Categories: "Solar Events"

04/23/13

  08:41:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 284 words  
Categories: Solar News, Solar Decathlon - 2013

Unirac Supports USC Solar Decathlon Team with Assist from Run on Sun

Unirac logo

We wrote previously about our chance encounter with Evyn and Stephen from the USC Solar Decathlon team at a solar tweet-up and how great it was to meet such smart, enthusiastic, and talented young professionals dedicated to advancing sustainability.  It was the kind of encounter that made you want to roll up your sleeves and help them reach their goals.

Well, now we are pleased to announce that our meeting has born fruit. Thanks to our friends at Unirac, we have some great news!

fluxHome model from USC solar decathlon team

Evyn & Stephen show off fluxHome™ model

Unirac has agreed to donate all of the racking gear needed for fluxHome™ - USC’s entrant in the 2013 Solar Decathlon.  And not just any racking, but Unirac’s flagship product, SolarMount Evolution, which provides the most secure roof-top attachment system in the business.

Unirac solarmount(e) end clamp

Soon, this hardware will support solar panels on USC’s fluxHome™

We often write about how the solar industry is really supposed to be better than other endeavors - more focused on the future and not just profits in the present.  After all, the systems that we install are supposed to last for 25 years and the reason we build them in the first place is to help create that sustainable future.  So it is tremendously affirming to have a partner like Unirac that has a similar vision.  (Nor is this donation an outlier for Unirac - read about their efforts to assist with the installation of a solar power system on a home for children in Haiti.)

We are proud to have played a small part in making this happen and prouder still to be associated with the USC Solar Decathlon Team and their efforts at providing lessons in sustainability for us all.  Fight on!

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02/22/13

  08:43:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 872 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Events, Solar News, Energy Efficiency

SB 39 Hearing: Hopeful Signals for Solar

Yesterday we attended the public hearing held by Senator Kevin de León (D-SD22) to discuss his proposed SB 39 which is intended to provide the mechanism for allocating Proposition 39 funds. We went into the meeting with significant concerns given the failure of the bill’s initial draft to say anything about clean energy generation. We came away impressed with Senator de León and encouraged for the future path of this legislation. Here is our report.

The hearing - technically a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Fiscal Oversight and Bonded Indebtedness - was held at Murchison Elementary School in Los Angeles, a school which could certainly benefit from the funds to be raised by Prop 39 and potentially allocated by Senator de León’s SB 39.  De León chairs the subcommittee, but neither of his colleagues - Ricardo Lara or Mimi Walters - attended.  Instead, Senator de León was joined on the dias by Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (D-AD15) - an old friend from Berkeley City Council days and one of the leading environmentalists in the State legislature.  (Sadly, Assemblymember Skinner had to leave before we had our turn to speak.  Perhaps she will read about our comments here.)

The format of the scheduled three-hour meeting was to take testimony from a number of invited speakers - representing LAUSD, the LA Chapter of the Green Building Council, the Building & Construction Trades, Global Green USA and the Coalition for Clean Air (my officemates from my time at CBE out in Venice) - and then hear from members of the public.  During the course of the hearing it was hard not to be impressed by Senator de León’s concern for the largely working class community that he represents (Murchison school is in his district), his knowledge of the issues and his desire to come up with an appropriate formula that would be equitable and effective.  He was articulate, passionate, friendly and humble - a combination rarely found in an elected official.

One topic kept coming up again and again - how best to allocate these funds so as to do the most good.  Governor Brown is proposing to allocate the funds on a per capita basis - which seems even-handed, and easy to administer, but may not do such a good of applying the money to the greatest need.  Senator de León was clearly focused on finding a different solution and he pressed the witnesses to offer their suggestions.

From our perspective, while many measures could be used - such as the percentage of students entitled to receive a free lunch - it seems to us that a metric more closely tied to existing energy inefficiency - such as kilowatt-hours per student - might be a better allocation measure given that it is possible to have poor students in an efficient school (even if that is not common).  Another possibility would be to allocate funds strictly on a cost performance basis - direct the money to those projects that would produce the most bang for the buck - but pool the savings and allocate them to the neediest schools first.  Of course, one of the secondary benefits of more efficient schools is that they also improve the learning environment by being cleaner, quieter and healthier places to study.  Those benefits are hard to quantify and they make a “bang for the buck” approach less desirable if those benefits cannot be captured in the equation.  Clearly the quest for “equity” here is complicated and it is hard to see how any allocation formula will satisfy everyone.  (No doubt the reason for the Governor’s administratively easy approach.)

