Tag: "nabcep"

03/31/19

  09:14:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 635 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, NABCEP

Scanifly - the Coolest Thing I've seen this Year!

Last week I spent four intense days in San Diego for the annual NABCEP Continuing Education conference.  This is a great event, with lots of super smart, experienced installers from around the country gathering to sharpen their skills and share information.  Lots of vendors are there providing workshops, and there are heavyweight course sessions like two hours on Worker Safety, and an entire day on the National Electrical Code.  (Ok, so those two are a bit like eating your vegetables as a kid - but super important information, nonetheless.)  But there was one thing that stood out for having the highest cool factor - and that was courtesy of the folks at Scanifly.  Here’s our take…

Site Evaluations Re-imagined

One of the most crucial aspects of the solar installation business is performing proper site evaluations.  Some companies brag about being able to provide you with a proposal for adding solar to your home or business without ever bothering to go there.  We categorically reject that approach - online imagery is fine, but it won’t tell you whether the grounding is complete or the service panel has so many doubles in it already that it is a fire waiting to happen.  Nor can you look a prospective client in the eye, answer their questions, and build the confidence that is so important to doing this right.

But every time you have someone go up on a roof, there is a chance for injury.  And while roof work is a necessary part of this business, going up on a dangerous roof before you have even won the job, means most of the time you are exposing your employee to risk for potentially no gain.  Moreover, it is time-consuming and error prone to be making measurements while on the roof.  Things get overlooked - like just how far is that vent from the ridge? - and often you bring the evaluation results back to the office, only to realize that you missed a key detail!  Frustrating (and expensive) if you have to go back to the site a second time.

What if you could be assured that you would gather all the detail you could possibly need the first time?  And what if you could turn that - automagically - into a 3-D model complete with all the shading on the site from both trees and other obstructions?  Now that would be cool, and that is what the folks at Scanifly have achieved.

Here’s how it works.  You take a drone (typical price range: $700-1,500) and fly it on an automatic setting that flies a complete circle around the site at a set height, and radius from the center of the building in question - typically less than 100′ AGL and maybe 75′ radius (the site obstructions will dictate most of this).  The drone will fly that course automatically, and will take pictures with a roughly 85% or so overlap.  (No drone? No problem, they can hook you up with a drone pilot to do the image gathering.)

Once you have the photos, you upload them to the Scanifly site, and after some amount of data crunching, you now have a 3-D model onto which you can add your modules.  The software understands the shading at the site and can produce production modelling data that can then be imported into a savings modeling tool like that provided by our friends at Energy Toolbase.

Even cooler, you can give your prospective client a link to the model so that they can see what their house will look like with the system installed (including the boxes on the wall!) in full 3-D!  

Now that is really cool, and no one had to go up a ladder onto a roof to do it!

We are super excited about this system and we cannot wait to try it out for ourselves.

 Permalink7 comments »

04/11/18

  01:51:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 936 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Ranting

My Electric Bill is So High! Will Solar Help?Part 2: How Do I Find Someone to Trust?

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in our three-part series:
My Electric Bill is So High! Will Solar Help? 
You can read part one, How High is High, here.

Unless you have been living completely offline and in a cave, you are aware that there are lots of solar companies out there looking for your business.  You’ve seen them on the Web, perhaps they have called you or even knocked on your door.  You probably realize that you should do your homework and get several quotes before going forward, but how do you even know where to look?  Fear not, we’ve got you covered!

Why Trust Matters

For most homeowners, purchasing a solar power system will be one of the most expensive purchases they ever make, after their home, their education, and a new car.  Moreover, a solar power system is supposed to co-exist with your home happily for the next twenty years or more.  For all of that to work out, you need to find someone you trust.  Your gut is a good gauge here – if someone makes you uncomfortable now, chances are you will be even less comfortable down the road.

Qualifications Count…

In the search for qualified contractors there are some basic qualifications, and there are more sophisticated ones.  Let’s start with the basics: is this contractor licensed?  In California it is easy to check that out, simply by going to the Contractors’ State License Board and search on their license number (it should be on the contractor’s website) or their name.  If they don’t have a valid license, run, don’t walk, away from them! 

