September 23-26 marked the first-ever Solar Power International (SPI) to be held in Salt Lake City, a questionable choice in the eyes of many. But I have ties to SLC, having earned my M.S. in Computer Science there back in the day, so I was intrigued and excited to make the trip. Here's my take...
We decided to drive from Pasadena to SLC - a distance of roughly 700 miles. Why on earth would we do that? Well for one thing, the scenery is spectacular! (Three words: Virgin River Gorge - 'nuff said!) Also, there were three of us making the trip, and neither Victoria nor Jenni had ever made that trip, so the roadie was a no-brainer.
I had made the journey solo many times while a Grad Student, so it was a real luxury to have someone share the driving. We got into town and found our Airbnb late Sunday night (oh and ask me sometime about our dining experience at Dees), settled in, and were ready for adventure on Monday.
Point of Personal Privilege
I was in SLC from 1976-78, and returned only once since, in 1980. Now forty years is a long time, and I was certainly expecting changes, but I didn't anticipate how far social progress had come. My quest for Monday morning coffee, found me at Publik Kitchen, sporting a Gay Pride flag and situated on, and I kid you not, Harvey Milk Boulevard!
When I lived here, sitting outside drinking coffee would draw sneers (if you could find a place to do so!), and acknowledging Gay Pride was not really a thing.
It was nice to see SLC evolve into a more welcoming and inclusive place.
It would not be a trip to SLC without a side venture to the Wasatch Front, so Monday afternoon the three of us headed up to Park City to check out the sites. Of course, this wasn't ski season so it wasn't mobbed like it would be in a couple of months, but that made it all the more enjoyable. Beautiful environs and a lunch that more than made up for the gastronomic nightmare that was Dees the night before.
Solar Power World Gala!
As we reported back in July, Run on Sun once again made it to the Solar Power World's Top Solar Contractors list, the sixth time in the past seven years. (We really do punch above our weight!)
In addition to the bragging rights that go with making the list, Solar Power World also hosts a Gala on Monday night. I love this tradition as you actually get to see solar folks "clean up" in something other than work clothes designed for a roof, and it is an opportunity to chat with the other solar installers who are doing it right - like our friends at Elemental Energy in Oregon.
Thanks to the folks at Solar Power World for once again hosting this fun event - and for finding a way to keep us on the list!
On to the Show!
We only attend the exhibits—the conference itself got priced out of reach long ago—and several of our friends provided us tickets including LG, Everest, and EnergyToolbase. We greatly appreciate their support.
For me, the real point of the show is to touch base with the folks that we already use to learn about anything exciting upcoming, and then be on the lookout for something less familiar that we might want to adopt. Let's start with the familiar: Enphase, LG, and Everest.
As has been their recent practice, Enphase did not have a booth at SPI (which are crazy expensive), but their presence was very much there. Most significantly was the executive/installer roundtable that we were invited to attend. About a dozen or so installation companies from across the country were represented in the room, along with most of the Enphase C-suite execs, including CEO Badri Kothandaraman, CFO Eric Branderiz, COO Jeff McNeil, and CCO Dave Ranhoff, along with Marketing VP, J D Dillon.
The conversation was frank and informative. The execs were there to hear what was working and what was not, and as to the latter, how to make things better. There was a lot of conversation about handling service requests, and COO McNeil made it clear that cutting wait times was a major priority, even as the installers commented on how much it has improved over the last year, particularly as compared to rival, SolarEdge.
There was relatively little talk about Ensemble, but CEO Kothandaraman acknowledged that it was "his call" not to provide backward compatibility with Ensemble and the M-series of older microinverters, noting that it was a question of how long it would have taken to get the product to market if that compatibility had to be included. An understandable, if disappointing, decision to make, but it was good to hear him own it directly.
This means that legacy users who want to take advantage of Ensemble, will need to wait until rooftop IQ8's are available, and then upgrade their M-series micros. We shall see how many legacy clients opt to go that route; no doubt cost will be a major factor.
Our friends at LG continue with their steady roll-out of new products. However, whereas they had been dribbling out products at 5 Watt increments (now you see 340's, now all you see are 335's!), the goal going forward is to make the incremental steps larger. So we anticipate seeing 350's by the beginning of the year in Neon2's, and 370's in NeonR, with more availability of black backsheet models.
LG was talking about their new AC module that uses an LG, not Enphase, microinverter - provoking thoughts of deja vu all over again. Frankly, we have not been that enamored of AC modules on pitched roofs, so we aren't inclined to think about this product line from LG. We will continue with our preferred solution of Enphase microinverters and LG modules.
Everest has been our racking choice for quite some time, but we have never been a fan of their present end-clamps. So we were quite excited to see their new end clamp that grabs the module frame lip and is completely invisible. We cannot wait to give that new and improved product a try!
Of the beaten path…
The SPI exhibit hall is huge, and it is next to impossible to cover it completely. But part of the fun is the serendipity of turning a corner and seeing something completely surprising. (This was made a tad more complicated by the twisty, turny layout imposed by the venue - one of the major complaints about the show.) Here's two oddities that caught our eye…
The first was this little panel-washing robot. It cost $12,000 and weighs 50 lbs before you add washing solution! That makes it a pricey, and potentially damaging way to clean your panels. But it was very cool to see it crawl its way across an array of clearly sloped panels. Cool tech, but don't think we are investing any time soon.
But speak of cool tech, this all-mechanical tracker was the cleverest thing we saw. The parabolic mirror (made of metal with a special high reflectance coating that is designed to last 25 years) directs sunlight on a cylinder full of paraffin wax. As the wax heats up, it expands and pushes on a piston.. The piston drives a gear that turns the collection of panels (two in the demo, typically 12 on an actual unit). The sun hits the mirror, the wax expands and heats, pushing the array westward, The sun moves again, back into the parabolic mirror, and the paraffin expands more driving the panels again. When the sun sets, the paraffin cools and contracts, the piston slides in, and the panels return to their east-facing position.
Inspired by the heliotropic mechanism of flowers, this design, invented by Fin Doyle of Sulas Industries, was a real stunner. (For folks familiar with the old Zomeworks units, this is similar only in that it is entirely mechanical, but the actual mechanism is completely different.)
Not sure if we will ever get to play with one of these -- not a lot of call for poll-mounted systems here abouts -- but we loved finding something new under the sun!