Which brought us to the time for our comments.  Sadly, we represented the only solar installer in the room, although, curiously enough, there was a representative from national SEIA there who spoke before us and in favor of including solar in the mix.  (Even more curious, there was no representative from CalSEIA there to speak.)

Given that SEIA made the point to include solar - which Senator de León appeared to agree with completely - we decided to shift gears and make the point about how solar could not only save energy and money, but unlike energy efficiency measures it could also enhance a school’s educational mission.  We noted that our project at Westridge had done exactly that - with students and administrators alike excited about the addition of solar on campus, and we even mentioned our geek-fest over the analysis of solar eclipse data.  Noting that solar was sexier than an LED, Senator de León agreed with us that both had a place in the mix of Prop 39 funds.  As an adjunct to our comments yesterday, and since there is a chance that he and/or his staff will see this post, here is our Westridge video for their viewing pleasure:

It remains to be seen, of course, how SB 39 will evolve to accommodate the input provided yesterday and the process calls for continued monitoring.  Still, we came away convinced that Senator de León is committed to doing the right thing and we wish him well in his efforts to balance the competing demands for funding and devise a formula that is fair and effective.

A future hearing is likely to be held at a later date in Los Angeles - we will let you know when that hearing is scheduled.

02/03/13

  09:43:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 329 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar News, Solar Decathlon - 2013

Solar Decathlon 2013 - Fight On!

The best part of an LA Solar Tweet-up is the chance to meet new folks who share the same passion for solar - and that passion was really on display with the two folks from USC’s 2013 Solar Decathlon Team - Stephen Collins and Evyn Larson.  Fight On, indeed!

For those who missed our prior reporting on the Solar Decathlon, the competition is a biennial event which previously has been held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  As cool as that site is, we are really excited to know that this year’s competition will be held here in Southern California - at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine.  The competition will run from October 3 - 13 and will be open to the public.  (We will provide lots more details about how to attend the event as we get closer to it.)

Twenty teams are competing, with four of them from California, including:

Each team designs and builds a livable home that they must then be able to disassemble, transport to the competition site, and re-assemble for the judging.  As the name implies, Solar Decathlon homes are judged in ten separate contests that are either based on objective measurements (such as energy balance) or juried (architecture) or both (home entertainment).  (You can read more about the specific contests at the DOE’s Solar Decathlon website.)

Which brings us back to Team USC which joined us for the solar tweet-up last night.  Evyn is an architecture major and Stephen is in Electrical Engineering and between the two of them, they are all over this project.  Here’s a very cool video highlighting the features of their design:

We look forward to following their progress (and maybe even helping to facilitate part of the process!) and we encourage others to check out their website, go like their Facebook page, and - of course - follow them on Twitter.

01/26/13

  07:55:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 157 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Events, Solar News

LA Solar Tweetup - Be There!

It’s a New Year and 2013 is already looking to be a momentous one in Los Angeles Solar. So let’s get together and get the Party Started! And that can mean only one thing - it is time for another LA Solar Tweetup!

LA Solar Tweetup at LA Brewing Co

Here are the details:

  • Date: Saturday, February 2, 2013
  • Time: 6:30 - some appropriately indecent hour!
  • Location: Los Angeles Brewing Company, 750 S Broadway, Downtown LA.
  • What’s on Tap?: 100 different beers, “gastro-pub” menu, and the greatest minds in the LA Solar Scene!
  • RSVP (Please!): Via TweetVite - LA Solar Tweetup - Feb 2013

This is a great opportunity to do some networking, talk to real solar pros about what is going on in the industry, and just have a great evening along with some great folks.  So please join your solar hosts: @SolarFred, @GoGreenSolar, @SolarCurator, and yours truly, @RunOnSun, at the LA Solar Tweetup - next Saturday night!  (You won’t be able to miss me - I’ll be the one sporting the Run on Sun gear!)

09/19/12

  04:03:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1882 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Westridge PAC Project, SPI 2012

SPI 2012 Recap

We spent last week at Solar Power International in Orlando thanks to our friends at Enphase Energy - here is our recap.

