Tag: "enphase micro-inverters"

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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07/10/15

  07:54:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 270 words  
Categories: PWP Rebates, Westridge PAC Project

Enphase Revisits Westridge Solar Project

A little over three years ago (my how time flies), we installed a 52kW solar project at the Westridge School for Girls, here in Pasadena. At the time, the project got a fair amount of attention (including an award from the City), was featured in a video (watch it here), and was the lead story in Enphase Energy’s Summer 2012 Newsletter.

Three years down the road, the folks at Enphase decided to circle back and check-in to see how the Westridge project had performed over the years - both in terms of saving money for the school, as well as being incorporated into the curriculum (another key goal of the project).

Solar on the Roof, Power in the Classroom article

The article, titled — Solar on the Roof, Power in the Classroom — details how the Westridge Solar system has outperformed the modeled performance, producing 105% of the expected yield.  That overproduction actually benefits the school twice: most obviously by lowering the bills that much more, but secondarily, by providing a larger than expected performance-based rebate payment.

Beyond that, however, the system has also proved to be an effective teaching tool, allowing Westridge students to analyze the copious amounts of data provided by the Enphase microinverters through the Enlighten, cloud-based data reporting service.  One science class, for example, was able to discover how analyzing that data could detect the occurrence of a partial solar eclipse.

We are very proud of our partnership with Westridge and we look forward to doing another project with them in the near future.

Likewise, we are grateful for partners like Enphase Energy who are as committed to producing long term solutions as we are.  That is one powerful pairing!

03/28/15

  04:00:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 372 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Ranting

Who has the Edge? 3 Reasons to Pick Enphase over SolarEdge

SolarEdge has gotten a fair amount of buzz this week thanks to their IPO, but it made us think that maybe it was time to revisit the question—who really has the edge: DC-to-DC “optimizers” like SolarEdge or Enphase microinverters?  Let’s take a look!

Enphase Microinverter Which would you choose? Solar Edge Optimizer
 Enphase Microinverter    SolarEdge Optimizer

 

Enphase vs SolarEdge

In our view this Enphase vs SolarEdge battle is a bit of a “no-brainer” and it really comes down to the following three reasons:

Reason #3 - Integrated Grounding — In every solar array, all metal surfaces have to be grounded for safety.  Enphase microinverters now feature integrated grounding, which eliminates the need for a separate equipment grounding conductor.  SolarEdge does not have this feature and, depending on the jurisdiction, may require the use of a dedicated copper conductor to be run from one unit to the next.  This increases both labor costs as well as part costs (copper is expensive these days!).  Far better to have that grounding built-in at the factory than assembled on the roof.

Reason #2 - Easier Installation — Beyond the need for that equipment grounding conductor, the SolarEdge system requires the installer to not only mount the optimizers on the roof beneath each panel, but it also requires the installer to mount one or more heavy (51 to 88 pound) inverter(s) on the wall.  In contrast, Enphase combines everything into one unit, so there are no heavy inverters to mount to the side of the client’s house.

Reason #1 - Greater Reliability —The number one reason for us at Run on Sun is the greater reliability you get from using Enphase.  Frankly, the SolarEdge approach combines the worst of both alternative approaches (i.e., string inverters versus microinverters).  You are still putting power electronics in the demanding environment of a roof, AND you have combined that with a single point of failure with the inverter back on the ground!  When you use Enphase microinverters you eliminate that single point of failure and you are going with the industry leader in creating reliable, roof-mounted power systems.

Put all of that together, and we think Enphase microinverters provide the greatest value to our clients, which is why we feature them in all of our solar power systems, despite the occassional “buzz” other approaches might generate.

05/04/12

  08:17:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 35 words  
Categories: Commercial Solar, Non-profit solar, Westridge PAC Project

Putting it All Together - Installing Solar at Westridge - Part 5

Here it is - our video from our 52.3kW solar project at the Westridge School for Girls here in Pasadena.  Enjoy!

You can follow this link to see the complete series:
Installing Solar at Westridge.

  08:15:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1186 words  
Categories: Commercial Solar, Non-profit solar, Westridge PAC Project

On the Roof - Installing Solar at Westridge - Part 4

Our first three installments saw us secure our rebate reservation, successfully pull our permits, and deal with a host of challenges on the ground.  But now the real fun starts - in this episode we will document the heart and soul of this project, “Up on the Roof!”

Projection

Solar projects actually begin on a computer screen as the designer tries to map what is known about the roof, the utility service, and the client’s needs into a coherent proposal.  As the project progresses through the rebate and permitting processes, that design is refined - and as we have seen, sometimes altered.  But the trick of any implementation is to go from the designer’s plan to an actual system on the roof - starting with getting the attachments in place.

