Tag: "solar"

01/08/19

  07:24:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 455 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, SCE, Residential Solar

Clean Power Alliance is Coming - is that a Good Thing?

Clean Power AllianceThe Community Choice Aggregator (CCA) for LA County, Clean Power Alliance (CPA), is set to begin service to SCE customers in 31 cities starting February 1.  As this has just sort of been announced as a fiat accompli with very little information to consumers, we wanted to set the stage for an analysis that we will be publishing that should answer the question - is this a good thing or not?

Let’s start with the basics, what is a CCA? Here’s a definition from an EPA website:

Community choice aggregation (CCA), also known as municipal aggregation, are programs that allow local governments to procure power on behalf of their residents, businesses, and municipal accounts from an alternative supplier while still receiving transmission and distribution service from their existing utility provider. CCAs are an attractive option for communities that want more local control over their electricity sources, more green power than is offered by the default utility, and/or lower electricity prices. By aggregating demand, communities gain leverage to negotiate better rates with competitive suppliers and choose greener power sources.

That means that current SCE customers would still receive their service via SCE (including billing) but the energy is actually provided by the CCA, in this case CPA, at one of three rates: “Lean” (which is 36% renewables and lower than SCE), “Clean” (which is 50% renewables and comparable to SCE), and “Green” (which is 100% renewables and higher than SCE).  Different cities can choose for their residents the “default” rate - for example, Arcadia chose Lean, Alhambra chose Clean, and South Pasadena chose Green - but individual consumers can override that default and pick the rate they prefer.  (You can find the present list of cities switching to CPA and their default rates here.)

However, the only portion of the bill affected is the energy charge, which is generally a smaller component than is delivery.  For example, here is a comparison for SCE customers on the Domestic rate for what they pay now compared to under the “Lean” option from CPA:

SCE Domestic vs CPA Rate

So your savings is about 10% on the first 300 or so kWh (or about $5), but if you make it into the highest tier, your savings drops to just 4.5% on the largest usage.   (Interestingly, SCE’s delivery rates changed a lot more than what is seen in this shift to CPA’s Lean rate.  In particular, the delivery charge for the lowest tier went up by 5.8% as of January 1st, and by 22% for Tier 3 - ouch!)

You can find the complete list of CPA’s rates as of this writing, here.

This Domestic rate is the easiest to review - in a subsequent post we will talk about Time-of-Use rates (relevant to recent and future solar owners) and how to make the right choice to maximize your savings.

Watch this space.

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01/03/19

  08:43:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 445 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, PWP

Pasadena Adopts New Integrated Resource Plan

Pasadena adopts IRP

As 2018 drew to a close, the Pasadena City Council adopted a new Integrated Resource Plan that shows the path forward for the City in the coming years. Not surprisingly, there are some big changes in store as PWP moves away from fossil fuels and toward a greener future. Here’s our take…

Where are we now?

We love Pasadena, but it has a long way to go before it becomes as green as we would like it to be.  For example, here is PWP’s latest power content label that shows the sources of its electricity, compared to California as a whole:

PWP 2017 Power Content Label

 

Yikes! 31% of our power overall comes from burning coal - compared to just 4% for the state overall!  

Somewhat surprising is the relatively low amount of natural gas in the mix, given that the Glenarm power plant is now entirely fueled by natural gas.

On the other hand, the City is doing very well in utilizing biomass and waste materials as a fuel source, well ahead of such efforts in the state as a whole.

So it is clear that a great deal of work is yet to be done, and it is the intent of the newly adopted IRP to show the way.

One thing that jumps out of the new plan is that coal is to be eliminated entirely by June of 2027 when existing supply contracts expire, and no new coal contracts will be signed.  Moreover, that plant is scheduled to switch to natural gas by 2025, so coal burning for PWP should end by then.

Distributed Energy Resources

As of the writing of the IRP, there were 1,303 PWP customers who have installed solar power systems at their homes or commercial/non-profit sites.  Collectively, those systems amount to 10.4 MW of installed capacity, with an estimated annual production of 16,600 MWh of energy.  That makes the average installed system size just under 8 kW.

One baffling detail in the planning section of the report: relying on a levelized cost of energy (LCOE) analysis by the Lazard consulting firm, they assert that the LCOE of residential solar (after allowing for the federal tax credit) is from 14.5-24¢/kWh!  Frankly, we aren’t sure how they arrived at that number, since our projects generally project an LCOE in the 9-11¢/kWh range.

So more solar is in PWP’s future, but they won’t be supporting it on homes, schools, or businesses anymore.  Sad.

Other Takeaways…

Here are a couple more takeaways from the 249-page report:

  • The City is planning on installing 122 EV charging stations in the next few years
  • Electric bill increases would range from roughly 2.7% for residential customers, and up to 3.4% for commercial customers

You can find the entire report here: Pasadena’s Integrated Resource Plan.

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!

07/30/18

  08:45:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 500 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, Residential Solar, Ranting

Think Your Solar Investment is Safe? Think Again!

Those of us involved in solar in sunny Southern California generally think that we have it pretty good.  The climate is just about perfect for solar - and by that I mean the political climate, every bit as much as our abundant sunshine.  From the Governor, to the legislature, to the CPUC and the CEC, generally those forces support the growth of not just solar power in general, but distributed, on your own rooftop solar in particular.  But we become complacent at our peril - both to the jobs of those in the industry as well as the investment value of all of those solar installations out there.

