Tag: "shoddy solar work"

04/25/19

  09:57:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 629 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Shortcut Solar

Shortcut Solar Specialty: Roof Leaks!

While those crazy folks over at Shortcut Solar have many distinguishing characteristics, certainly one of the most commonly displayed is just plain shoddy work—and one of the most devastating consequences of shoddy work is a leaky roof. Check out our latest tale of cleaning up after Shortcut Solar…

We recently got asked to give a homeowner a quote for removing an existing solar installation from her garage because the roof was leaking and needed to be replaced. (The array was there when she purchased the home.)  Here’s what we found when we got there: ten panels, installed in a way that only Shortcut Solar could do, check it out…

Reverse tilt!

Ah yes, everyone’s favorite mounting method—not!—reverse tilt on a north sloping roof! Never mind that you are voiding the warranty from the racking manufacture, and putting tremendous strain on all of the components, but heck, it lets you get the panels in more or less the same plane as the south facing panels, right?  Oh, and note the “flashing” method at the base of those columns: cement (and/or mastic), well known for its ability to flex with the torque forces that the wind will exert on this “solar wing” that they have fabricated.

But wait, that’s not all, check out the fate of the south facing panels…

Tree!

Yep, they actually put the array behind a tree!  (The homeowner told us that there had been a similar tree on the left of the fountain, but it died after the array was installed.) Truly the folks at Shortcut Solar were on a roll that day!

So, sadly, we set out to remove the array in advance of the roofer coming in to do their thing.  (The homeowner generously donated the used equipment to a local city college to assist students in their PV classes.)

The details up on the roof were really appalling.  Check this out:

Tree!

That is an end clamp, attached to a rail that is actually below the level of the tile!  The tile above it was “notched” but nothing, at least by now, was in place to keep water from pouring under the broken tile. (The little bit of red mastic is a nice, esthetic, touch!)

Tree!

Or how about this thing of beauty: actually, it is kinda hard to know what they were thinking here.  I can only presume from the concrete in the rail, that they tried to anchor a piece of tile above this, but failed completely.

The panels on the south face were not as awful (apart from being behind a tree), as they had removed the tiles in the area where they were doing their attachments and put down a torch-down layer of roofing material.  But even then they could not be consistent–their single bolt attachments in some places had a 3″ lag screw, but in other areas they couldn’t be bothered and simply used a 1½” hex screw.  ‘Cause, yeah, why would you care about actually getting into the rafters?

There can be no doubt that this installation was doomed from the day it was installed, and I hate giving such bad news to nice people like this homeowner. 

This was in the City of Los Angeles – how on earth did this ever pass inspection?  Sadly, with Shortcut Solar on the job, this is the type of work you can expect. 

It doesn’t have to be like this.  Building inspectors should crack down on this sort of nonsense.  And potential solar purchasers need to do their homework better as well.  Don’t just go with the smooth talker who shows up on your doorstep - he might be working for Shortcut Solar!  Check out reviews, look for NABCEP certification, and talk to past customers.  Together we can make Shortcut Solar, and their shoddy work, a thing of the past!

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02/20/19

  01:05:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 676 words  
Categories: Shortcut Solar

Meet Shortcut Solar!

Meet Shortcut SolarRun on Sun has been in the solar business for a long time - since 2006, to be precise.  And over the years we have come across a lot of - shall we say - less than inspiring things.  Shoddy work. High pressure sales tactics. Contracts not in the customer’s native language. And on and on. So we finally decided enough is enough, it is time to call these people out, and name names!

So let me introduce you to… Shortcut Solar.  For the purposes of this blog, we have decided that Shortcut Solar is the perfect generic descriptor/catchall to highlight the awful things that we see. 
Our tone is intended to be somewhat light-hearted in the hope that these posts will help consumers to be better educated when it comes to researching their options for going solar.

A Shortcut Solar Favorite - the Promise that is Just too Good to be True!

Shortcut Solar knows that they won’t win your business honestly, so they specialize in making stuff up!  Case in point: we had a potential client forward to us a proposal that they had received from Shortcut Solar.  The proposal conveniently included the contract, so the consumer didn’t need to waste any time signing on the dotted line!  (Oh, by the way, that one-page disclosure that is now supposed to be on the front of all solar contracts in California, yeah, it was nowhere to be seen.  Way to go, Shortcut Solar!)