Beyond just checking to see if they have a license, you can also check for the type of license (only A, B, C-10, and C-46 license holders are authorized to install solar), whether there are any public complaints against them, and the status of their bonding and workers compensation insurance.

NABCEP logo

That covers the basics, but how about something more substantive?  After all, you could hold any of the necessary licenses and never have worked on a solar power system in your life! Toward that end, there is no greater indication of qualifications than to be a Certified PV Installation Professional by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), a distinction I’ve been honored to hold since 2010.

How select are NABCEP Certified PV Installation Professionals?  According to CALSSA, there are some 86,000 solar workers in California, of which just 294 hold that NABCEP Certification, according to the NABCEP website. 

As NABCEP puts it:

When you hire a contractor with NABCEP Certified Installers leading the crew, you can be confident that you are getting the job done by solar professionals who have the “know-how” that you need.
They are part of a select group of professionals who have distinguished themselves by being awarded NABCEP Certified Installer credentials.

You can search for a Certified PV Installation Professional on the NABCEP website here.

So does Reputation

If checking qualifications matters when it comes to finding a contractor that you can trust, then so to does assessing their reputation, which these days is easier than ever to do.  Search sites, like Google, display reviews for local businesses (keep in mind the top few listings are paid ads), and major review sites will let you see lots of reviews of solar contractors “near” you.  (Near in scare quotes because often those companies are saying they will serve your area even if they are located far away.) 

More localized resources, like Nextdoor and Neighbor-2-Neighbor, provide a more cultivated collection of contractors from which you can choose.

Of course, nothing beats getting a recommendation from someone you trust who has gone solar, had a great experience, and their system has lived up to expectations.  If you don’t know anyone like that, you should ask your prospective contractors for a list of clients that you can contact.  Naturally, the contractor is going to list people who will tell you great things, but ask to come by and see the installation for yourself. 

Other factors to consider…

Years in Business

Companies that have been in business a long time may or may not do better work than a relative newcomer, but at least they have shown that they know how to remain in business.  (In the solar industry, that is not a small accomplishment.)   Older companies usually have more experience – although a newer company could compensate by hiring well-experienced people – and experience is important since every project presents its own, unique challenges.

Local vs National

National companies are sometimes perceived as having an advantage because they have the whole “economy of scale” thing going for them.  Yet often those “savings” aren’t going to the consumer, they are going to shareholders or venture capitalists who have funded the operation. 

Local companies, on the other hand, live or die on their reputation.  They can’t simply write-off a territory and expand somewhere else – if they fail locally, they are doomed.  So local companies often provide much better service to their clients.  On top of that, the money you spend on a local company helps support your own, local economy.  And hey, if you have a problem, you may well bump into your installer in the grocery store and you can tell her all about it!

Next Steps…

Ok - by now you know that your home is a good solar candidate, and you have found several trustworthy contractors.  Now all you need to do is look over their bids, choose the best one, and off you go!  But wait, how do choose the best bid?  Fear not, dear reader, that is coming in Part 3: Evaluating Competing Solar Proposals

09/16/16

  02:01:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1049 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Ranting

Solving the Solar Sustainability Problem

Editor’s Note: This is the third of a three-part series asking the question: Is Solar Unsustainable?  You can find Part One: Shoddy Work here, and Part Two: Shady Business Practices here.


It is easy enough to cast aspersions, but it is far more valuable to offer suggestions for improvement.  Having devoted 3,000 words to the former, it is time offer some thoughts on the latter.

Too Big to Fulfill

Time to restore trust in the solar industry

I attended a solar workshop sponsored by our favorite distributor, BayWa r.e., and I heard the head of a solar company offer what might have been the saddest assessment of success I had ever heard.  This man had built his company to become the largest player in his region, but most of the time, he said, “I wish I could go back to being just two guys and a truck."  Growth is hard, and with it comes the risk of shoddy work creeping into your projects.  (Indeed, one of the jobs that we highlighted in our first post was done by a company that once had a great reputation, but grew too fast and lost control of quality.)

