Tag: "la county"

08/17/18

  03:15:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1210 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Energy Storage

What I Saw at Enphase - Mind Blown!

Enphase hqLast month during Intersolar, I (along with colleagues Sara and Victoria) was lucky enough to get invited to see a microgrid demonstration featuring the Enphase next-gen IQ8 at their headquarters in Petaluma, California.  As I had to sign an NDA as the price of admission, I was unable to write about what I had seen until today, when Enphase hosted their annual Analyst’s Day.  But I am no longer bound by that agreement, and can now tell you about what I saw. 

To say that I was impressed would be a gross understatement - quite simply, it was the most astonishing thing I have ever seen in the solar industry.  Settle in and let me tell you what I saw…

What Happens Today

Before I launch into describing the demo, let me remind you of what happens today.  All of the systems that we have installed are what is referred to as “grid-tied” which means that if the grid goes down, the PV system that is capable of back-feeding the grid also goes down, and remains down until the grid comes back.  (This is to prevent your house from being an island of energy, feeding the grid, and potentially injuring a worker trying to restore grid service.  As a result, this feature is known as “anti-islanding” and it is required of all inverter systems that are connected to the grid.)

Normally this is not a problem, but last month, when it got super hot out here (think 115° F hot!), both SCE and LADWP suffered dozens of outages, taking down PV systems across large swathes of LA County, and leaving frustrated PV owners without power, or A/C, just like their PV-less brethren.  Not good.

What I Saw in the Lab

Which brings us to what I saw at Enphase last month.

The lab looked like an ordinary industrial space, but with a series of household appliances and tools at one side.  There was a simulated array feeding a bank of IQ8 inverters, and a display that showed the output of the array (i.e., PV production), the total consumption from the loads, and any power being exported or imported to support those loads.  At the start of the demo the only load was a single red lamp, and the display indicated that it was drawing roughly 90 Watts.  The PV array was producing roughly 1.9 kWs, so the excess 1,800 Watts was being exported to the grid.  All super normal stuff.

But then things got interesting…

One of the engineers switched off the breaker that connected the PV array to the grid… and nothing happened!  Well, actually, a lot happened, but what didn’t happen was that the red light did not go off.  It didn’t even flicker to the extent that we could detect it.  But then when you looked at the display you noticed something amazing.  Not only had the microinverters created a grid on their own in fractions of a second, but they had throttled the output down so that now the production of the PV array exactly matched the load of the red light!  And here’s the kicker - there were no batteries attached to this system!!!

But what fun is just having a light on?  How about some toast?  So they switched on a toaster, and it lit up, and the total load jumped by about 1,000 Watts, making the total load now around 1.1 kW, and the PV array scaled up to meet it!  Still no batteries.  And how about this - there was no central controller, no master-slave relationship between the microinverters.  Rather, this was the “hive mind” at work, as the micros sensed the demand and scaled up or down as necessary to meet that load!

But wait, there’s more!

The next load to be added was a grinder like you might find on your workbench in the garage.  All by itself, that device drew roughly 1,200 Watts, bring our total load to roughly 2.3 kW - more than the maximum output of our simulated array.  What would happen when that was added to the mix?  Surprisingly little.  The grinder spun normally, but the red light dimmed slightly.  What was going on?  The system’s “hive mind” had lowered the voltage slightly (a microgrid equivalent of a brown out) to meet the amperage demand of the new load mix!  So slightly slower than normal, cooler than normal, dimmer than normal, but all operating.

Of course, all good things must come to an end.  Our already overloaded microgrid faced one more challenge - a vacuum cleaner with a significant in-rush current, far in excess of what the grid could sustain.  Indeed, as soon as they switched the vacuum cleaner to “on", everything shut off.  Nothing was damaged, the microinverters just shut off to protect themselves.

