Tag: "spi"

09/26/16

  10:51:00 am, by Laurel Hamilton   , 1615 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power

Solar Power International 2016: Industry Latest and Greatest

Every September we pack our bags and head to the largest solar conference and exposition in the country; Solar Power International. This is when we get to connect with the broader solar community, advocates, and friends working far and wide for the betterment of the world through distributed clean energy. It is also the time when manufacturers unveil their latest technologies. These technology improvements come fast and furious in an attempt to stay ahead of the curve in a competitive industry. Just two years ago when I started working with Run on Sun we were able to get 270 watt panels from LG. What is coming from them in the next year will blow your mind. Here is my run down of the top take aways from SPI 2016…

Panel: “Survival of the Fittest, the Future of Residential Solar”

Some of you may have seen the three part series Run on Sun’s CEO, Jim Jenal, wrote recently about what we need to do to be sustainable as an industry facing a crisis of increasingly shoddy workmanship and shady business practices. As part of the convention’s educational program, Jim was invited to participate on a panel of solar professionals to discuss the future of residential solar. The panel consisted of a wide range of backgrounds including a representative from a national company, Sunrun’s Michael Grasso, Rick Luna from a municipal utility CPS Energy, Ed Murray from a medium sized company, Aztec Solar, as well as national advocacy group SEIA, and Jim representing the small installer at Run on Sun. 

The panelists discussed their take on who will dominate the residential solar space and what will the predominant business model be in five years. This was a perfect platform to raise the very real issues of quality facing the industry and Jim did not disappoint! Of course Sunrun’s Grasso asserted that national scale companies continuing the leasing model with storage will dominate in the future. But there were many nods of agreement in the audience when Jim insisted that the current status quo is not sustainable. Giant publicly traded national companies operating in the red and pushing customers into bad deals are going to cause a backlash. We’ve already seen many law suits and bankruptcies in the industry. Solar City’s Better Business Bureau rating in the Bay area is an embarrassing 80% negative. The notion that Ed Murray, from SEIA, put forth that the market will naturally take care of the bad companies is just not a sustainable way forward or an ethical one. As more and more consumers get hit with bad contracts and solar systems, the market will be left with a bad taste for solar. The people in this industry who are doing it for the right reasons, aiming to help people save money and reduce their impact on the ecosystem need to demand that there is more oversight over the quality of systems and some legal standards around contracts.

Jim’s comments seemed to be well received in the audience as most people attending were people who work in solar for the right reasons given they are investing in the hefty price-tag to attend the convention. But the disparate opinions on the panel itself was interesting to say the least. I don’t know if the reps for big companies are just out of touch with what is happening on the ground or if they are in denial. 

Everyone agreed that a future will include storage or other bundled options for improving home efficiencies. However, Jim noted that storage needs to be presented to clients in a transparent way so they understand the true value of storage and whether it makes sense for them or not. If you are on a tiered rate system with no demand charges there likely is no value in storage. Solar stakeholders from advocates to installers need be fostering business practices that focus on transparent education for consumers instead of just closing every sell if we are to survive as an industry and continue to grow solar as the incredibly valuable resource that it is. 

 

LG Solar Panels Up the Ante 

We have been installing exclusively LG panels since 2012. Why? We believe LG panels are the best for our clients for two main reasons. 1. As a diversified company we, and our clients, can rely upon them to stick around to back their 25 year warranty no matter what happens in the wider solar industry. And 2. LG has an incredible R&D department churning out ground-breaking improvements keeping them at the top in both quality and output year after year. 

Last year LG announced 320 watt panels would be coming and we were fortunate to be one of the first to install these at a beautiful home in Altadena last Spring. This year they have several incredible new announcements:

  1. LG 355 Black on BlackNeon R Panels: This latest generation of LG panels has incorporated rear contacts, so no wire lines showing on the front of the panel. They displayed an impressive 365 watt panel slated to be released in Q1 of 2017! The “R” will also be available with a black backsheet and a 355 watt output capability. With rear contacts and a black backsheet the panel has a seamless sleek look like no other! (see pic)
  2. AC Modules: LG is partnering with Enphase Energy to incorporate Enphase’s newest generation of microinverter into the panel itself, creating an AC solar panel. Panels convert sunlight into direct current (DC), then that current must be converted into alternating current (AC) using an inverter. With the inverter directly on the panel, this will simplify things on the roof a great deal. As the majority of our projects are with Enphase microinverters and LG panels, this is a match made in heaven!  
  3. Bi-Facial Panels: Bi-facial panels have no back sheet, allowing reflected light to hit the panel from underneath when installed above a light surface adding to the output capacity of the panel. They had these on an impressive display showing up to 40% more output than a standard panel with a backsheet. There has been a limited market for bi-facial panels historically. Sometimes you see them on shade structures, but the price point is higher than standard panels. These new LG panels are in a commercial 72-cell format so they are aiming to capture commercial projects that can really bank that extra output capacity. 