Glancing over the proposal, one number jumped off the page, cumulative savings after twenty-five years of $331,000!!!  Say what?  This is a resi project (oversized at nearly 13 kW, another classic Shortcut Solar move), so how on earth could they come up with such an astronomical number?  Lurking in their assumptions was the key - they were predicting annual utility cost increases of 13%!  To put this in perspective, we use an annual increase of 3%. 

We decided to mock this up using our proposal generation tool, the fabulous Energy Toolbase, but guess what?  You can’t, because their tool rejects any value greater than 6% - less than half of what Shortcut Solar was using.  (Energy Toolbase prides itself on doing things in an honest and transparent manner - no wonder Shortcut Solar doesn’t use them!)

The power of compound growth!So that meant a quick trip to Excel.

The potential client in question had an annual bill of around $4,000 in SCE territory.  The table at left tracks the growth of your annual bill if the escalation rate is 3% (what we would use) versus 13% (what Shortcut Solar was using). For those of us who recall (the original) Mary Poppins, this is a table that would thrill the cold cockles of Mr. Dawes, Sr.’s heart as it shows the power of compound interest! 

That $4,000 utility bill, growing at 3% each and every year, will slightly more than double to be $8,131 after twenty-five years.  But that is a slacker number if you are Shortcut Solar!  Use their magical, mythical 13% and that bill will grow almost 19 times - to an eye-popping $75,000!!!  Now that is a number from which you can derive some staggering savings!

The problem, of course, is that it is a lie.  And as even recovering trial lawyers like to say: if they lied to you about one thing, how many other things that they have told you are lies?

Frankly, the entire area of financial projections is fraught. The utilities, particularly the investor-owned utilities like SCE, are doing everything that they can to erode the value of your solar investment (which is why the Solar Rights Alliance is so vital), and projecting utility rates over twenty-five years is a fool’s errand. 

The best anyone can do is to use the best tools available, and apply reasonable parameters (3% not 13%), over a reasonable period of time (our projections only run 20 years, not the 25 used by Shortcut Solar).

Consumer Takeaway

So here is your consumer takeaway: Look that proposal over carefully, and if those numbers seem too good to be true, you just might be dealing with Shortcut Solar!

Have your own Shortcut Solar story?  Let us know and we will add it to the collection!

09/08/16

  11:49:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1348 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Ranting

Is Solar Unsustainable? Part One: Shoddy Work

Next week at Solar Power International, I will be a speaker on a panel looking into the future of the residential solar industry. My message to my fellow solar professionals will be this: as it is presently constituted, the Solar Industry is unsustainable, and unless we change and change soon, we will face a backlash from eroded client confidence.  The consequences of that backlash will do more harm to the industry than anything the Koch brothers, ALEC, or the Edison Institute can conjure, and we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

I am dividing this series into three parts - the first two deal with the problem we are creating (shoddy work and shady business practices) whereas the third outlines my prescription for change.  I don’t expect everyone in the industry to agree with my observations or recommendations, but at the very least we should agree that a conversation needs to begin, and to the extent that it has begun, it must be expanded.

Shoddy Work is All too Common

This first installment is concerned with the shoddy, fly-by-night work that is becoming way too prevalent out there.  A growing piece of our business involves addressing problems that exist in the installed base of solar system owners.  These are folks, many of whom paid top dollar (sometimes overpaid outrageously) and yet ended up with inferior work that is now failing, has already failed, or should never have been allowed in the first place.

A System Under a Tree?

PV system under a treeWe are big fans of microinverters, but some amounts of shade even a microinverter cannot cure. Tellingly, the geniuses that built this system didn’t bother to use microinverters!  We got a call to replace a dead string inverter at this older woman’s home.  Turns out she has two systems (and two string inverters) - one on her main house, and this one on her guest house.  Just one small problem, the array is entirely underneath a tree!

Pretty much every day, all year round, that array is shaded.  In fact, that is not just dirt on those panels, that is accumulated sap from the tree that has created a layer of crud that no hose will ever be able to remove.  Indeed, when we replaced the inverter, it could not turn on because the combined grit and shading - even in the middle of a summer day - was so extreme that there was not enough power for the inverter to switch on.