Turning on the vacuum cleaner served as the “ah-ha” moment for the potential homeowner - I guess I can’t run everything in grid outage mode.  So what do you do when something you just did produced an undesired result?  Well if you can, you undo it!  Turning the vacuum cleaner off, immediately restored the microgrid to its previous state of operation!  No delay.  No human intervention - just turn off that latest (over)load, and the system recovers on its own!

How cool is that?  Pretty damn cool, if you ask me!

Batteries Please?

So what about batteries, how do they play with this new system?  Just exactly as you would want.

The engineers added a bank of batteries to the mix, each with an IQ8 installed.  Now the display also indicated the battery’s overall state of charge, and whether they were charging or discharging.  Reset the demo to just the red light as a load and the batteries at 30% state of charge.  The PV array output jumped back to its maximum, with the surplus energy being used to charge the batteries.  As more loads were added, the PV array remained at maximum output, and as needed, drew power from the batteries.  Should the batteries reach full capacity and the PV output is greater than the loads, the microinverters will once again throttle down.

Sweet!

What’s Next?

I hope you agree that this was an amazing demo, and the IQ8 (or Ensemble, as Enphase refers to the overall system) has tremendous potential, both for Enphase as a company, and for so many nascent markets.  Think of how this product could have helped out in Puerto Rico, or in parts of Africa which have never, ever seen a grid!  Makes me want to book a trip to bring power to a village somewhere - hey Laurel, what do you say?

For our own clients, this has the potential to be the answer we have been seeking ever since Elon’s whoppers got people thinking about storage for the first time ever.

A point we raised with Enphase management is the need to have a reasonable upgrade path for existing clients.  Indeed, I have a call with Enphase tomorrow to discuss that very topic.  We know that current Enphase IQ products (the 6+ and 7+ we have been installing this year) will be compatible with Ensemble.  We expect to be able to work with older systems, though there may be a higher retrofit cost.  When we have that information, we will surely let you know!  The IQ8 is expected to be available in 1H2019… watch this space!

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07/22/15

  09:19:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 692 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Safety, Ranting

Will LA County Clean up its Act?

We couldn’t suppress an ironic smile when we read the headline, Los Angeles [County] Assembling Solar Action Committee to Address PV Challenges.  “Physician, heal thy self,” immediately popped into mind given the propensity of LA County to create those very challenges!  Here’s our take on what LA County is up to.

According to the article at Solar Industry magazine’s website:

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Works (DPW) has created a Solar Energy Action Committee (SEAC) to facilitate an expansion of residential and commercial solar photovoltaic power in the region.

According to the DPW, there are many challenges that are preventing the state and local governments in California from meeting aggressive renewable energy goals. Many of these challenges relate to the interpretation and application of codes and regulations in both the private and public sectors. Furthermore, solar technology is evolving so quickly and with such variety that jurisdictions are having problems determining how to apply codes and standards.

Oh heavens, don’t get me started!  Well, ok, too late. 

How about this for just one example (from many): we recently completed a commercial project in LA County.  When we submitted our single line drawing to DPW (prepared and stamped by a licensed electrical engineer), it came back with nine “corrections".  Ultimately we were able to demonstrate to DPW that seven of the nine did not even relate to our project since they all were focused on either the DC side of a PV system (and our Enphase-based system had no such components) or they related to the size of a non-existent load-side breaker.  It took three iterations to whittle those bogus objections away, until we got down to the final nut: bonding.

Now one of the two remaining concerns was legit - DPW wanted our plans to call out two grounding rods.  Fine, easy, done.  But the remaining sticking point was a killer.  We were using Everest Solar racking, which has UL 2703 listed splices for its rails that bond those splices together.

Redundant bonding thanks to DPW

DPW refused to accept the splices for bonding, requiring bonding jumpers (like you see in the picture) across each splice.  Which begs the question: what is the point of manufacturers building products to meet a national spec, if a local jurisdiction like DPW can simply say, “not in my backyard?”

Everest also had at the time an approved mid-clamp with WEEB solution for bonding between modules.  In Pasadena, just across the street, that combination would have been approved without comment.  But not DPW, which  rejected the WEEB solution, requiring us to run a continuous #6 wire from module to module - all 246 of them!