 

Enphase Energy Total Rethink

Enphase MicroThe Enphase booth was seriously hoppin’ throughout the expo! Unsurprisingly with a total redesign of their system from the microinverter to the cable and even a special junction box.

  1. IQ 6 Micro:The new system, called IQ, includes the same microinverter guts with a new, double-insulated, polycarbonate case eliminating the need for a ground wire and cutting down significantly on weight and cost. The new IQ inverters will pair with a broader range of panels including 60-cell and 72-cell commercial panels as well as up to 400 watt panels.  
  2. Cable: The new cabling will be lighter and cheaper as well because they are carrying 2 wires compared to the current cable carrying 4 wires. They eliminated the need for a neutral for communications as they will now communicate on the same lines that the energy is transported. They also eliminated the need for a ground wire due to the new polycarbonate case.  
  3. Smart Junction: Lastly they rolled out a junction box wired up for easy installation between the string of panels and the run to the electrical service. 

All of these improvements come together to create a system that includes the microinverters we know and trust at a lower cost with a simpler and quicker installation. 

 

Everest Solar Racking Shares at SPI

EverestThe large majority of Run on Sun’s solar installations are being held together by the great racking products from Everest. This is because their materials are the most solid and well thought out racking product for standard pitched roofs on the market today. Their booth at SPI included a new “shared rail system” which allows two panels to come together on a single rail cutting down on the total number of rails needed for an installation. This system incorporates the same beefy product we trust with a reduced overall cost and installation time on the roof. It also doesn’t hurt that the entire team at Everest Solar Systems are great people and local to SoCal too! 

 

Edisun Dual Axis Tracker - PV Booster

Idealab tracker

Pasadena’s Idealab, an incubator, has been consulting with Jim on a revolutionary new product - the PV Booster - at their start up Edisun. They unveiled their dual axis tracker system at SPI. The system is designed for large flat roofs (and even carports) and potentially can increase output by up to 40% by tracking the sun throughout the day.

We were excited to see the system on display as they have developed quite a bit over the last six months of consulting with Jim. There was a lot of interest in the system at the show and we hope to help move their vision forward by installing some projects using their system locally here in Pasadena in the coming year. 

 

A Solar Wedding

SPIdoEvery year Run on Sun participates in Solar Fred’s Tweetup. It has become an event of close friends and allies. This year was a very special Tweetup as mainstays Pam Cargill and Martin Hamon got hitched in a truly extraordinary ceremony! Pam was walked down the “aisle” by a mascot Sun to the tune of “Here Comes the Sun". The ceremony included as many solar-love metaphors and quips as possible as Reverend Solar Fred officiated. Apologies for my blurry photo but it really was an event to remember. If you have pics to share with the happy couple you can share them on their dropbox here and relive the moment on Twitter with #SPIdo. 

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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.

10/20/14

  07:04:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 393 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, SPI 2014

SPI 2014 Preview - Las Vegas Baby!

SPI 2014 logoSolar Power International 2014 kicks off today in Las Vegas and we will be there.  Here’s our preview…

Geek Out!

SPI is always a great show, indeed, it is often an overwhelming experience.  Add in the extra spice of Las Vegas and this week is likely to go by in a blur!  As always we will be on the lookout for what’s new and improved, particularly when it comes to racking solutions, energy storage (will this finally be the year?), and cool new tools to make the job easier and safer.

We are particularly eager to see what is happening in “Start-up Alley” where a number of new companies will be pitching their concepts in the hope of securing investment dollars - to say nothing of some SPI buzz!  One SPI regular and strong policy voice for solar - Adam Gerza - will be there with his new venture, Energy Toolbase.  He recently wrote to us to tell us about Energy Toolbase and described it this way:

Having spent the last six years building my own Excel models, and using the other software products that are out there – I believe Energy Toolbase is better than any tool that’s ever been built. 