Who in good conscience would sell such a system?  The homeowner did not realize how big a factor that tree would be, but certainly the installer knew (or should have known).  This is the result of someone willing to make a few bucks off an unwitting  senior citizen even though the installer knew that the system would never provide the promised benefit to the homeowner.

A System Waiting for Take-off

Take-offs are great, when you are in an airplane with a proper pilot at the controls.  Not so great when the take-off in question is the entire array ready to launch itself from the hapless homeowner’s roof.  Check this out:

Tilt-up L-foot in space Ad-hoc engineering

This is a tilt-up system, mounted on a north sloping roof face, tilted toward the south.  Ok, that has a host of potential issues given that our strongest, most dangerous winds all come from out of the north, so if you are going to do something like this, you want to make sure that it is properly engineered and properly installed.  It is abundantly clear that this system was neither.

Take a look at how that L-foot is attached to the roof.  These are flat concrete tiles, and the installer appears to have removed the tile and attached a hanger bolt (hopefully into a rafter), then drilled a hole through the tile and re-inserted it over the bolt.  (The little daub of sealant is a nice touch - given that there is no flashing of any sort to be found.)  The L-foot is floating on the end of that bolt and the bolts are deforming under the load.

I feel bad for the manufacturers of racking gear who see their products misused in such an extreme fashion.  (In fact, the manufacturer of this racking expressly disclaims using its product for this type of reverse tilt application! The last picture shows that the installer - perhaps nervous as to the strength of his creation - added some ad hoc pieces of black rail to cross brace the structure, attaching them to the tilt-up legs and railing with Tek screws, as opposed to the through-bolts, washers and nuts that the manufacturer provides for tilt-up racking.

That system has been in place for a few years and when the homeowner tried to contact their installer about a problem, the installer never returned their calls.  The roof is already leaking (no surprise there) and it is anyone’s guess as to how long it will be until that system takes off for a destination unknown.  The homeowners had no idea what the system actually looked like (this is on top of a two-story house and they had never been on the roof) until I showed them these pictures.  They paid top-dollar for this installation but all they’ve received in return is a leaking roof and an accident waiting to happen.

Conduits in Space

Conduits in spaceIt is pretty basic that conduit runs need to be supported, and where running between buildings, those conduits should be underground.  But apparently sometimes that’s just too much of a bother.

This is another instance of senior abuse - the homeowner was an elderly man who had already installed one solar system on his property, but it wasn’t meeting his needs so he hired a second company to expand his system.  After he died, we were called in to assess the state of the system for the estate.  The entire system was a disaster, but this one photo pretty well sums it up - the people doing this work simply did not give a damn. 

That didn’t stop them from extracting top dollar - the elderly gentlemen paid $50,000+ for a 5 kW system addition, three years ago!  (It turns out that the contractor responsible for this abomination has multiple complaints against him with the AG’s office and has had his license revoked.)

Here is the real kicker with this project - they pulled a permit and had plans approved by LA County (I saw them).  Those plans called for the conduit run that is presently flying between the two buildings to be buried in a trench a minimum of 18″ below grade - which is code.  But that was never done and somehow this still got approved!

Where are the Inspectors?

Which brings me to the other real scandal here - on top of those doing this shoddy work - everyone of these installations should have been inspected, and presumably they were.  But none of them should have passed, so how did they?

Our experience with inspectors varies greatly.  Many are extremely diligent, looking closely at every component, and  wanting us to open every box and remove each dead front (they are always astonished by the sheer beauty of Velvet’s work so we are always happy to oblige).  But there are others who don’t even go on the roof, thereby doing a terrible disservice to the homeowners who are counting on the inspector’s expertise to protect them from these sorts of nightmares.

California is not Unique, nor even Uniquely Bad

Lest you think that this is just a California problem, believe me it is not.  We previously posted a photo from a New Jersey based company that has a webpage devoted to New Jersey’s ugliest solar installations, and some of them are truly appalling.  Nor is the scourge of shoddy work even a uniquely U.S. problem, as the Facebook group, Crap Solar, highlights some of the worst solar installations Australia and New Zealand have to offer.

But as the US solar leader, it is up to California solar companies to lead the way.  We need to do better.

In Part Two we will look into solar business practices that are making the industry unsustainable.

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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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