A recent story from Columbia, South Carolina brought this peril to mind.  As portions of the state edged closer to the existing 2% cap on net metering installations, the legislature was working on a compromise to lift the cap,  allowing more residents the opportunity to install solar and take advantage of net metering.  The utilities had other ideas - from the Greenville News:

Deep-pocketed power companies outspent the solar industry nearly $3 to $1 as part of an intensive lobbying effort during an S.C. legislative session that included efforts to curb rooftop solar’s expansion in the state.
Electric utilities spent nearly $523,000 from January through May to hire more than three dozen lobbyists to advocate for them at the State House as lawmakers decided what to do about solar incentives.

Yikes.

The result of all that lobbying?  The effort to lift the net metering cap was defeated - and local solar companies are going to be laying off employees (if not closing altogether) while affected residents will either have to forego solar, or find it far less financially viable.

Solar Rights AllianceWe delude ourselves if we think that it can’t happen here.  Utility lobbyists are in Sacramento just as they are in Columbia, and the recent forced change to net metering 2.0 in SCE territory is a reminder that our progress is not guaranteed.

Which brings me to the Solar Rights AllianceWe have written about this important organization before, and will do so in the future.  But I wanted to use this post to show how we are putting our money where our mouth is.  Starting today, we are modifying our solar installation contracts to provide an opt-in checkbox for new clients to be signed up for the Solar Rights Alliance, with Run on Sun making a donation in their name to help support the important work of organizing solar clients statewide.

We are never going to be able to match the money coming from the utilities and their allies.  But what we do have is tens of thousands of happy solar owners all across the state.  If we can organize even a fraction of them, we will be able to speak directly to policy makers and let them know that the value of installed solar power systems must be protected.  That is a fight that we need to take on, and the Solar Rights Alliance (along with our wonderful trade association, CALSSA) is key to winning that fight.

08/25/16

  05:48:00 pm, by Laurel Hamilton   , 657 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Ranting

Velvet Dallesandro - Electrician and Solar Jedi Master

I love conducting solar site assessments and having that first conversation with a potential client. Often we spend far more time discussing all the ins and outs of going solar with the property owner than is necessary for the solar assessment measurements. One of the questions we always spend some time on is: “How exactly is Run on Sun different than other solar companies?” Here in sunny Southern California this is an important question as there are so many people offering PV solar services. Of course I describe how the products we use are selected for their high quality, warranties, and trust in the manufacturers. I also explain how as a small company with a mission focus, we take a very honest and ethical approach to helping people green their energy. But one of the major ways we stand above all the rest is also a feature that is hard to convey in that first conversation. Hence, the theme of this blog post…

My best answer to the above question, “We have Velvet Dallesandro as our Chief Electrician.”

The work that Velvet does connecting the power of the sun to your electric meter is akin to an art form. But alas, the art of a solar electrician is often hidden behind dead plates and easy to overlook if you’re not paying attention. So here are a few examples of Velvet’s work. She may not be in a Los Angeles art gallery but her work is providing people with beautiful, safe, and emission-free energy across the county! 

 

Service panel

Disconnect

If you’ve ever looked behind the dead plate on your electric bus (where all your breakers are) you likely were frightened by what you saw. A mess of cables, cobwebs, and sometimes outright dangerous circumstances - like the time I saw one missing its main breaker entirely. However, if Velvet is re-wiring your service panel it may look more like something you could put on your wall with rainbows of color coded wires and perfect 90 degree bends. (Service panel shown at left by Velvet, solar AC disconnect work at right by Ralph Carillo.)

Chandler Conduit 

Wiring is far from Velvet’s only art form. How do installers bring solar power from the roof to the electrical service? While the most visually appealing is to hide the magic completely by going thru an attic space and inside walls but sometimes that just isn’t possible. 

conduit

Velvet doesn’t just throw flex conduit around willy nilly to get the job done quick like some installers. It takes a lot of creativity to make the wiring run as attractive as possible. First and foremost, she always uses galvanized conduit for outside wiring as opposed to flex - it lasts for the long run and it is much more difficult to punch a fire axe through than flex, making it much safer. Second, Velvet avoids piecing together conduit as much as possible. Her goal is to make whatever crazy runs are necessary as seamless as possible - think avoiding possible leaky weak spots at seams. This means she has become a jedi master at bending conduit. Eight bends in one stick of conduit paralleling windows, gutters, or that pretty bush you don’t want to disturb? Not out of the question when Velvet is on the job (or her prodigy apprentice Ralph for that matter). 

 

Beyond the art she’s also an all around rock star. Check out this classic; pulling wire for a 45kW job at Chandler School…(That’s her on the right pulling wire through at least 30 feet of conduit on a 100+ degree summer day.)

Pulling her weight

She more than pulls her weight! So if you’re looking into going solar take note, there is an art that goes into the details. And the details really do count! Velvet’s wiring is the safest you will find and truly built to last. A rarity in an industry where most companies are trying to race through projects at lightning speed. Bottom line…we are so thankful to have Velvet on our team!

Velvet

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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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