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SPI 2016: Run on Sun Take Aways

09/26/16

  10:51:00 am, by Laurel Hamilton   , 1615 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power

Solar Power International 2016: Industry Latest and Greatest

Every September we pack our bags and head to the largest solar conference and exposition in the country; Solar Power International. This is when we get to connect with the broader solar community, advocates, and friends working far and wide for the betterment of the world through distributed clean energy. It is also the time when manufacturers unveil their latest technologies. These technology improvements come fast and furious in an attempt to stay ahead of the curve in a competitive industry. Just two years ago when I started working with Run on Sun we were able to get 270 watt panels from LG. What is coming from them in the next year will blow your mind. Here is my run down of the top take aways from SPI 2016…

Panel: “Survival of the Fittest, the Future of Residential Solar”

Some of you may have seen the three part series Run on Sun’s CEO, Jim Jenal, wrote recently about what we need to do to be sustainable as an industry facing a crisis of increasingly shoddy workmanship and shady business practices. As part of the convention’s educational program, Jim was invited to participate on a panel of solar professionals to discuss the future of residential solar. The panel consisted of a wide range of backgrounds including a representative from a national company, Sunrun’s Michael Grasso, Rick Luna from a municipal utility CPS Energy, Ed Murray from a medium sized company, Aztec Solar, as well as national advocacy group SEIA, and Jim representing the small installer at Run on Sun. 

The panelists discussed their take on who will dominate the residential solar space and what will the predominant business model be in five years. This was a perfect platform to raise the very real issues of quality facing the industry and Jim did not disappoint! Of course Sunrun’s Grasso asserted that national scale companies continuing the leasing model with storage will dominate in the future. But there were many nods of agreement in the audience when Jim insisted that the current status quo is not sustainable. Giant publicly traded national companies operating in the red and pushing customers into bad deals are going to cause a backlash. We’ve already seen many law suits and bankruptcies in the industry. Solar City’s Better Business Bureau rating in the Bay area is an embarrassing 80% negative. The notion that Ed Murray, from SEIA, put forth that the market will naturally take care of the bad companies is just not a sustainable way forward or an ethical one. As more and more consumers get hit with bad contracts and solar systems, the market will be left with a bad taste for solar. The people in this industry who are doing it for the right reasons, aiming to help people save money and reduce their impact on the ecosystem need to demand that there is more oversight over the quality of systems and some legal standards around contracts.

Jim’s comments seemed to be well received in the audience as most people attending were people who work in solar for the right reasons given they are investing in the hefty price-tag to attend the convention. But the disparate opinions on the panel itself was interesting to say the least. I don’t know if the reps for big companies are just out of touch with what is happening on the ground or if they are in denial. 

Everyone agreed that a future will include storage or other bundled options for improving home efficiencies. However, Jim noted that storage needs to be presented to clients in a transparent way so they understand the true value of storage and whether it makes sense for them or not. If you are on a tiered rate system with no demand charges there likely is no value in storage. Solar stakeholders from advocates to installers need be fostering business practices that focus on transparent education for consumers instead of just closing every sell if we are to survive as an industry and continue to grow solar as the incredibly valuable resource that it is. 

 

LG Solar Panels Up the Ante 

We have been installing exclusively LG panels since 2012. Why? We believe LG panels are the best for our clients for two main reasons. 1. As a diversified company we, and our clients, can rely upon them to stick around to back their 25 year warranty no matter what happens in the wider solar industry. And 2. LG has an incredible R&D department churning out ground-breaking improvements keeping them at the top in both quality and output year after year. 

