05/11/13

  11:11:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 350 words  
Categories: Ranting

Solar Alliance Formed to Resist Utility Attacks

Facing a growing drumbeat of faux-populist attacks organized by the investor-owned utilities, a coalition of major players in the solar leasing industry has been announced to offer a coordinated resistance. Resistance is important, but it remains to be seen whether this alliance will actually represent the interests of the solar industry as a whole.

Yesterday we learned  (h/t Susan Frank) of the formation of The Alliance for Solar Choice, which described itself thusly:

The nation’s leading rooftop solar companies today announced the formation of The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC).  TASC believes anyone should have the option to switch from utility power to distributed solar power.  Founding members represent the majority of the U.S. rooftop solar market and include SolarCity, Sungevity, Sunrun and Verengo.

TASC is committed to protecting the choice for distributed solar.  Most immediately, TASC will focus on ensuring the continuation of Net Energy Metering (NEM).  Currently in place in 43 states, NEM provides solar consumers with fair credit for the energy they put back on the grid, which utilities then sell to other customers.  In simple terms, NEM is like rollover minutes on your cell phone bill.  Monopoly utilities are trying to eliminate NEM to halt the consumer-driven popularity of rooftop solar, which is helping create thousands of local jobs around the country.

The website is bare-bones in the extreme - the only information to be found is the single press release.  No links to other supporters, not even a list of member companies beyond the four mentioned.  (There is a link to their Twitter page - with the somewhat unfortunately chosen “TASC_master” handle.)

Now there are literally thousands of solar companies across the country who are threatened by the push by utilities to roll back or eliminate net metering.  Why aren’t any of them included in this “alliance"?  How about a little outreach to the little guys, eh? For the moment we will suspend further judgment as we wait to see how this nascent alliance conducts itself.  Certainly having well-financed entities engaging in serious lobbying efforts could be a powerful countervailing force in the battles ahead. Time will tell.

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05/10/13

  08:09:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 255 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar News, Solar Decathlon - 2013

Enphase Joins the Team - Donates Microinverter System to USC Solar Decathlon Effort

Enphase logoTeam USC keeps building steam with the latest boost coming from our good friends over at Enphase Energy who have just completed the donation of 36 M215 microinverters complete with cabling and an Envoy monitoring system for fluxHome™ - USC’s Solar Decathlon entry.

As you can see from this image taken from the live feed, fluxHome is really starting to take shape.

fluxHome in progress - click for live feed

Enphase microinverters will soon be seen atop fluxHome

The donation from Enphase - along with earlier contributions - means that the equipment needs for the solar component of the project have all been met.  Now the USC team will be able to demonstrate to the thousands attending the Solar Decathlon this October down in Irvine how each individual solar module is producing power thanks to the module level monitoring provided by the Enphase system.

Given that one of the ten competitions in the Decathlon is Communications, this augmented ability to show the public what the solar system is doing could be a key component of an overall communication strategy.

We at Run on Sun are proud of our role - minor though it may be - in helping to make this donation happen and we are confident that the brilliant and dedicated team at USC will make the most of this opportunity.

Enphase products at fluxHome site

The gear in these boxes will soon be helping Team USC to power fluxHome in the Solar Decathlon competition - and ultimately, they will be providing clean power for a lucky family in the neighborhood around USC.

Way to go, Enphase - way to go, Team USC!  Fight on!!!

05/08/13

  07:34:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 110 words  
Categories: LADWP, Commercial Solar, Feed-in Tariff

LABC Rolls Out Video on LA FiT

No entity did more to bring about LA’s Feed-in Tariff (FiT) program than the Los Angeles Business Council.  Now they have released a cool video (h/t KB Racking) that highlights the program and speaks eloquently as to it future potential.

Here’s the video:

We are heading toward the opening of the Second Tranche of the FiT program where a total of 20MW of production capacity will be available (4MW set aside for “small” projects between 30 and 150 kW) at a base price for energy of $0.16/kWh.

There is a fairly lengthy application process so folks who are interested in submitting for the Second Tranche are encouraged to contact us now.

05/07/13

  11:04:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 856 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Solar News, Commercial Solar, Ranting

SolarCity Litigation Update

As SolarCity prepares to release its financial statement for the first quarter of 2013 next Monday, we came across a couple of interesting items - actually one is interesting the other is more sickening - about litigation involving SolarCity.  The first of these was discussed in their last filing - it will be interesting to see how the second is treated in Monday’s.

SunPower v. SolarCity

We wrote back in February 2012 about a lawsuit filed against SolarCity by SunPower.  In that suit SunPower alleged that a number of its former employees were hired by SolarCity and that they took SunPower’s trade secrets to their new employer.  In addition to naming SolarCity as a Defendant, SunPower also sued the former employees, including Tom Leyden.  According to the Complaint:

35. LEYDEN connected at least three personal USB storage devices within days of leaving SUNPOWER. At least one of these devices was a portable external hard drive with 2 terabytes of storage capacity.

36. The forensic evidence indicated that LEYDEN copied at least thousands of files containing SUNPOWER confidential information and non-confidential proprietary information to these devices. These files included hundreds of quotes, proposals, and contracts, as well as files containing market analysis, forecast analysis, and business analysis.

37. LEYDEN also copied highly confidential data from the SUNPOWER database on www.salesforce.com. This data included information about major SUNPOWER customers accounting for over $100 million of sales throughout 201 I. The data also contained the name of the SUNPOWER employee that was responsible for these major sales. SUNPOWER is informed and believes, and thereon alleges, that this information allowed LEYDEN to recruit SunPower employees, including [others].