Jim and Brad confer over the plansNearly ancient methods, tape measures and chalk lines, are the essential tools in this process.  Since a solar array is essentially a grid, the trick is to project what is on the plans into a corresponding grid on the roof.  Precision and accuracy are the key to making this work, but roofs are notoriously inconsistent places!  What seemed to be square, isn’t always.  What appeared to be flat, actually has its own peaks and valleys.  While our projection onto the roof proved easy enough, we were about to discover that what you see - or were told - isn’t always what you get!

There’s What You Plan and What You Get

Our biggest design challenge had been the need to account for the somewhat unusual roof construction that we had to accommodate.  In particular, our underlying roof structure was a  20 gauge, type B steel deck, overlayed with multiple layers of plywood, foam insulation and roofing materials.  Given the thickness of those layers we had determined that we would need to use four,  8-inch-long, self-tapping screws to secure our “FastFoot” anchors to the roof.  We had purchased hundreds of those screws - along with a top-of-the-line Hilti cordless driver - to do the job.  But something wasn’t right.

As we started making our first few attachments it was clear that not all of them were reaching the steel deck!  Apparently in some places the actual thickness from the roof to the deck exceeded the 8″ reach of the screws.  Visual inspection from a scissors lift inside the building confirmed what we suspected - clearly not all of the screws were penetrating the deck, yet in other places, all four screws penetrated without difficulty.  There was only one solution to the problem of our inconsistent roof - longer screws!

Fortunately, we were able to order some 9″ screws from the manufacturer - the longest that they made.  They did the trick - now we could be certain that every FastFoot plate was properly secured.

Lean on Me

The changes to our plans imposed during the permitting process meant that we were very tight on space.  At the top of our array we had to install 3 sub-panels, each of which had to handle three branch circuits that made up that sub-array.  Our original plan was to build a triangular cross brace out of unistrut to support the sub-panels.Sub-panel with braces Unfortunately, given our close quarters, the solar panels needed to come right up to the supports for the sub-panels - a cross-brace system would take up too much space.

Instead, we designed a set of steel braces that were bent at precisely the angle that we needed - 103° - to allow our sub-panels to be perfectly vertical on our 13° sloped roof.  The design was easy, but could we get them fabricated fast enough to keep the project on track?  We knew of a small metal shop near our offices and we took the design to them - yes, they said, they could produce the six parts that we needed for $100 and they would have them in the morning - would that be soon enough?!!!

This turned out to be a very elegant solution to our problem.  Using two FastFoot anchors, we attached unistrut to them and then bolted our braces to that.  When combined with the rigid conduit feeding the sub-panel, we ended up with a very solid solution. 
Next problem!

Need a Lift?

The roof of our building was reachable by a series of three ladders traversing three different roof levels.   Josh delivers Enphase micro-inverters to the roof via boom liftWhile this was acceptable for getting personnel to and from the roof, it would never work for transporting hundreds of feet of rails, to say nothing of 209 solar panels!

Enter the boom lift - the same one that was unceremoniously dropped off for us by parking it under a No Parking sign!

Whether transporting rails, solar panels, or the Enphase micro-inverters as you see in this picture, the boom lift provided us with an efficient means of moving large amounts of gear up to our work site on the roof.  Operating a device that articulates in multiple dimensions in relatively tight quarters takes skill and great attention to detail.  (It also makes for some pretty cool looking photos!)

Connect the Dots

Once the rails were installed, the Enphase micro-inverters could be mounted and the process of running a continuous ground wire and the creation of the Enphase map could begin.

Ready for panels

Since this was an Enphase system, we would be able to monitor the performance of the array down to the individual solar panel/micro-inverter pair.  (Indeed, this monitoring ability was a key selling point for the system to the school as it nicely meshed with the school’s educational mission - more on that in our upcoming video!)  Each micro-inverter has a serial number that was carefully peeled off and affixed to a “map” that showed where each inverter was located on the roof.  As part of the commissioning process, we transferred the map data onto the Enphase website and built a true representation of how the system was laid out on the roof.

Now all we needed was to install the solar panels themselves!

Ralph and Josh installing panels

Careful attention to detail during this last step is rewarded with an array that aligns precisely and fits as planned.  Using the Enphase Envoy and a laptop computer, we could verify that each and every panel was properly connected and functioning as expected.  We could be confident that there would be no surprises that would need to be resolved later!

That gave us one last task for the boom lift - finished photographs.  Here’s our favorite:

Westridge PAC roof - solar project installed

Three inspections later - fire, building & safety, and PWP - and we were ready to officially go live.  Here’s how the system appeared on the Enphase Enlighten website one recent sunny day:

Westridge PAC solar system performance

The students at Westridge will be able to analyze the performance of this system for years to come, providing a first hand experience of how renewable energy works and can make a difference in our lives - what a great lesson to learn!

Chapter the Last

Which brings us to the end of this series - almost.  In our final installment you will see the video that we have produced for this project and you will hear from the Head of Westridge School, Elizabeth McGregor, Facilities Director Brian Williams, and three wonderful students talk about how this project plays into the larger mission of the school.  You won’t want to miss it!

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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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