When a company becomes too big to fulfill its obligation to provide top-quality work, it is too big.

A greater emphasis on training is one way to grow while still keeping the quality high.  NABCEP is a good step in that direction, but companies need to support their employees to get the training that they need. (Of course, this says nothing about companies that are looking to rip people off - they represent an entirely different type of problem.  More about dealing with them later.)

From Customers to Clients

Right now the solar industry treats consumers like customers, and that’s a problem.  Customers represent a transactional relationship - gas stations and fast food restaurants have customers.  The customer hands over their money and gets a commodity in return - end of story.  But purchasers of solar power systems are entering into a long-term relationship with the product that we are selling - quite likely the longest lived product they will ever own, short of the house itself.  A relationship can only last that long when it is founded in trust, and that is the nature of a client relationship. 

Recognizing that we are entering into a client relationship changes the focus from the short term transaction to the long-term process of building confidence.  That means starting with absolute candor and at every step in the process enhancing the client’s trust.  The solar professional owes the client three duties: a duty of candor, a duty of communication, and a fiduciary duty.  The consequence of those duties is that you have to keep your client in the loop, and you must safeguard your client’s financial well-being.

How do you fulfill those duties?  By communicating clearly at every step in the process, identifying and disclosing problems as they arise, and by providing comprehensive contracts and then living by that contract (i.e., keeping change orders to a minimum).

Time to Come Clean

Solar companies need to provide comprehensive disclosures to their clients.  At a minimum, such disclosures should include:

  • All of the major components (specific solar panels, inverters, racking) to be used on the project, and the per item cost of each;
  • If financing is being proposed, the total cost of that financing;
  • Savings calculations that are actually tied to the client’s utility rate structure (or a structure to which the client is entitled to transition);
  • All assumptions (such as utility rate increase percentage, system output degradation, etc.), built into any lifetime savings computation.

Such comprehensive disclosures would eliminate the scourge of “generic solar systems,” and would allow consumers to make more accurate comparisons of competing bids.

Guiding the Market’s ‘Invisible Hand’

I spoke about many of these issues on a panel this week as SPI.  There was a great deal of agreement among the panelists, despite our disparate backgrounds ranging from a (refreshingly progressive muni utility) to Sunrun to me.  But the one comment that bothered me the most came from industry veteran and CALSEIA board member, Ed Murray.  In response to my stated concern that the bad business practices documented in my first two posts in this series constituted a serious threat to the industry, Mr. Murray’s response was that “the market will take care of it, bad companies will fail and the good ones will survive, hopefully without too much of a black eye to the industry.”

If only it were that easy.

We rejected such laissez faire notions with the rise of the modern regulatory state decades ago, and to suggest that the solar industry can or should survive without additional regulatory involvement is misguided.  The solar industry is far less regulated here in California than it is in many states.  For example, to participate in the solar incentive program in New York solar installers must be NABCEP certified.  Such a requirement here in the largest solar market in the country would go a long way toward cleaning up our act.

CALSEIA has a consumer complaint process - consumers who feel they’ve been badly treated by a solar company in California can start the process by clicking here to fill out their complaint form - but the process itself is secret, and the rest of the consuming public never learns about those complaints.

Similarly, utilities often have experience with bad solar contractors who do shoddy work, but they don’t publicize what they have learned so the public remains uneducated about the bad actors out there.  That should change.

Unfortunately, that leaves us, for now, in a position where the burden remains on the potential client to do the homework needed to find a reliable contractor.  NABCEP’s member list is a good resource (although made less so since you can no longer sort results by zip code), as is CALSEIA’s.  State contractor’s boards - responsible for licensing contractors - are a good source to verify that the contractor is properly licensed, and to determine whether there are any outstanding complaints against them.  (For California, here is a link to the “Check a License” page at the state contractors board.)  Yelp, Angie’s List, and the BBB can all be helpful.  But consumers must demand to be treated like the clients that they are, and reject solar companies that fail to honor that demand. 

06/08/16

  02:18:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 797 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, Residential Solar, Ranting

Swing and a miss - Why some consumers don't go solar

(Editor’s Note: This is our second of two articles looking at data provided to us by NREL researcher Benjamin Sigrin as part of his SEEDS investigation.  To read more about that project and our first post analyzing this data, please see: Who Chooses Run on Sun?)

