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Run on Sun Monthly Newsletter

In this Issue:

November, 2011

Volume: 2 Issue: 11

Jim Jenal Running for SEIA Board

For the first time in its thirty-seven year history, SEIA - the Solar Energy Industry Association - will be selecting five members to its Board of Directors by popular vote of the membership. Run on Sun Founder and CEO, Jim Jenal, has declared his candidacy for one of those seats.

Here is an excerpt from his candidacy statement:

Why Do You want to be on the SEIA Board?

I am running for the SEIA Board of Directors to advance the interests of the many small businesses involved in solar. We face a great many challenges that are particularly taxing to small businesses, and I would seek to advocate policies such as:

  • Enabling PACE and similar financing vehicles for residential and commercial customers. (In particular, I would be pushing for passage of HR 2599.)
  • Eliminating unnecessary obstacles to solar, particularly discordant and inconsistent permitting practices.
  • Smarter control over rebate programs — including cost caps — to discourage gougers and to help the public get the greatest benefit from their investment in solar while eliminating the "now you see it, now you don't" nature of many rebate programs.
  • Advocate for the implementation of a sustainable Feed-in Tariff.
  • Encourage greater self-policing on the part of the industry itself consistent with the Solar Bill of Rights.

You can read Jim's complete statement - and add your support to the list of endorsers for Jim's candidacy - by following this link.

“I am running for the SEIA Board of Directors to advance the interests of the many small businesses involved
in solar.”

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SPI 2011 - Wrap-up & Reflections

Solar Power International 2011 took place in Dallas October 17-20 and it was a very interesting show. While it is hard to reduce a three-day event to a single blog post, it is entirely fitting to provide a brief recap on what we saw, and more importantly, our take on what it all means.

Preliminary Thoughts

We have not seen any actual attendance figures for the show but to us it seemed smaller and less attended than last year in Los Angeles. To be sure, given our other obligations we did not have as much time to walk the floor as we did last year, but the show seemed more contained than before. Moreover, the crowds seemed significantly smaller. Last year in LA it was not uncommon to be in a crowd of people nearly as tight as an infamous LA freeway traffic jam. There was little or none of that in Dallas from what we could see.

Still, the show was sufficiently large that there were undoubtedly cool things that we missed so please let us know your thoughts in the comments (not so subtle hint!).

Financial Matters

The biggest change in the show this year compared to the five we had attended previously was how often people brought up financial stability (or lack thereof) as a selling point. Now in this post-Solyndra world that no doubt makes some sense, but it was jarring to hear it brought up so frequently. For example, one distributor touted the leanness of their operation compared to their bloated and struggling competitor. That competitor assured me, sua sponte, that they had been recapitalized and were now stable and moreover, their production guarantees were actually provided not by them, but by a third-party financial institution. One panel manufacturer critiqued another by saying that they were bleeding money while that competitor suggested that solar was simply the flavor of the week at the competition and that they would not have staying power in solar.
And so on.

While we had heard financial critiques of start-ups in the past - and it is always a fair question to ask where a start-up is getting its money and whether it can generate sufficient revenues to survive - this was the first time that we had heard such critiques applied to well-established players. It was both interesting - certainly we have not spent much time analyzing 10K's in deciding which products and suppliers to use - and a bit distressing. Here's hoping that next year everyone is doing so well that the financial matters are moot.

LG Enters the Fray

LG Mono X solar panel

The most interesting development at the show this year was the introduction of Korean electronics giant, LG Electronics, into the U.S. solar panel market. From a technology standpoint, their panels - both mono and polycrystalline - appear to land somewhere between Sanyo and Suntech. The fit and finish appeared to be very good and the specs are appealing with a 0~+3% production tolerance and a module efficiency ranging from 13.7 to 16.2%. One of their products, the Mono X (which comes in 250, 255 and 260 Watt variations) also claims to be the first solar panel to be "Carbonfree Certified."

More significantly, the LG panels possess something that neither Sanyo nor Suntech has: an enormous brand-presence with American consumers. Indeed, given the success of LG in the U.S. consumer electronics marketplace in recent years, it would be surprising to find a potential client who doesn't already have one or more LG products in their home. "Life's Good," indeed.

As fellow blogger and solar tribe leader, Tor Valenza a/k/a Solar Fred, has commented more than once, branding - and more importantly, brand recognition - in the solar industry is what we are all trying to achieve but so far no one really has. Now that LG is weighing in and in a big way, can it be long before we see that LG Super Bowl ad featuring solar panels? (Hey, LG, feel free to go with that idea and you don't even have to pay me!)

Innovative Non-Lease Financing

The other big development that we saw was the introduction of a clever, non-lease financing mechanism coming from one of our distributors, Focused Energy. While leasing programs can appear attractive - we've all seen the "go solar with no money down" ads - they have limitations for commercial customers including forfeiting the ability to advertise that your company is solar powered. Yet cash-flow concerns can impose a significant impediment to potential clients. While the bulk of those early out-of-pocket costs get recouped fairly quickly thanks to the utility rebate and the federal tax credit, commercial clients must still pony-up the full freight to get the project rolling.

