Category: "Residential Solar"

07/31/11

  11:59:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 351 words  
Categories: Electric Cars that Run on Sun, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar

Chevy Volt - Charging Forward

Chevy Volt solar powered charging stationReaders of this blog know that we are big fans of EVs, including plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt. We are especially drawn to the synergy between such vehicles and solar power systems - truly a match made in heaven.  So we were particularly gratified to see the news accounts of Chevy’s program to install solar-powered Volt charging stations at its dealerships.

The press release from GM lays out what should be clear to all:

“The Chevrolet Green Zone will provide our U.S. dealers with added flexibility when it comes to charging their vehicles, while also reinforcing GM’s commitment to renewable energy projects,” said Chris Perry, vice president, Global Chevrolet Marketing and Strategy.

American Chevrolet in Modesto, Calif., and Al Serra Auto Plaza in Grand Blanc, Mich., are the first U.S. dealerships to complete their solar charging capability by installing Green Zones on their property.

“The question isn’t whether to install a solar canopy, it’s where and how many,” said Joe Serra, president of Serra Automotive. “It’s a win for us because the electricity generated will help reduce operating costs, and it’s a win for the environment since solar power helps reduce our carbon footprint.”

Each canopy generates enough electricity for up to 4,500 charges per vehicle annually. The proof of concept for the Green Zone project is housed at the Detroit Hamtramck assembly plant, manufacturing home of the Volt.

The “Green Zone” program is part of Chevy’s substantial investment in solar project developer Sunlogics, Inc. which will build the charging stations.  Indeed, thanks to this partnership, Sunlogics announced that it is building a $30 million headquarters building outside of Detroit to manufacture the charging stations and will employ more than 200 workers at the facility.  Surely welcome news for Detroit and the auto industry generally.

Now Chevy needs to go one step farther and partner with local solar companies around the country to help Volt owners install solar power systems on their homes.  Such a partnership would provide jobs all across the country and would make owning a Volt an even more desirable purchase.

We are ready to help - hey Chevy, are you listening?

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07/14/11

  02:38:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1089 words  
Categories: AB 920 Payments, LADWP Rebates, LADWP, Residential Solar

Report from LADWP SIP Workshop

Today we attended LADWP’s morning workshop on the relaunch of the Solar Incentive Program (SIP) and, as promised, we are writing to give you our reactions to the event.  We certainly believe that LADWP is trying to do the right thing - and these comments will also be emailed to LADWP staff.  When we get a response, we will update this post.

The program got underway with an introductory statement from LADWP General Manager, Ron Nichols, who told the 150 or so participants that the SIP was an “important part of the big transition that LADWP needs to make” and he thanked us for coming and providing our insight into how to make the program better.  The rest of the program consisted of four parts - an overview of the SIP followed by the participants being divided into breakout groups to address specific issues, then a presentation about the proposed Feed-in Tariff (FiT) program with a breakout session for the Fit as well.  (We will have a later post just about the FiT - the balance of this post will only concern the SIP.)

LADWP promised to make all of its presentation materials available online and you can find them here.  There were some interesting aspects that popped out of the presentation, for example:

  • Staff mentioned several times the desire to avoid the “boom-bust cycle” so common with solar incentive programs.  Instead, they were hoping that this program would:
  • Maintain [a] steady pace of installations and funding so that our customers and [the] solar industry know what to expect and can plan appropriately.
    Foster and grow [the] sustainable solar industry in L.A.
  • However, it was made clear that the program will allocate up to $40 million per year in rebates.  Once that amount is reached, the program will stop accepting rebate applications until the next fiscal year.  That doesn’t really sound like a “steady pace".

  • The program, before the current hiatus, was on track to be fully subscribed (i.e., out of money) by 2012.  The new program expects to be out of money by the end of 2014.  That’s an improvement, but still not great for a program that was designed intended to continue until 2017.

