Category: "Solar Repairs"

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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05/27/14

  06:55:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1031 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Safety, Solar Repairs

Solar Repairs Done Right!

Is your solar power system safe?  How can you be sure?

We are receiving more and more inquiries about fixing solar power systems from folks whose system has stopped working and the original installer can no longer be found.  Sometimes a violent act of nature prompts the need for our services, but all too often we are seeing shoddy work that has failed far too soon.

Case in point, we received a call from a true “rocket scientist” the other day who had a solar power system installed about seven years ago, but now he was having a problem.  We learned that the system had been installed by an air conditioning company (you’ve seen their ads), and it had two SMA Sunny Boy 2800 inverters—now well out of warranty—and one of them was displaying the dreaded, ground fault error.  Ground faults occur when a normally ungrounded, current-carrying conductor makes contact with something that is grounded, such as the frame of a solar module, the system racking or even the conduit itself.  Ground faults can be dangerous and are often difficult to locate.

When the solar system owner contacted his installation company, they offered to replace his offline inverter—for $5,000!  Of course, simply replacing the inverter was unlikely to do anything about the ground fault, and it was possible that there was nothing wrong with the inverter at all, apart from being out of warranty.  But in any event, charging $5,000 to simply do a one-for-one inverter replacement was highway robbery, and the system owner was pretty annoyed by the time he got around to calling us.  Since there was no way to properly diagnose the situation over the phone, we agreed to come out and take a look.

Sure enough, one of the inverters was working fine, but the other displayed a ground fault message.  The system owner told us that there was a combiner box on the roof, so we headed there to try and figure out where the fault might be.  Here’s what we found in that “combiner box":

This is NOT a combiner box!

This is so NOT a combiner box!

This is a junction box into which the folks who threw this system together crammed the wires coming from the strings, joined them together (without any fusing to protect the array, to say nothing of the house) and then routed them downstairs to the inverters.

Another problem—the wires coming into this non-combiner box are all THHN, which is fine for a conductor running in conduit, but is no good at all for conductors coming from solar modules in the array.  The insulation here is simply not designed to hold up under years of exposure to sunlight.

This is simply ignorant, shoddy work that has no place in the solar industry.  Sadly, this particular company has not gone out of business, though the world would be a better place if they had.

People can get hurt this way.  Property can be destroyed this way. 

And the solar industry can get a very bad reputation this way.

We broke the bad news to the system owner and explained that what was needed was to replace the box on the roof with a proper combiner box, replace the improper wiring with USE-2 wiring that is designed to last on a roof, and bring the system back online.  We also suggested that given that his existing inverters were out of warranty, he might want to consider upgrading to a single, transformerless inverter that would provide a ten-year warranty, the possibility of online monitoring, and much greater efficiency.  That was the path he decided to take.

We installed an Outback combiner and upgraded the wiring.  In so doing we managed to bring some order out of the previous chaos, take a look:

New, proper combiner box

Now each of the four strings is properly protected by a dedicated, touch-safe fuse, and there is proper stress relief on the USE-2 conductors entering the box from the array. 

We also installed ground lugs on each of the rails—something the air conditioning guys hadn’t bothered to do—and we installed two end clamps that had somehow been overlooked when the install was done.

The cool, new SMA 5000TL inverter allowed us to add monitoring to the system, as well as SMA’s emergency power outlet that provides a nominal amount of power from the array, even if the grid fails.  In the process we were able to clean up the wiring on the ground, get rid of those air conditioning disconnect switches and install a proper disconnect.  Oh, and while we were at it, we even arranged to donate the old inverters to Habitat for Humanity, providing the system owner with a charitable tax deduction!

Most importantly, we were able to restore his confidence in the solar array on his home.  And maybe, even a bit of confidence in the solar industry itself.

Moral of the Story

There are a number of take aways from this experience that we would like to stress:

  • First, if you are in the market for a new solar power system, please, please, please, go with a solar professional.  If you are confused about where to find one, start at the NABCEP website, they have a searchable directory of them.  (Full disclosure, you will find us there as well!)

  • Second, if you have an existing system that is more than five years old, you might want to have someone come out and check it out.  Start with your original installer—they should be happy to swing by and give things a look for a very modest fee.  If they refuse, or are no longer in business, you will want to contact someone else to do that for you.  (Yes, NABCEP again is the proper starting place.)  Insist on getting photos of what is on your roof.

  • Third, if your system components look like the nightmare we found, you should demand that the original installer repair it.  If they are no longer around, you should have it repaired before it causes a major problem.  A reputable solar pro will give you a fair price based on time and materials to bring your system up to code, and leave it safe to operate for a very long time.
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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