edged closer to the existing 2% cap on net metering installations, the legislature was working on a compromise to lift the cap,  allowing more residents the opportunity to install solar and take advantage of net metering.  The utilities had other ideas - from the Greenville News:

Deep-pocketed power companies outspent the solar industry nearly $3 to $1 as part of an intensive lobbying effort during an S.C. legislative session that included efforts to curb rooftop solar’s expansion in the state.
Electric utilities spent nearly $523,000 from January through May to hire more than three dozen lobbyists to advocate for them at the State House as lawmakers decided what to do about solar incentives.

Yikes.

The result of all that lobbying?  The effort to lift the net metering cap was defeated - and local solar companies are going to be laying off employees (if not closing altogether) while affected residents will either have to forego solar, or find it far less financially viable.

Solar Rights AllianceWe delude ourselves if we think that it can’t happen here.  Utility lobbyists are in Sacramento just as they are in Columbia, and the recent forced change to net metering 2.0 in SCE territory is a reminder that our progress is not guaranteed.

Which brings me to the Solar Rights AllianceWe have written about this important organization before, and will do so in the future.  But I wanted to use this post to show how we are putting our money where our mouth is.  Starting today, we are modifying our solar installation contracts to provide an opt-in checkbox for new clients to be signed up for the Solar Rights Alliance, with Run on Sun making a donation in their name to help support the important work of organizing solar clients statewide.

We are never going to be able to match the money coming from the utilities and their allies.  But what we do have is tens of thousands of happy solar owners all across the state.  If we can organize even a fraction of them, we will be able to speak directly to policy makers and let them know that the value of installed solar power systems must be protected.  That is a fight that we need to take on, and the Solar Rights Alliance (along with our wonderful trade association, CALSSA) is key to winning that fight.

07/24/18

  09:52:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 306 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Ranting

Order Restored: Run on Sun Rejoins Top Solar Contractors List for 2018

2018 Top Solar Contractors ListAfter a narrow miss last year, Run on Sun has rejoined the ranks of Solar Power World’s Top Solar Contractors list for 2018.  This is our fifth appearance on the list in the last six years.  Talk about punching above your weight!

The Top Solar Contractors list was developed by Solar Power World to recognize the work completed by solar contractors across the United States. Produced annually, the Top Solar Contractors list celebrates the achievements of U.S. solar developers, subcontractors and installers within the utility, commercial and residential markets, and ranks contractors by kilowatts installed in the previous year. The 2018 list was released on July 24.

Solar Power World is very excited about the 2018 class of Top Solar Contractors,” said Kelly Pickerel, editor in chief of Solar Power World. "Our 2017 list showed impressive installation numbers after 2016’s huge rush to meet ITC requirements, and many companies were hesitant to show unavoidable installation dips after last year’s high. We’re happy to feature a strong group of thriving U.S. solar installers on the 2018 Top Solar Contractors list. These companies truly are at the top of their markets.”

Two things stand out in my mind as I look back on these past six years.  First is the incredible dedication, passion, and plain hard work that has been provided by the Run on Sun team.  We may be small, but together we are mighty!

The second, and ultimately more important (to say nothing about humbling), thing is the trust that our clients have placed with us. Every kilowatt installed represents a client’s belief that we will fulfill our promises to them.  Every referral demonstrates that we have met that challenge.  I know that the RoS crew is working hard every day (even in this heat!) to meet our commitments, and to help our clients move forward with a clean, solar-powered future.

Now bring on the Gala!

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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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