We wrote at the time that this sounded like pretty damning evidence against the individual defendants, but far less clear the degree to which SolarCity was liable, if at all.

SolarCity’s 10K, filed in March, in the section concerning Legal Proceedings, provides the conclusion to this saga:

On February 13, 2012, SunPower Corporation filed an action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California (Civil Action No. 12-00694). The complaint asserts 12 causes of action against six defendants: SolarCity, Thomas Leyden, [others], although only the following six causes of action are asserted against SolarCity: trade secret misappropriation; conversion; trespass to chattels; interference with prospective business advantage; unfair competition; and statutory unfair competition.

Each of Messrs. Leyden, [others], or the Individual Defendants, are former SunPower employees, and at the time SunPower filed the complaint, each was a SolarCity employee…

In September 2011, we hired Mr. Leyden as our vice president of commercial sales; subsequently, his title was changed to vice president, project development. Mr. Leyden’s employment with us ceased on March 2, 2012.

The parties reached a confidential agreement to settle the action on December 31, 2012, and the lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice on January 28, 2013. The terms and amount of the settlement are not material to the Company’s financial position or results of operation.

(SolarCity 10K, filed March 27, 2013 at 36-37; emphasis added.)

Interestingly, while it is easy to find a SolarCity press release announcing Mr. Leyden’s hiring in September 2011, his subseqent departure - less than three weeks after the SunPower suit was filed - appears to have gone unreported.  As for the lawsuit itself, it dragged on for nine more months - until shortly after SolarCity’s IPO on December 13, 2012.

SolarCity v. The United States

So much for the interesting update.  The far more troubling story appears in today’s Wall Street Journal under the title: Solar Installer Sues for U.S. Grant Funds. While we had written before about how the U.S. Treasury was investigating SolarCity’s accounting practices - particularly as to how it was valuing its leased systems for purpose of claiming federal tax benefits - this was the first that we had heard that SolarCity had filed a suit of its own, claiming that the grant payments that it had received were not big enough!

Wow!  Proof of the old adage that the best defense is a good offense.  Let it never be said that the folks running SolarCity - and their lawyers - are timid.  Confronted with an existential threat to their business model - a well deserved threat in the eyes of some observers - SolarCity is turning the tables and suing to get even more money from the Treasury.

Curiously, there is no press release regarding this lawsuit to be found on the SolarCity website.  But there can be no dispute that the outcome of this suit - as opposed to the hushed-up settlement with SunPower - is material to the Company’s ongoing operations. As we reported last October, in its IPO filing SolarCity acknowledged as much, saying:

If it [i.e., the U.S. Treasury] were successful in asserting this action [i.e., that SolarCity was overstating the value of its systems], we could then be required to pay damages and penalties for any funds received based on such misrepresentations (which, in turn, could require us to make indemnity payments to certain of our fund investors). Such consequences could have a material adverse effect on our business, liquidity, financial condition and prospects.

This means that Monday’s filing of quarterly financial results will have to comment on this litigation and it will be interesting to see if the subsequent investor conference call extracts more information from management.  Should make for an interesting news day.

05/05/13

  09:11:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 421 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar News

Solar Impulse Soars Across America

If there is anything cooler than a solar-powered airplane that can fly at night, we sure haven’t seen it.  The plane is called Solar Impulse (technically HB-SIA) and it is making its way across the country right now!  In fact, if you live in Phoenix, you could go see it today or Tuesday (and yes, we are jealous) - but the free tickets to see it are all sold out!

Solar Impulse flying over Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California

The plane is making its way across the United States, originating in San Francisco, with scheduled stops in Phoenix, Dallas, St. Louis, DC and New York City.  The information learned during the flight will inform the design and construction of a second plane (HB-SIB) that is intended to fly around the world in 2015.

Here are some specs of the Solar Impulse:

Wingspan: 208′
Weight: 3,500 lbs
Length: 71′
Height: 20′
Motors: 4 (each 10hp)
Solar cells: 11,628

The plane has a take-off speed of 27 mph, an average flying speed of 43 mph and a maximum cruising altitude of 27,900′!

Indeed, the plane has already garnered Five World Records including:

  • Absolute height: 30,300′
  • Altitude gain: 28,690′
  • Duration: 26 hours, 10 minutes, 19 seconds
  • Free distance along a course: 695.5 miles
  • Straight distance over pre-declared waypoints: 683 miles

But how, you may ask, does a solar powered plane fly at night?  Clearly it is not fast enough to chase the sun, so what happens when the sun goes down?  It is all about energy management - both electrical and potential.  During daylight, as the nearly 12,000 solar cells are producing power, the plan climbs toward its service ceiling.  As it goes higher, the solar power system becomes more efficient due to both the drop in temperature and the thinning of the atmosphere.  Thus, the plane is able to store energy in two forms: electro-chemical (in the batteries) and potential in the altitude attained.

When the sunlight fades, the plane begins a very gradual descent, aided by its massive wingspan - equivalent to an Airbus A340 jetliner - that allows it to glide long distances forward for every foot of descent.  Finally it levels off and flies at a very slow cruising speed powered by the solar power now stored in its batteries until it once again meets the sun and can begin its ascent once again.  In theory, the plane could do this perpetually - not so the poor pilot!

Speaking of the pilots, one of them, Bertrand Piccard, has quite the lineage as a pioneer.  His father, Jacques Piccard was aboard the Bathyscaphe Trieste (designed by his father, Auguste) when it descended to the ocean floor in the Mariana Trench - some 35,814′ deep - in 1960!

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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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