Welcome to the
Run on Sun Monthly Newsletter

In this Issue:

April, 2010

Volume: 1 Issue: 4

A Conversation with PWP

Recently, I spent 90 minutes talking solar with the folks at Pasadena Water & Power. It was a great conversation and it really re-confirmed my belief that these are true solar proponents who - while understaffed, overworked and underpaid - are working hard every day to make solar in Pasadena a reality.

Here are some highlights from our conversation:

  • Regarding the July 1 decline in solar rebates – the decline is in response to not just built systems, but committed rebate allocations. A big chunk of that is destined for Cal Tech which will be installing more than 1 MW of solar in 2010. (In many respects it is only right that Cal Tech should get the biggest share of the rebate funds since they are the biggest electric customer in PWP's service territory.) All the more reason for the rest of you folks to get on board now before the rebates go down!
  • AB 920 – the folks at PWP emphasized their desire to have solar customers participate in the AB 920 rate-setting hearing process. They anticipate contacting solar customers before the hearings occur so that customers can have their voices heard. Of course, we will be blogging more on the AB 920 process as the hearing(s) approach.
  • Support for the LA Grand Solar Tour – although the details are yet to be worked out, PWP expressed interest in assisting with, and perhaps even co-sponsoring the LA Grand Solar Tour - the signature event for LARES (the Los Angeles Renewable Energy Society) the now-forming Los Angeles chapter of ASES.

PWP emphasized their desire to have solar customers participate in the AB 920 rate-setting hearing process...

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AB 510 Becomes Law – Expands Cap on Net Metering Agreements

Recently, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 510 (Skinner, D-Berkeley) into law. (Hat tip to the folks at California Green Building Blog for the link.) As we reported previously (read about it here), under the law prior to the Governor's signature, utilities did not have to allow any additional net-metering agreements in their service area once they reached 2.5% of their peak power demand. Having the highest installed base as a percentage of peak demand, PG&E was coming close to the 2.5% limit. (Sadly, the utilities here in Southern California were in no danger of hitting the limit any time soon.) The new law doubles that cap to 5%. Since every residential solar installation in California that ties into the utility grid requires a net-metering agreement, this new law effectively doubles the allowable amount of residential solar power installations throughout the state.

That is especially good news to installers and their potential customers in PG&E land, but it is also good news for all of us in California as it eliminates one more potential obstacle for future planning around solar. As readers of this Newsletter will surely know, California has lead the nation in its aggressive efforts to promote solar and other forms of renewable energy. (The Governor's press release does a good job of summarizing some of these recent efforts - read it here.) Signing Assembly Member Skinner's bill into law continues that progress, and further enhances the Governor's well-earned reputation for leading the charge for renewable energy development.

Of course, where one Governor can lead, another can sound the retreat. Something to think about in this election year.

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Scam Warning!
Why Solar is Not a Do-It-Yourself Project

If you spend anytime at all reading about solar power on the Internet you will have come across one of those ads:

"Do it Yourself Solar!"
"Build Solar Panels at Home!"
"Go Green and Save Green!"

and on and on. Sounds enticing - after all, who wouldn't like to green up their life while saving money? But the scammers have you squarely in their sights and their do-it-yourself kits are a ripoff of your hard earned money.

At a minimum, there are at least three good reasons why solar is not a DIY project: 1) DC isn't AC, 2) Safety, and 3) Utilities.
Let's look at each one of these in turn.

DC isn't AC - Solar panels produce direct current (DC), just like your car battery. But the energy in your home is alternating current (AC) which reverses polarity 60 times a second. Now a very few of the loads in your home won't care - an incandescent light bulb will burn just fine with either AC or DC. But your air conditioning system won't. Nor will your TV, your computer, your refrigerator, or nearly anything else that you own. All of them are designed to operate on AC and running them on DC will either damage them, or do nothing at all. Yet those are the things that drive your utility bill. A $200, DIY solar panel (assuming for the sake of argument that such a thing can even be built) will do nothing to lower those bills. So right off the bat, the huge $$$ savings promised are just that - a "pie-crust" promise - easily made, easily broken.

Safety - Quality solar panels sold in the United States are approved by Underwriters Laboratory (i.e., "UL Approved") for safety. Since even a single solar panel can generate dangerous amounts of electricity, that approval provides peace of mind that the solar panels sitting on your roof will operate safely for the 25 years that you will own them. Can the same be said for a DIY solar panel? What if the unthinkable happens and your DIY solar panel malfunctions and starts a fire. Will your homeowner's insurance cover the loss after they learn that you placed solar panels on your roof that weren't UL approved? Is that a risk you want to take?

Utilities - If you are looking to lower your utility costs, you will need to connect your DIY system to the utility grid. Before you can legally do that, your system has to have an inverter that meets not only UL approval but also the IEEE standard to prevent "islanding". The "anti-islanding" feature of a modern inverter is extremely important - here's why. A residential grid-tied solar power system is a small power plant connected remotely from the utility's other power plants. If a power line goes down, the utility will dispatch a crew to repair the break. Before doing so, they will isolate that portion of the grid so that the lines are de-energized, allowing the workers to handle them safely. But wait - they cannot isolate your mini power plant down the street which is acting as a power-generating island all unto itself. That means the downed power line is still hot - and deadly. To prevent such situations, "anti-islanding" technology is built into every grid-tied inverter sold in the U.S. Building such an inverter is definitely not a DIY project, unless you are an electrical engineer.

Funny, but those ads never seem to talk about any of this.

Sure, we have a vested interest - we are in the business of installing high-quality, safe and reliable solar power systems. But we aren't worried here about losing a few sales. Rather, we are worried about solar getting a bad reputation from hucksters and scammers souring people who were excited about the possibility of going solar, but got mislead and wasted their money and their time.

We believe - and have blogged about - the absolute right of consumers to be treated ethically by the solar industry. We will continue to write about risks to that ethical standard, whether from conventional installers doing shoddy work (see here) or from rip-off artists and scammers like these.

At a minimum,
there are three
good reasons why
Solar is Not
a DIY project:
1) DC isn't AC,
2) Safety, and
3) Utilities.

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