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.

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03/13/19

  07:15:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 411 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, SCE, Residential Solar, Ranting, CALSSA

Clean Power Alliance -- NEM Fail!

Back in January we wrote about the pending switch over to Clean Power Alliance (CPA) in portions of SCE’s service territory (Clean Power Alliance is Coming - is that a Good Thing?), noting that given the slightly lower rates, the switch was probably a good deal for most SCE customers.  Alas, it turns out that it wasn’t such a good deal for SCE’s solar customers!  Here’s our take and recommendation…

PLEASE NOTE: THIS APPLIES ONLY  TO SCE CUSTOMERS!
SOLAR CUSTOMERS IN PWP, LADWP AND OTHER MUNICIPAL UTILITIES CAN IGNORE THIS COMPLETELY!

Yesterday our trade association, CALSSA sent out this urgent notice under the headline: ALERT: CPA NEM snafu:

ACTION: For existing residential customers, we suggest you advise them to OPT OUT of the Clean Power Alliance (LA area CCA) by March 31st!

To opt out, they should call Clean Power Alliance at 888-585-3788 immediately.

What is going on here?  It seems that in their zeal to initiate the switchover from SCE, CPA fouled up how they are handling the “true-up” accounting.  As a result, solar customers who switched to CPA—and mind you, if you are in one of the affected cities, the default is for you to be switched to CPA—you will actually receive two true-up bills this year - one from SCE and the other from CPA.  CALSSA is sufficiently concerned that this could have an adverse financial impact that presumably exceeds whatever saving you might realize from the switch to CPA’s lower rates.

According to CPA, customers who OPT OUT by March 31, will only have one true-up bill this year “as if nothing had ever happened.”

For solar system owners who are part of the Solar Rights Alliance, they have already received notice directly regarding this situation.  (Not yet a member of the SRA?  Sign-up here.)

Here’s a list of cities participating in the CPA switch:

Unincorporated area of Los Angeles (e.g., Altadena) and Ventura Counties and the following cities: Agoura Hills, Alhambra, Arcadia, Beverly Hills, Calabasas, Camarillo, Carson, Claremont, Culver City, Downey, Hawaiian Gardens, Hawthorne, Malibu, Manhattan Beach, Moorpark, Ojai, Oxnard, Paramount, Redondo Beach, Rolling Hills Estates, Santa Monica, Sierra Madre, Simi Valley, South Pasadena, Temple City, Thousand Oaks, Ventura, West Hollywood and Whittier.

Once things get sorted out, if you want to switch to CPA, you will be able to do so, and we will write about it once we know more.  But for now, the prudent choice appears to be to make that call and opt-out.  If you have any issues in doing so, please let us know.

02/25/19

  10:45:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 445 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, Utilities, Residential Solar, Energy Storage, Vote Solar, CALSSA

Solar Bill of Rights Introduced in California Legislature

Capitol steps launch for SB-288 - the Solar Bill of Rights

On February 19th, a bipartisan bill, SB-288, was introduced in the California legislature to enshrine into State law a Solar Bill of Rights.  tl;dr Support the Solar Bill of Rights! 
Here’s our take…

The legislation, co-authored by Senators Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Jim Nielsen (R-Fresno), has the enthusiastic backing of the Solar Rights Alliance, Vote Solar, and CALSSA.  If signed into law, the bill would require both Investor Owned Utilities (like SCE) as well as public utilities (like LADWP and PWP) to make changes to how they handle the interconnection of solar and storage systems, provide for compensation for storage systems that provide energy back to the grid, and report on their progress in streamlining their processes for approving and commissioning such systems.

The bill also makes some key findings regarding the value of distributed energy generation and storage systems:

  1. All California residents, businesses, nonprofits, and government entities have the fundamental right to generate and store renewable energy and to reduce and shape their use of electricity obtained from the electrical grid, whether their facilities are off-grid or interconnected to the grid.
  2. These fundamental rights to self-generation and storage extend to all California consumers regardless of income level, geography, or property type.
  3. Residential customers have a right to consumer protections that ensure adequate transparency in sales and contracts for renewable energy and storage installations and services. [To which we say: Amen!]
  4. Customer-sited solar and energy storage systems will play an essential role in helping the state to meet its greenhouse gases emissions and other environmental goals.
  5. Customer-sited solar and energy storage systems are valuable assets for managing the electrical grid efficiently and improving the reliability and resiliency of the grid.
  6. Removing barriers to the installation of customer-sited energy resources will help reduce costs and facilitate the deployment of these resources.
  7. The time required for utility review and approval of interconnection applications and the lack of transparency in interconnection costs has impeded customer adoption of solar and energy storage systems.
  8. Developing market mechanisms for energy and other services supplied by customer-sited energy resources can facilitate the adoption and deployment of renewable energy and energy storage technologies that will provide greater local reliability and resiliency benefits throughout the year, including during emergency conditions.

But as we have said in this space often before, politics is not a spectator sport—it takes active involvement to bring about effective public policy.  The good news is that we can make it super easy for you to contact your members of the California Legislature and urge them to co-sponsor SB-288.  Just click on the friendly button below:

Support SB-288

We will keep you posted as to the bill’s progress - watch this space!

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!

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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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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