While some 400,000 California homes and businesses have gone solar, there are still many folks out there who think about solar but ultimately don’t pull the trigger.  The SEEDS data provides some interesting insights into the reasons why that might happen - and in the process, provides some pointers for what we as an industry can do better.

How did we get here?

To get a handle on why consumers don’t become solar clients, it is first important to know why they were looking into solar in the first place…

Prompted to consider solar

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the number one reason that non-adopters cited for looking into solar was to save money on their energy bills.  After all, that is what most advertising in the industry is focused on, “Save money by going solar!"  Which is fine, as far as it goes, but there is the risk that some of those ad claims create unrealistic expectations among consumers.

Some of the other initial motivators are quite interesting, including seeing solar being installed on another person’s home.  This is classic secondary-adoption behavior, and it suggests that we are moving away from the pioneering, early-adopters and into the general public.  But unlike those pioneers, the general public is likely to be far more skeptical regarding claims by solar sales people!

What company did you say you’re from?

So how are folks first connecting with a solar installer?  For folks in SoCal, this chart will come as no surprise…

How did you connect with a solar installer

Nearly 60% first made contact by having someone show up at their door!  This gives rise to the following likely scenario: consumer has been suffering from high energy bills when an aggressive salesperson shows up on their door, promising amazing savings (and frequently at “No Cost to You!”), and then doesn’t leave until the hapless homeowner signs on the dotted line.  The likelihood of this scenario is bolstered by this graph that we used in our initial post…

How many solar companies did you look at?

More than 40% of all solar consumers spoke to only one solar company!  Clearly for a sizeable percentage of consumers those high-pressure tactics are effective in closing the sale, but we are very concerned that they are breeding a backlash that will damage the industry in the long term (more on that in a future post).

The second most common way to first come in contact with an installer is via a recommendation, although that only occurs one-third as often as finding a stranger on your doorstep!  As solar becomes more mainstream, we expect the number of first contacts by way of recommendation to go up, and hopefully the number of uninvited house guests to decline.

The bottom ranked means are particularly depressing as they include conventional advertising, review/research websites (like Yelp or Angie’s list) and the ever popular, but obviously ineffective, website forms.

Coming up short

These are all the means by which prospective clients are getting into the solar sales funnel, but where are they dropping out?  The survey data provides some insights there, too…

Stopped from going solar

Money, it seems, is still the number one impediment to going solar - and this despite the availability of zero-money down leasing programs.  (Perhaps people are looking more closely into the fine print of those programs and realizing that they aren’t the great deal that they are cracked up to be?)  However, the dataset of folks who did not go forward reaches back several years, and prices (and consumer access to financing) were more daunting years ago than they are today.

Which makes the second reason cited a greater cause for concern: nearly 40% cited the inability to find a “trustworthy and competent installer!"  To be sure, there is no shortage of installation companies out there, so it is in the trust and competence areas that we are failing as an industry to meet more than a third of consumers’ expectations! 

While we like to think that we score well on both counts (and our clients would agree!), we think there are some simple ways for consumers to overcome this hurdle.  First, do some homework - if you want to find a competent installer, go look where they hang out: the NABCEP website.  Second, talk to your family, friends, and co-workers.  With 400,000 installs in California alone, you already know people who have gone solar, so seek them out and hear what they have to say.  And finally, get more than one bid!  A solar installation is a major purchase (no matter how it is financed) so it is in your best interest to shop around.

04/10/13

  09:40:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 908 words  
Categories: Solar News, SCE/CSI Rebates, SCE, NABCEP, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, SDG&E

Picking a Commercial Solar Contractor: NICELY Does It!

Before you can ever get a bid for your commercial solar project, you have to contact a solar installation contractor to come out to your location and perform a site evaluation.  Actually, you should contact at least three contractors so that you have a set of bids to compare (more on that process below) - but how do you find them in the first place?  Well, you could choose based on who has the most ads on TV or the Internet, or you could rely on Cousin Billy’s recommendation - but somehow that just doesn’t seem sufficiently scientific for a project like this.  There has to be a better way - and there is.

