Tag: "focused energy"

12/16/13

  06:13:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 741 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Residential Solar, Ranting

How can love survive?

In the stage version of The Sound of Music, there is a song about the perils of romance among the affluent titled, “How Can Love Survive” – sadly it was cut for the movie. But I’ve always liked that song and I was reminded of it while reading a piece over at greentechsolar that debated the question: Will smaller solar installers survive? Lest you have any doubt where we come out in this debate, the answer is simple: heck yeah! But let’s see why…

The debate was held last week at the U.S. Solar Market Insight event in San Diego and was reported on by the always interesting Herman Trabish in a piece titled, “GTM Debate: Will Smaller Installers Survive in Tomorrow’s Solar Market?” (H/T solarwakeup.com)  The debate featured Vivint Solar’s VP Thomas Plagemann squaring off against SunPower’s Residential Solar VP/General Manager Martin DeBono.

Plagemann’s comments reflect all of the arrogance and self-importance we have come to expect from such major players:

“In this business, we have to take three essential steps,” Plagemann said. “Find and acquire customers, design and install systems, and finance the systems.”

Financing has to come first, he explained. “A typical equity finance fund of $50 million, at $2.50 per watt and 5 kilowatts per system, means 4,000 systems. Using small installers to get that scale cedes control.”

Vivint has installed home security systems nationally for twenty years and keeps that control. “We acquire customers. That’s what we do. We took that customer acquisition engine and applied it to solar. Our success in the last twelve months is the answer to this debate.”

(Emphasis added.)

We note that Vivint has mostly done its work outside of the California market, so that $2.50/Watt number is not reflective of their presence in our fair state.  Indeed, when we last looked at CSI data for the first half of 2013, Vivint did not even crack our list of the top 16 installers. Here’s that graph:

Top 16 solar installers first half of 2013But even if they aren’t (yet) big in CA, is there any doubt that you could have gotten the same response from someone at SolarCity?  Their goal is to make solar a commodity with a standard set of offerings - if your roof fits into that model (and your FICO score is high enough) - you are golden.  Just don’t look for any real care and attention to detail.

Speaking for the little guy was DeBono from SunPower (with just a little irony given the size of SunPower).  He noted that:

“Small business is the second most popular institution in the U.S., after the military,” he said. People want to buy from small businesses.” In the home building industry, 40 percent of new homes are built by large national builders, but 60 percent are built by small local builders. Solar installation will break out the same way, he said.

“Large solar installers can leverage the advantage of scale as long as everything is uniform,” he argued, “but variance is the rule in solar, and variance is anathema to scale. For customers that don’t fit into a box, local installers are the answer. Variance will cap the rise of national installers.”

DeBono went on to note that forming a partnership with SunPower provides installers with leverage and a national brand.

We agree that establishing partnerships is essential, though we might question the degree to which SunPower is a national brand in the way that matters most - consumer consciousness.  Toward that end, we believe that partnering with a company like LG Electronics - which truly is a national brand and has the ad budget to prove it - makes more sense for small installers.  But how do you get access to the other essentials of the business?

Run on Sun has been exceptionally fortunate to have partnered with Focused Energy, who is much more than a premier distributor.  They have not only been our primary supplier since we first connected a few years ago, but they have offered us support, flexibility and insight that has made them an essential part of our success.  If you run a small solar business and you haven’t connected with them yet, we would encourage you to check them out.

As we have said many times, solar has to be more than just another business.  We have to be better.  At the end of the day, that is why the small installers will survive: because we care more, and that translates into greater value for our clients.

Bonus for sticking around to the end:

 Permalink3 comments »

04/25/13

  07:40:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 505 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, LADWP, Residential Solar

First NeoN Install Worldwide Goes to Run on Sun

LG logoWe wrote back in February about the roll-out of the newest solar module from LG Electronics, the high-efficiency NeoN.
We just learned that our latest residential install - which featured those new NeoNs - was the first such installation anywhere in the World!

It didn’t start out this way.

This project was drawn up years ago when the house was undergoing a major, down-to-the-studs renovation.  At the time, we were specifying Sanyo panels for such projects and this project was no different.  It did, however, provide some unusual design challenges including three different roof pitches - 10° to the South, flat, and 10° to the North!  Clearly Enphase was called for to merge these competing angles and shade factors into a harmonious whole.

Funny what a few years can do to a project design.  Turns out the space as built wasn’t quite as planned. (Shocking, I know.) The Sanyo modules that we had spec’ed were no longer available.  Instead we turned to LG and their fine Mono-X modules at 255 Watts apiece.  But then we discovered something far more troubling: the flat roof section was not draining well and indeed appeared to be holding water in the winter.  My roofer, a very conservative man, was not at all pleased by the prospect of putting attachments into a section of roof that was routinely subjected to standing water.

We brought the homeowner up to the roof and showed him the issue and explained our concern.  As much as we hated to give away the four panels slated for that area, it just didn’t seem like a good idea to put them there.

But wait - perhaps there’s something we can do.  What if we swap out the 255’s for the brand new, just-now-available, 280 Watt NeoN’s?  We would maximize our yield from the remaining space and have a chance to install LG’s flagship product.  The client agreed and a quick call to Buddy Fritz over at Focused Energy made it so.

Here are some pictures from the install:

Velvet and Josh installing new NeoN modules

Chief electrician Velvet works with Josh to get the alignment “just right".

LG NeoN modules going in

The NeoN panels look sharp going in.

Installing #6 groundOh, and just because this was an install in the City of the Angels, we had the privilege of installing this relatively tiny project with a #6 solid copper equipment grounding conductor!  (Useful for doing chin-ups when it is not providing an amazing ground!)