  • All of the rebates under the SIP will be EPBB rebates - that is, paid out all in one lump sum.  This is a good deal for system owners, but a rotten deal for LADWP (click here for our general discussion of PBI vs EPBB rebates.)  The LADWP rep suggested that the overhead problem was too much to handle to implement PBI rebates.  Really?  It would seem that the greater productivity insured by PBI rebates would more than offset the cost, and smaller utilities - like PWP - somehow seem to manage it.

  • Even under the new SIP, there will be no payments made to system owners who produce more energy than they consume over the course of the year.  (In other words, no AB 920 compensation is being implemented.)  It is true that LADWP is expressly exempt (albeit in a very roundabout way) from the requirements of AB 920, but no cogent argument was advanced for not providing compensation along the lines of what every other utility in the state must do.

The breakout session that we attended was dominated (nearly hijacked) by the leasing interests who were not at all happy with rebates for leased systems being paid out as commercial systems, particularly given that the commercial rates were lower.  (Presumably, if the commercial rates were higher, we wouldn’t have heard those complaints.)  This argument seems founded more on greed than common sense - after all, the owners of leased systems qualify for 30% treasury grants and bonus depreciation - tax benefits that are not available to residential clients who purchase their systems outright.  It only seems fair that they should receive a higher rebate since the overall economic benefit is better balanced that way.  (It will be interesting to see if LADWP sticks to its guns on this one or caves to the leasing companies.)

Which leaves us with our questions for LADWP.  We were told that the utility is running on a very tight timeline and that they must have comments/questions on the SIP relaunch by this Sunday - July 17! (Not sure why they picked a Sunday for the comment deadline, let alone one that is just three days away, but that is what we were told.)  If you have questions or comments, please send them to solar@ladwp.com.  In any event, here are our questions and we will let you know the responses that we get (if any):

  • Step sizes - It appears that we are re-starting at Step 5 with incentive values of $2.20, $1.95, and $2.70/W for residential, commercial and government/non-profit projects respectively.  How big are the Steps?  How will the Steps interact with the $40 million/FY budget allocation?

  • Building Permit before SIP Application - the revised guidelines require a permit be pulled before filing a SIP application.  What is the justification for this?  Most other utilities are either agnostic on the issue (SCE) or require the rebate application before a permit can be pulled (PWP).  Requiring the permit first, cuts into the time available for completing the project before the permit expires.

  • 10-hour testing window - the revised guidelines would entirely disqualify for a rebate any system that was operated for more than ten hours prior to inspection.  There was no justification given for this number and it seems arbitrary.  We could well imagine a scenario where a system is brought online on Friday and allowed to operate over the weekend as a burn-in period before being shut off on Monday.  Why would such a system be rendered ineligible for a rebate?  We believe that a more flexible system should be implemented.

  • Deficient applications - the guidelines talk about “applicants who … submit 3 deficient applications… will be given a 6 months exclusion from submitting additional applications."  This seems unduly punitive and much more information needs to be given regarding what constitutes a “strike” for these purposes.  For example, we are aware of an application under the prior program that was rejected because a calculation was made - consistent with the text of the guidelines - that was inconsistent with the reviewer’s expectations.  Applicants who abuse the system should be excluded, but good-faith disagreements over interpretations of guidelines should not count as a strike.

  • PBI rebates - LADWP really should add these for larger commercial systems under the SIP.

  • AB 920 Compensation - LADWP should join the party and pay net energy producers just like every other utility in the state.

We will write more when we hear from LADWP - but remember, deadline for comments is this Sunday, July 17.

07/07/11

  08:00:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 960 words  
Categories: PWP Rebates, LADWP Rebates, LADWP, Commercial Solar, Feed-in Tariff, Residential Solar

LADWP's Revised SIP Details Released - UPDATE - 2X (7/13 & 7/9)

UPDATE - 2x - In advance of the meetings this week, LADWP has made available a number of materials so we are linking to them here.