If you remember that you need to find someone who will work NICELY with you, success is all but assured.  And no, we don’t mean nicely, we mean NICELY - as in:

N - NABCEP Certification
I - Incentive provider (CSI or local utility) connected
C - City building department experienced
E - Electrician on staff
L - Local or national?
Y - Years in business.

Focus on those attributes and you will have found a contractor who will inspire confidence and guarantee a successful project.  Let’s expand on why these particular attributes are so important.

NABCEP Certification

NABCEP CertifiedThe North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners - NABCEP for short - provides the most rigorous certification process of solar installation professionals in the industry.  Not to be confused with their Entry Level Letter that merely demonstrates that the person has taken an introductory course in solar,  the NABCEP Certified Solar PV Installer™ credential is the Gold Standard for installers and consumers alike.  Earning NABCEP Certification requires the successful candidate to have an educational background in electrical engineering or related technical areas (such as an IBEW union apprenticeship program), at least two solar installations as the lead installer, and the successful passing of a 4-hour written examination on all aspects of solar power system design and installation.

As NABCEP notes:

When you hire a contractor with NABCEP Certified Installers leading the crew, you can be confident that you are getting the job done by solar professionals who have the “know-how” that you need. They are part of a select group of people who have distinguished themselves by being awarded NABCEP Certified Installer credentials.

NABCEP’s website offers a database of all Certified Solar PV Installers - just enter your zip code to find the installers located near you.  It is with great pride that we point out that at Run on Sun, all three of our owners have earned the designation, NABCEP Certified Solar PV Installer™ - and we know of no other solar power company in Southern California that can make that claim.

Incentive Provider - CSI or Local Utility

A second source of solar installers is the Incentive provider such as the California Solar Initiatives’ Go Solar California website.  Every installer who has done a solar power installation for a CSI utility (i.e., SCE, PG&E or SDG&E) will be included on this list.  Unfortunately, there are no other criteria associated with getting listed - and there is limited verification done to guarantee that the listed installer is reliable.  If your job is in California, your contractor must be on this list - but this is a double-check only - not an ideal starting point for your search.

Another source for information about solar installers is your local utility’s point person for solar rebates.  This person deals with installers on a daily basis, and while s/he won’t give you a specific recommendation, they may be able to warn you off of an installer whom they have learned is less than reliable.

City Building Department

Similarly, the folks in your local building department deal with installers regularly as part of the permitting/inspection process.  Once again, they won’t be in a position to provide referrals, but they may be able to give you a warning if there are red flags associated with a contractor that you are considering.

Local or National?

Solar installation companies come in all sizes - from national organizations that have crews installing systems all across the country, to local operations that only work in a limited geographic region.  To be sure, there are pluses and minuses on both ends — maybe lower prices for the national chain due to economy of scale in their purchasing versus greater attention to detail from a local company that lives or dies based on how well it satisfies its local customer base.  And, of course, money spent on a local company tends to stay in the local economy - another consideration in tough economic times.

Years in Business

The last of the NICELY elements is to look at the number of years the company has been in business.  Again, this is not a perfect indicator – some recent ventures really have their act together and some long-standing enterprises have long since ceased to really care about what they are doing – but at a minimum you want some assurance that the folks you are doing business with know how to run a business. Otherwise you run the risk of having a largely useless warranty and no one to call if things go wrong.

We would recommend a minimum of three-to-five years in the business of doing solar, with preferably a longer track record of running a business.  Expertise in areas beyond just installing solar is also useful such as engineering, management and law.


The preceding is an excerpt from Jim Jenal’s upcoming book, “Commercial Solar Step-by-Step,” due out in July.

1 2 >>

Search

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.

Ready to Save?

Let’s Get Started!

Give Us a Call!

626.793.6025 or
310.584.7755

Click to Learn More About Commercial Solar Power!

We're Social!



Follow Run on Sun on Twitter Like Run on Sun on Facebook
Run on Sun helps fight Climate Change
Photo albums software