Rocking with Enphase

Enphase booth at SPI 2012

As we noted in our pre-show post, we were invited to attend SPI this year at the invitation of Enphase Energy, the company behind the most successful (but certainly no longer only) micro-inverters on the market.  This was our second consecutive year at SPI courtesy of Enphase and a better host could not be found.

Last year we were part of their Installer Challenge where six installers from around the country participated in a good-natured competition to demonstrate how easy it was to install the  Enphase M215 product with its plug-in cabling.  We didn’t know it then, but very soon we would be installing more than 200 M215’s on the Westridge roof, and in doing so, earn our second invite.

Westridge project on display at the Enphase booth

Westridge Project on Display at Enphase Booth

Having achieved substantial success in the residential market, Enphase is working very hard to make in-roads in the commercial sphere - and thus our install at Westridge fit nicely into that narrative.  We participated in a panel with a group of other installation companies that have also incorporated Enphase into commercial projects and we did a pair of one-on-one interviews that showcased the Westridge project and our experience using Enphase.  We also got to speak to a fair number of visitors to the Enphase booth (which was always crowded) and we even got a sneak peak at a prototype of the next model (which we can’t comment on now, except to note that some installer-requested features will be included - stay tuned!).

It was a great way to see the show and we can’t thank Kady Cooper and everyone at Enphase enough - you folks rock!

Oh, and one other point.  Pretty much every large company at the show hired local “talent” to help host their booth.  Most companies that do that, seem to think that it makes sense to have these women wear outfits that are more akin to what you would see on a dance floor than at a solar installation. As the father of a 16-year-old daughter, it was really satisfying that the two women who were brought in by Enphase to help host their booth wore outfits just like all of the other Enphase employees.  Another example of how Enphase Energy is a class act.

Stars of the Show?

Enthusiasm Gap

As great a time as we had at the Enphase booth, we would have to say that overall, the show was a bit of a letdown, as was the show in Dallas last year.  We admit to our California bias, and we mean no disrespect to solar fans in Dallas and Orlando, but the crowds just never came anywhere near what saw filling the aisles in Los Angeles two years ago - despite a significantly worse economy in 2010.  Not clear that Chicago will be able to reverse that enthusiasm gap (and also not sure whether we will be there to find out), but we expect things to bounce back when the show moves to Las Vegas in 2014.

Trending

If there was one discernible trend at the show, it was that AC-modules - whether fully integrated or by way of the abundance of micro-inverters on display - are here to stay.  We think the reasons for that success are pretty compelling (as we have noted before) but it certainly looks like the panel and inverter makers have come around to that point of view - however grudgingly that may be.

Storage - Not Yet Ready for Prime Time

A number of companies were talking about energy storage and a presentation at the KACO booth declared that local storage was the future of solar.  That may well be, but none of the products that we saw at the show, including those from KACO and Samsung, appeared to be ready for deployment anytime soon.  Still, the prospect of potentially generous incentive dollars for such storage - assuming the CPUC can ever implement the existing law - means that this will continue to be a hot topic and one which we intend to cover in greater depth in the future.

LG Bounds Up the Learning Curve

LG 300 Watt solar panel

We wrote last year about the introduction of LG Electronics into the U.S. solar market and this year they became our “go-to” panel of choice for working with the Enphase M215 micros.  Well it is apparent that LG is paying attention to their feedback as they had a couple of significant announcements.

First, their existing panel products, notably the 255 Watt panel that we will be using for the rest of the year, is getting a frame redesign that will make the overall panel 11% lighter without sacrificing strength or durability.  Also, the panel now has clips on the back side to hold the panel leads in place so you cannot have them getting crushed by the panel frame when you stack them prior to installation.  These are relatively minor changes, but they show a great attention to the type of details that make an installer’s life easier, and even safer.

The other announcement was that of their upcoming 300 Watt, 60-cell panel that is due out next summer.  We had heard rumors that LG was about to announce such a panel, and now they have - of course, next summer is a long way off.  It will be interesting to see how this new panel meshes with the new Enphase micro-inverter which will most likely also debut sometime next year.

President Clinton Rocks the House

To be sure, the biggest hit of the conference was the speech delivered by President Bill Clinton, fresh off his tour-de-force at the DNC the week earlier.