Now when you talk to the folks at DPW they insist that this is all about safety.  To which we respond - rubbish!  What is the failure scenario that we are actually protecting against?  In theory, you are trying to ensure that no metallic part becomes energized without a pathway to ground.  That way if there is a fault, and someone touches the affected metal surface, current will not flow through them to ground (causing injury) because it has a lower resistance path to ground via the system bonding.

That is certainly a noble goal, but did the changes DPW insisted upon improve safety in the real world?  This array is on a free standing structure, 14′ above the ground so it isn’t likely that someone would ever casually come in contact with a metal surface to begin with.  But even if they did, what would that failure mode have to be?  On the one panel that happens to develop a fault, a minimum of two, and in most cases four, WEEB clips would have to fail at the same time!  Call me cynical, but I find that a highly unlikely event.

In contrast, the economic consequence of what had to be done to placate DPW was very real, adding thousands of dollars in parts and labor to the cost of the project, for an at best marginal improvement in safety.

So we are all for DPW taking steps to eliminate “PV challenges", but we would suggest they look at cleaning up their own act as the proper place to start.

07/25/12

  09:52:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 548 words  
Categories: AB 811/PACE/LACEP Funding, Commercial Solar, Non-profit solar

Non-Residential PACE Rebounds - at Least in LA County

It has been nearly a year since we last wrote about PACE, or Property Assessed Clean Energy, a means by which an assessment against a parcel’s property tax is used to pay for Clean Energy improvements, including solar. At that time, PACE for residential properties had been dealt a mortal blow by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which refused to subordinate their loans to the PACE assessment. (Never mind that by lowering a property owner’s utility bills you made it far less likely that the owner would default on their loan. Wonder who benefited the most from Fannie and Freddie’s actions? Certainly not consumers.)

Solar on a non-profit schoolResidential customers are still out in the cold, but for non-residential property owners the situation, at least in LA County, is far more promising and this may be just what is needed to get commercial and non-profit building owners into the game.   The basic idea is this: any property owner who pays a property tax bill - including non-profits like private schools - can participate.  They hook up with a funder - Wells Fargo is actively participating, for example - and the County issues a bond to that funder in exchange for the proceeds to fund the project.  The property owner then pays off the bond by a property tax assessment that “runs with the land” so it is not a personal obligation of the property owner.

Part of the beauty of this program is its flexibility.  The funder and the property owner reach mutually agreeable terms for the project including interest rate and payback period.  (Indeed, we see this as a great way for a SunCorp to assist a non-profit entity in going solar.)  The County simply determines that the proposed project qualifies for the program and then acts as the bill collector.

There are requirements for participation, but they are not particularly onerous:

  • Applicant must be the legal owner of the property, and all of the legal owners of the property must agree to participate
  • Mortgage holder(s) must explicitly consent to the PACE assessment in writing
  • Property owner must be current on any existing mortgage(s), property tax and assessment payments
  • Property owner must not have defaulted on the deeds of trust
  • Property must not be subject to any involuntary liens or judgments
  • Property must not have been delinquent on property taxes for the past five years
  • Property will be subject to the appropriate jurisdiction’s permitting inspections and all other applicable federal, state, and local codes and regulations
  • Property owner must not be in bankruptcy and must not have declared bankruptcy within the last 10 years

Notably, there are no program requirements regarding equity in the building (although the funder may impose some) or other financial hurdles.  The program can finance up to 100% of the project cost, including engineering reports and permit fees.  To qualify, the building must either be in the unincorporated areas of the County or in one of the 79 cities (some 90% of the County) that have approved the program.

The County is actively trying to get the word out to building owners throughout the region.  They have launched a website, and will be offering an outreach meeting for interested contractors sometime in August (we will post the details when we have them).  In the meantime, you can request more information by emailing them at: pace@ororkeinc.com.

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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