Pretty strong boast there, Adam, and as someone who has been building models since getting into the business back in 2006, I’m looking forward to seeing what you’ve got!

Getting Social

But SPI is about way more than the geek fest that it surely is.  It is about making connections and there will be lots of opportunities to do just that.  Starting with the opening reception this evening, and then the lucky few who made the cut get to attend the Top Solar Contractors Gala, courtesy of the fine folks at Solar Power World.

Tuesday night is the annual Block Party and I’m guessing a block party in Vegas will be nothing short of epic!

Wednesday features the Solar Tweetup at lunchtime hosted by Tor (Solar Fred) Valenza (with some help from his friends at Enphase, Generaytor, REC Solar and Solar-Log, and wraps up with the #SolarChat event featuring Raina Russo, Glenna Wiseman and our own Kendra Hubbard.  Whew!

Look for tweets and Facebook posts during the week and more detailed blog posts after the event. 

Have a great week everybody, and if you see me on the floor be sure to come up and say hi!

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10/20/13

  11:29:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 189 words  
Categories: Commercial Solar, Ranting, SPI 2013

SPI Special - Commercial Solar Sale! - UPDATED!

As Solar Power International kicks off this week in Chicago, we have a very exciting offer - buy Commercial Solar: Step-by-Step at a
convention-special price!

UPDATE: if you purchase it during the SPI Tweetup (8-10 pm Chicago time), we will donate 50% of the profits to the Heather Andrews Scholarship Fund!

The Kindle eBook version of Commercial Solar is on sale all this week for just $2.99! (That’s 70% off the print copy price - isn’t technology grand?)

This is a great opportunity to own the book that has been described as:

  • A surprisingly easy read considering how information rich it is… What could easily be a very dull read ends up being informative enough that you know you should keep reading, and funny and clear enough so that you’ll actually be able to keep reading;   and

  • Very informative and covers all the aspects involved in a commercial solar project. An engaging and humorous read.

Can there be any doubt that this book will be The Hit of SPI?

So, don’t miss out, download your copy today! (And for those of you who prefer to smell the ink… there is a print version as well!)

10/12/10

  09:24:21 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 379 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, LADWP, SPI 2010

Will Feed-In Tariffs Finally Allow the US to Catch-up to Germany for Solar Power?

Just in time for the start of the 10th Annual Solar Power International Conference - kicking off today in downtown Los Angeles - the LA Times this morning is reporting on the push to bring the economic sanity of feed-in tariffs to the United States for individual solar installations.

According to the article:

A July study by UC Berkeley researchers estimated that a feed-in tariff program could create 28,000 clean-tech jobs each year for a decade, as well as generate more than $2 billion in tax revenue and pump more than $50 billion in new private investment to the state.

That is 280,000 clean-tech jobs over the next ten years in California from one enlightened policy alone. Rolling the program out across the country would produce even more clean-tech jobs and even more economic development.  Germany has done this for years - which explains why they have four times as much installed solar as the US, even though they get a fraction of the sunlight we get and are one-twentieth our size.  So what is the holdup?

Sadly, but not surprisingly, the utilities - particularly LADWP - seem to be dragging their feet, saying “the Devil is in the details,” that the process is “much more complicated than anyone acknowledges,”  and that we need to proceed in a “sober” fashion.

Seriously?  Come on, folks, we already interconnect small solar installations to the grid and net meter those systems.  A feed-in tariff like the one in Germany would simply require the utility to pay for every kilowatt hour generated at a premium price.  How hard is that?  Given a set price for an extended period - typically 20 years - would give homeowners and business owners alike the economic certainty to make the US the world leader in installed solar.

At least one city seems to get it.  Again from the article:

A feed-in tariff program is particularly appealing to residents of Palm Desert. For many homeowners there, the highest expense after the mortgage payment is the power bill, which often hits $1,000 a month.

If homeowners and businesses could easily earn back the cost of solar panels, demand would skyrocket and clean-tech development companies would flock to Palm Desert, said [Jim] Ferguson, the mayor pro tem.

“Solar isn’t a luxury for us — it’s a lifeline,” he said.

We couldn’t agree more!

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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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