For the Solar Incentive Program (SIP):

For the Feed-in Tariff (FIT):

Hope to see you there - if you have any comments about these, feel free to leave them below.  You can also send comments to LADWP at LREP@ladwp.com.


 

UPDATE - Please note that LADWP has reconfigured their meeting to satisfy popular demand.  Instead of one workshop on the 14th from 2-5, there will now be four, on Thursday and Friday mornings and afternoons.  Here is the revised meeting schedule (along with the necessary links to RSVP):

Thursday, July 14, 2011
9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.  RSVP
2:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.    RSVP

Friday, July 15, 2011
9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.  RSVP
2:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.    RSVP


We announced earlier that the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (LADWP) was holding a workshop to discuss the restart of its Solar Incentive Program (SIP) after a 90-day hiatus. We have now received some of the details of the program - along with a copy of their presentation - and want to share some information in advance of next week’s public hearing.

Go solar LA!

First, a reminder - the public hearing on the proposed revisions to the program will be held next Thursday, July 14 from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. at LADWP headquarters, 111 N. Hope St., Los Angeles in the A-Level Auditorium.  Hope to see you there.

LADWP staff will make a presentation about two customer-related programs, the SIP and a new Feed-in-Tariff (FIT).  The primary difference between the two programs is that the SIP is a net-metering program, meaning the customer who hosts the solar power system consumes the energy produced by the system and uses that to lower their LADWP bills.  Under the proposed FIT program, LADWP purchases all of the output from the solar power system and pays the system owner a at a rate to be determined for that energy.  (In other words - this is NOT a German-style FIT that would benefit residential customers.)  The balance of this post will only address the SIP.

As we had noted previously, the LADWP SIP had been a victim of its own success - resulting in a lengthy application processing backlog, a corresponding inspection backlog and lengthy delays in paying rebates.  Moreover, the program was over-subscribed with more applications coming in than there was money to support them.  Accordingly, a 90-day moratorium was imposed while LADWP went back to the drawing board to revise the program.

It would appear that LADWP put that time to good use - reportedly reducing their application backlog from 800 to zero, authorizing the start-up of 2.2 MW of solar power systems and cutting over 150 rebate checks worth $10 million.  More importantly for the program going forward, they devised changes to bring stability and predictability - or so they say - to the program for the next three years.

So what are the major changes proposed? Here are the highlights:

  • Program funding will be doubled - from $30 M to $60 M each year for the next three years.  This is accomplished through the use of LADWP bond proceeds and approved as part of the FY 2011-12 budget.  Interestingly, the administrative overhead for the system appears to be 10% since the actual program cost is billed at $66M per year for the next three years.  LADWP claims that the cost to fund the program will be 0.7% of the average customer’s bill.
  • Rebate levels will decline significantly - although still higher than those paid by SCE under the California Solar Initiative (CSI), the new rates appear to be lower than what other municipal utilities like Pasadena Water & Power (PWP) are paying.
  • Contractors will be required to pull a permit for the job before submitting a rebate application - in our experience this is opposite from what every other local jurisdiction is doing.  Typically the utilities have either wanted to review your application first as a pre-condition to pulling the permit (e.g., PWP and other munis) or in parallel with the permit process (SCE).  It will be interesting to hear why LADWP wants to go this way.
  • Accelerated inspection procedure - allegedly this will reduce the wait time for net meters to be installed to one week.

Rebate rate details

The LADWP presentation provided a series of charts (not tables) to depict rebate rates going forward.  There are some omissions here that are important - the charts show rebates at different steps, but they do not say how many MW are in each step.  For example, here is the residential rebate rate graph (click for full size):

Proposed LADWP rebates for residential solar power systems

Based on where the “Proposed Incentive Levels” plot begins, presumably we are starting at Step 5.  What the chart doesn’t tell you is how many MWs of applications will LADWP accept before stepping down to the next incentive level.  The lack of data points is also annoying - apparently we are starting at somewhere around $2.20 W.  Nor is there anything said about how the system size will be calculated going forward - will LADWP adopt the CSI calculator that everyone else uses or will they continue to use their idiosyncratic - and error prone - system using PVWatts directly?