That is where Focused is stepping in to help out. Their program will allow the commercial client to assign to Focused the rebate and federal tax credit (in the form of the 1603 grant) and immediately reduce that amount from their initial purchase price. We are excited by this program and we will post in greater detail when we have had a chance to review the fine print.

A Word of Thanks

Finally, we would be entirely remiss without a word or two of thanks to our sponsor, the great folks over at Enphase Energy. Going into the event we wrote about how our presence was being subsidized by Enphase and we have also reported on the very spirited competition in which we participated and which became the talk of the show.

As great as all that was, on a more significant level, this was a chance to have unprecedented access to the Enphase decision makers, from CEO Paul Nahi, to Product Manager Magnus Asbo, to Marketing folks like Christine Bennett and Noelani Price. Think about it - how often does an installer get asked by the CEO and Product Manager of a product you use everyday, "What are the things you like the least about our product?" That's easy - hardly ever! But we were able to provide exactly that type of feedback this past week in Dallas. Of course, it remains to be seen whether any of our feedback ends up in their product, but it surely does feel good to be asked.

Given that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - something Enphase already knows quite a bit about given the influx of other companies, including SMA, into the microinverter space - we would not be surprised to see more manufacturers inviting installers to participate with them at future shows. We surely hope that happens as it can only be good for the industry, but Enphase has set the bar really high.

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No Surprise: 9 out of 10 Americans Back Solar

Our friends over at the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) are out with a new poll commissioned by SEIA and Schott Solar and performed by independent polling firm Kelton Research. Not surprisingly for those of us who regularly talk to the public about solar - but something largely missing from most press accounts - is the overwhelming public support for solar. Indeed, the poll found that 9 out of 10 Americans (89%) understand that it is important for the United States to develop and use solar energy. More significantly, that support cuts across the political spectrum with support from 80% of self-identified Republicans, 90% from Independents and 94% from Democrats.

Apart from a free lunch, it is hard to imagine anything with greater popular support.

One of the more interesting findings in the report was how knowing that a product was made using solar power would increase the likelihood of a consumer purchasing that product:

Support for buying a product made using solar energy

This result begs the question: Who makes up that 7% who would be less likely to buy a product if they knew it were made using solar?

"No thank you, I prefer to only support products that are actively polluting the environment!"


(Of course, if you are a manufacturer who wants to take advantage of that solar marketing edge, you need to avoid leasing!)

Here are the main questions and results from the poll:

Question 1: If you were in charge of U.S. energy policy and could choose to provide financial support in one of the following energy sources during your term in office, which would you choose?

  • Thirty-nine percent chose solar, compared to 21 percent for natural gas, 12 percent for wind, 9 percent for nuclear and 3 percent for coal. Among Independents, solar is more than twice as popular as any other energy source (43 percent to 20 percent for natural gas).

Question 2: How important do you think it is for the U.S. to develop and use solar power?

  • Nine out of 10 Americans (89 percent) think it is "extremely important" or "somewhat important."
  • Eighty percent of Republicans, 90 percent of Independents, and 94 percent of Democrats agree with this statement.

Question 3: How important do you think it is for the federal government to support U.S. solar manufacturing right now?

  • Eight out of 10 Americans (82 percent) think it is "extremely important" or "somewhat important."
  • A majority of Independent voters (51 percent) think it is "extremely important."

Question 4: Would you be more, less or about as likely to buy a product that you knew was made using solar energy?

  • A majority of Americans (51 percent) would be more likely to buy products produced with solar energy.
  • Sixty-one percent of consumers in the key age demographic of 18 to 44 years old would be more likely.

Question 5: Which of the following best describes the biggest concern you would have with choosing solar energy?

  • Cost was the most common concern (48 percent), followed by reliability (25 percent), uncertainty about the benefits (9 percent) and aesthetics (3 percent).

Question 6: The federal government currently gives subsidies, such as federal tax credits and grants, to traditional sources of energy, such as oil, natural gas and coal. How likely would you be to support similar subsidies for solar energy?

  • More than eight out of 10 Americans (82 percent) would be "extremely likely" or "somewhat likely" to support federal investments in solar. Seventy-two percent of Republicans support federal investments, as well as 87 percent of Democrats and 82 percent of Independents.

Couple of final thoughts: First, it is encouraging to see that younger people show greater support for solar than do their elders. Solar needs to be a big part of the future and those who will inhabit that future get it. Second, cost is still the major concern for most potential solar clients. Yet the cost of solar has dropped dramatically in the past several years - a key fact about solar that rarely makes it into print.

It will be interesting to see how much press this poll gets - given the steady pummeling by the media the industry has taken since Solyndra failed, a little equal time to report on how the majority of Americans view the solar industry might just be, dare we say it, "fair and balanced"?

“Nine out of 10 Americans (89 percent) think it is "extremely important" or "somewhat important." for the U.S. to develop and use solar power.”

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