So how do we know this was the first NeoN install in the world? Turns out that I met with three representatives from LG yesterday to talk about their products and to offer our feedback.  Low and behold, they confirmed that Focused was the first distributor to receive a shipment of the new NeoNs and we received the first order from that first shipment!  Perhaps it really is true that “all good things come to he who waits!”

We look forward to monitoring this system in the coming months to see just how the NeoN’s perform - a topic for another day.  For now we will simply bask in the glory of saying - We’re #1!  Worldwide!

10/23/11

  04:57:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1117 words  
Categories: Commercial Solar, SPI 2011

SPI2011 - Wrapup & Reflections

Solar Power International 2011 took place in Dallas last week and it was a very interesting show. While it is hard to reduce a three-day event to a single blog post, it is entirely fitting to provide a brief recap on what we saw, and more importantly, our take on what it all means.

Preliminary Thoughts

We have not seen any actual attendance figures for the show but to us it seemed smaller and less attended than last year in Los Angeles.  To be sure, given our other obligations we did not have as much time to walk the floor as we did last year, but the show seemed more contained than before.  Moreover, the crowds seemed significantly smaller.  Last year in LA it was not uncommon to be in a crowd of people nearly as tight as an infamous LA freeway traffic jam.  There was little or none of that in Dallas from what we could see.

Still, the show was sufficiently large that there were undoubtedly cool things that we missed so please let us know your thoughts in the comments (not so subtle hint!).

Financial Matters

The biggest change in the show this year compared to the five we had attended previously was how often people brought up financial stability (or lack thereof) as a selling point.  Now in this post-Solyndra world that no doubt makes some sense, but it was jarring to hear it brought up so frequently.  For example, one distributor touted the leanness of their operation compared to their bloated and struggling competitor.  That competitor assured me, sua sponte, that they had been recapitalized and were now stable and moreover, their production guarantees were actually provided not by them, but by a third-party financial institution.  One panel manufacturer critiqued another by saying that they were bleeding money while that competitor suggested that solar was simply the flavor of the week at the competition and that they would not have staying power in solar. 
And so on.

While we had heard financial critiques of start-ups in the past - and it is always a fair question to ask where a start-up is getting its money and whether it can generate sufficient revenues to survive - this was the first time that we had heard such critiques applied to well-established players.  It was both interesting - certainly we have not spent much time analyzing 10K’s in deciding which products and suppliers to use - and a bit distressing.  Here’s hoping that next year everyone is doing so well that the financial matters are moot.

LG Enters the Fray

LG Mono X solar panelThe most interesting development at the show this year was the introduction of Korean electronics giant, LG Electronics, into the U.S. solar panel market.  From a technology standpoint, their panels - both mono and polycrystalline - appear to land somewhere between Sanyo and Suntech. The fit and finish appeared to be very good and the specs are appealing with a 0~+3% production tolerance and a module efficiency ranging from 13.7 to 16.2%.  One of their products, the Mono X (which comes in 250, 255 and 260 Watt variations) also claims to be the first solar panel to be “Carbonfree Certified.”

More significantly, the LG panels possess something that neither Sanyo nor Suntech has: an enormous brand-presence with American consumers.  Indeed, given the success of LG in the U.S. consumer electronics marketplace in recent years, it would be surprising to find a potential client who doesn’t already have one or more LG products in their home.  “Life’s Good,” indeed.

As fellow blogger and solar tribe leader, Tor Valenza a/k/a Solar Fred, has commented more than once, branding - and more importantly, brand recognition - in the solar industry is what we are all trying to achieve but so far no one really has.  Now that LG is weighing in and in a big way, can it be long before we see that LG Super Bowl ad featuring solar panels?  (Hey, LG, feel free to go with that idea and you don’t even have to pay me!)

Innovative Non-Lease Financing

The other big development that we saw was the introduction of a clever, non-lease financing mechanism coming from one of our distributors, Focused Energy.  While leasing programs can appear attractive - we’ve all seen the “go solar with no money down” ads - they have limitations for commercial customers including forfeiting the ability to advertise that your company is solar powered.  Yet cash-flow concerns can impose a significant impediment to potential clients.  While the bulk of those early out-of-pocket costs get recouped fairly quickly thanks to the utility rebate and the federal tax credit, commercial clients must still pony-up the full freight to get the project rolling.

That is where Focused is stepping in to help out.  Their program will allow the commercial client to assign to Focused the rebate and federal tax credit (in the form of the 1603 grant) and immediately reduce that amount from their initial purchase price.  We are excited by this program and we will post in greater detail when we have had a chance to review the fine print.

A Word of Thanks

Finally, we would be entirely remiss without a word or two of thanks to our sponsor, the great folks over at Enphase Energy.  Going into the event we wrote about how our presence was being subsidized by Enphase and we have also reported on the very spirited competition in which we participated and which became the talk of the show.

As great as all that was, on a more significant level, this was a chance to have unprecedented access to the Enphase decision makers, from CEO Paul Nahi, to Product Manager Magnus Asbo, to Marketing folks like Christine Bennett and Noelani Price.  Think about it - how often does an installer get asked by the CEO and Product Manager of a product you use everyday, “What are the things you like the least about our product?"  That’s easy - hardly ever!  But we were able to provide exactly that type of feedback this past week in Dallas.  Of course, it remains to be seen whether any of our feedback ends up in their product, but it surely does feel good to be asked.

Given that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - something Enphase already knows quite a bit about given the influx of other companies, including SMA, into the micro-inverter space - we would not be surprised to see more manufacturers inviting installers to participate with them at future shows.  We surely hope that happens as it can only be good for the industry, but Enphase has set the bar really high.

Your Thoughts

So those are our thoughts; if you were at the show we would love to hear about your insights and observations in the comments.

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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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