Here is the graph for commercial rebate rates (click for full size):

Proposed LADWP rebates for commercial solar power systems

That graph seems to show that the rebate rate when the program resumes will be just under $2.00/Watt.  But again, a question - is LADWP only using EPBB rebates, even for large commercial projects?  Or did they simply omit the graph showing PBI rates?

Finally, here is the graph for Government/Non-Profit rebates (click for full size):

Proposed LADWP rebates for government/non-profit solar power systems

Our best guess is that the rebate rate here is roughly $2.75/Watt.

Obviously lots of questions remain - we will report back after the July 14th meeting and hopefully we will have some answers.

06/29/11

  08:25:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 180 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar

Solar Outlook on CNBC's Closing Bell

The growth in solar power installations across the country - driven in large part by a continuing drop in prices - caught the attention of the folks at CNBC’s Closing Bell.

Here are some things that caught our attention in their report:

  • Citing an unnamed study (but it is actually the Report done for SEIA by GTM Research) CNBC noted that solar installations were up 66% in the first quarter of 2011 over the same quarter last year;
  • In that same period, solar panel production increased 31%;
  • That growth is driven in part by dramatically falling prices;
  • Solar industry is poised to double its growth this year;
  • All of which means it is time to put solar on your house and for companies to invest in the technology;
  • This is a “complete positive” for homeowners and businesses alike.

Check out the video.

What is most surprising in all of this is how startled the commentators appear to be that solar is affordable!  Gosh - really?  Guess they haven’t been reading this blog!

What do you think?  Tell us in the comments and thanks for watching!

06/26/11

  08:10:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 400 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, Residential Solar

Micro-inverters: Are They Worth the Cost?

Last June we reported some preliminary performance data for three of our installed systems that use Enphase Micro-Inverters to try and answer the question, Do Micro-Inverters Really Make a Difference?  That continues to be a popular post so we wanted to update our results to show you a full year’s worth of data - and the answer is still YES!

We started with the output data from the CSI calculator to estimate what the monthly yield would be for each of these three systems. After all, that is the estimate that the utility is relying upon to determine your rebate so we consider it a reasonable baseline estimate. However, the CSI calculator does not take into consideration any performance improvement factor for micro-inverters.

Year's worth of Enphase micro-inverter performance data for three Run on Sun solar power systems

We then took the daily output for each system - easily available thanks to the Enphase Enlighten website - and compared monthly totals to the CSI predictions.  The results are summarized in the table above.  All together, the three systems experienced a combined yield of 15.6% above the CSI predictions.  The individual systems ranged from an annual increase of 5.1% to a whopping 28.5%.  All three systems had individual months where the yield improvement exceeded that overall yield, whereas two systems experienced months where yield was below predictions - mostly likely due to weather impacts.

We have also included the averaged shading percentage from the CSI/Solar Pathfinder data and it is interesting to note that the highest yield improvement did not correspond to the system with the greatest degree of shading.  (However, the system with the least shading did have the smallest yield increase which would be expected.)  Why would that be if shading is what drives the performance improvements?  We believe that the difference is in the type of shading.  System 2, even though it has the highest degree of shading, has long periods of time when no portion of the array is shaded at all.  Thus its performance during those periods is comparable to what would be seen with a string inverter, and it therefore experiences a more modest - but still robust - yield improvement.

The bottom line here is that for a relatively modest increase in price over that of a string-inverter system, these three systems show substantial, real-world performance improvements thanks to using micro-inverters.  When we do a solar evaluation at your home, we will be able to let you know which type of system makes the most sense for your site.

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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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