President Clinton addresses SPI 2012

President Clinton did not disappoint, taking on the new role of Cheerleader-in-Chief.  Often touted as the smartest guy in the room, the former President displayed detailed knowledge of the solar industry and he both exhorted and chided the crowd for not getting their successes before the public.  “Most people don’t know that there are 100,000 people working in the solar industry,” Clinton reminded the audience.

“You are going to win this fight,” the President insisted, “the only question is when and how."  What was needed was for solar to reach the sort of “tipping point” which would make that ultimate success inevitable.  But we certainly aren’t there yet, which is a shame given that “the United States leads the world in its potential for solar so we must also lead the world in installed capacity - but we are not."  A lot of that is a reflection of different policies between countries that have adopted solar with gusto, like Germany, and the more tepid policy response of the U.S.

But those of us in the solar industry are in the “future business” and “you have to take risks if you are going to go to tomorrow’s dance."  We should embrace those risks because we are in such a fortunate position:

The greatest human tragedy in this country today is the crushing unemployment.  Millions of Americans wake up every day with no hope that today will be any better than yesterday.  But you are so very fortunate because you get to get up every morning, look at yourself in the mirror and say, “Today I’m going to do something great!"  You just have to keep doing it until we reach that tipping point.

Thanks for the encouragement, Mr. President, we’re working on it!

Winner of the “Oh No, You Didn’t Go There” Award
Tie: SMA & Shoals Technology

SMA

SMA, one of the leading inverter manufacturers in the world, had a tortured product “near roll-out” during SPI and in the course of same made possibly the worst ever argument in support of their product from a solar company.  Here’s how it played out.  After initially dismissing the introduction of micro-inverters as a fad that would never catch on, SMA has now had to introduce their own micro-inverter product, but they remain deeply ambivalent about the whole thing.  Nowhere was this more on display than their presentation about the “virtues” of their new product during SPI.  We attended one of these schizophrenic productions and came away not only scratching our head, but seriously annoyed.

We were fundamentally puzzled by a presenter who spent the first half of his presentation questioning why on earth (or more accurately, on the roof) anyone would ever want to install a micro-inverter in the first place.  He then abruptly shifted gears to sing the praises of his product, and then introduced perhaps the most significant non-starter concept at SPI: the hybrid PV system, which to SMA means installing both micros and a string inverter on the same project.  (Do I really want both AC and DC conduit runs coming down from the roof?  Is anyone going to do this?)

Perplexed by the whole thing, I went up after the presentation to hear what else he would say.  The conversation promptly shifted to warranties, specifically, how long would the SMA micro’s be?  Well, we were told, the product is still in testing (with UL) so he couldn’t definitively say.  “At least ten years, hopefully 15,” he said.  (Now mind you that CSI rules require at least a 10 year warranty, so we weren’t really breaking any new ground here.)  “But wait,” said one of the installers standing by, “I have to compete with the 25-year warranty that Enphase is offering.  How am I supposed to compete with that if all you offer is 10 or 15 years?"  SMA’s spokesperson responded by belittling the idea of a company that has only been in business a short time offering a 25-year warranty, calling it not credible.  “Maybe,” said the installer, “but once I submit my bid, I’m not there to make that argument to the customer.  So I’m at a disadvantage if the guy bidding against me submits a bid that offers a 25-year warranty.”

Clearly frustrated by this predictable turn in the conversation, SMA’s spokesperson decided to pull out his trump card: “Look, you wanna talk 25-year warranties, you wanna know who else had a 25-year warranty?  I’ll tell you who, Solyndra!”

Oh.. No… You… Didn’t!

At that point my head completely exploded.  As an industry we simply cannot use Solyndra to make cheap points.  We are attacked time, and time, and time again about the Solyndra situation and yet, here was SMA’s spokesperson going there with great relish. Just plain stupid - and frankly, totally unnecessary.  Come on, SMA, you are better than that.

Shoals Technology Group

But while SMA’s speaker gets the award for most inappropriate comment, far and away the worst offender at SPI was a company called Shoals Technology that used the show to kick off an ad campaign for a product they called “Nice Rack” with photos of buxom women exploding out of their bikini tops.  We alluded to this in our recap of the InterSolar conference, but obviously they did not get the hint.  And then when lots of folks started to complain, they really earned the tin star with clusters for boorish behavior beyond the pale.  You can contact their CEO, Dean Solon, by way of LinkedIn, or you can go to their contact page to let them know what you think of their sexist behavior.  This is not the way to grow this industry, guys.

Google

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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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