Last year LG announced 320 watt panels would be coming and we were fortunate to be one of the first to install these at a beautiful home in Altadena last Spring. This year they have several incredible new announcements:

  1. LG 355 Black on BlackNeon R Panels: This latest generation of LG panels has incorporated rear contacts, so no wire lines showing on the front of the panel. They displayed an impressive 365 watt panel slated to be released in Q1 of 2017! The “R” will also be available with a black backsheet and a 355 watt output capability. With rear contacts and a black backsheet the panel has a seamless sleek look like no other! (see pic)
  2. AC Modules: LG is partnering with Enphase Energy to incorporate Enphase’s newest generation of microinverter into the panel itself, creating an AC solar panel. Panels convert sunlight into direct current (DC), then that current must be converted into alternating current (AC) using an inverter. With the inverter directly on the panel, this will simplify things on the roof a great deal. As the majority of our projects are with Enphase microinverters and LG panels, this is a match made in heaven!  
  3. Bi-Facial Panels: Bi-facial panels have no back sheet, allowing reflected light to hit the panel from underneath when installed above a light surface adding to the output capacity of the panel. They had these on an impressive display showing up to 40% more output than a standard panel with a backsheet. There has been a limited market for bi-facial panels historically. Sometimes you see them on shade structures, but the price point is higher than standard panels. These new LG panels are in a commercial 72-cell format so they are aiming to capture commercial projects that can really bank that extra output capacity. 

 

Enphase Energy Total Rethink

Enphase MicroThe Enphase booth was seriously hoppin’ throughout the expo! Unsurprisingly with a total redesign of their system from the microinverter to the cable and even a special junction box.

  1. IQ 6 Micro:The new system, called IQ, includes the same microinverter guts with a new, double-insulated, polycarbonate case eliminating the need for a ground wire and cutting down significantly on weight and cost. The new IQ inverters will pair with a broader range of panels including 60-cell and 72-cell commercial panels as well as up to 400 watt panels.  
  2. Cable: The new cabling will be lighter and cheaper as well because they are carrying 2 wires compared to the current cable carrying 4 wires. They eliminated the need for a neutral for communications as they will now communicate on the same lines that the energy is transported. They also eliminated the need for a ground wire due to the new polycarbonate case.  
  3. Smart Junction: Lastly they rolled out a junction box wired up for easy installation between the string of panels and the run to the electrical service. 

All of these improvements come together to create a system that includes the microinverters we know and trust at a lower cost with a simpler and quicker installation. 

 

Everest Solar Racking Shares at SPI

EverestThe large majority of Run on Sun’s solar installations are being held together by the great racking products from Everest. This is because their materials are the most solid and well thought out racking product for standard pitched roofs on the market today. Their booth at SPI included a new “shared rail system” which allows two panels to come together on a single rail cutting down on the total number of rails needed for an installation. This system incorporates the same beefy product we trust with a reduced overall cost and installation time on the roof. It also doesn’t hurt that the entire team at Everest Solar Systems are great people and local to SoCal too! 

 

Edisun Dual Axis Tracker - PV Booster

Idealab tracker

Pasadena’s Idealab, an incubator, has been consulting with Jim on a revolutionary new product - the PV Booster - at their start up Edisun. They unveiled their dual axis tracker system at SPI. The system is designed for large flat roofs (and even carports) and potentially can increase output by up to 40% by tracking the sun throughout the day.

We were excited to see the system on display as they have developed quite a bit over the last six months of consulting with Jim. There was a lot of interest in the system at the show and we hope to help move their vision forward by installing some projects using their system locally here in Pasadena in the coming year. 

 

A Solar Wedding

SPIdoEvery year Run on Sun participates in Solar Fred’s Tweetup. It has become an event of close friends and allies. This year was a very special Tweetup as mainstays Pam Cargill and Martin Hamon got hitched in a truly extraordinary ceremony! Pam was walked down the “aisle” by a mascot Sun to the tune of “Here Comes the Sun". The ceremony included as many solar-love metaphors and quips as possible as Reverend Solar Fred officiated. Apologies for my blurry photo but it really was an event to remember. If you have pics to share with the happy couple you can share them on their dropbox here and relive the moment on Twitter with #SPIdo. 

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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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