07/31/21

  02:49:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 811 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Safety

Rethinking Maintenance for Residential Solar Projects

For a long time the solar industry - particularly the residential solar industry - has portrayed our systems as “maintenance free".  “Clean the panels when they get dirty, but otherwise you are good to go,” is a common conversation between an installer and their client.  And certainly given the ever-improving warranties being offered by top-line manufacturers, that claim didn’t seem so far-fetched.  But lately I’ve seen some things that have caused me to rethink that whole conception of maintenance-free solar systems.  Here’s my take…

Old Thinking…

My old thinking - that these systems really did not require maintenance over a 20-year lifetime - was predicated on more than wishful thinking.  After all, we used only the very best components: LG solar panels, Enphase microinverters, racking from Everest and Unirac, Polaris connectors instead of wire nuts, etc.  We built our systems with care, using well-trained people, including those who were NABCEP certified, and we went above and beyond all code requirements.

What I have discovered recently, in servicing a couple of older systems, is that it isn’t the components people worry about failing like the panels or the microinverters, that cause the problems.  We have never had an LG panel fail, and since Enphase moved to the IQ series of microinverters we have had exactly one microinverter fail - one!

No, that has not been the problem, it is the little stuff that is taking systems down.

What I’ve Seen…

Before I can talk about how things have failed, let me show you how things start out.

Proper j-box

On the right you see a rail-mounted junction box on the roof.  In here we connect the Enphase IQ-cabling from the microinverters to THHN-2 wire for the run from the roof to the building-mounted combiner box.  (If you look to the right, your can see black marks on the racking bolts - we mark them with a sharpie after they have been torqued.)  We have a grounding bushing on the incoming conduit, and all of the connections are made with Polaris connectors instead of outdoor-rated wire nuts.  Why the Polaris?  Because you can do a pull test on your connection: when the wires are screwed in you can pull on them to make certain that they are secure, something you simply cannot do with a wire nut.

Put simply, it is the best connection method of which I’m aware and so that is why we use them, even though they cost 50 times as much as that wire nut.  But here’s the thing - they aren’t foolproof either.

We got an email from the Enphase Enlighten monitoring system alerting us to a client whose system had gone offline.  That system had a fused disconnect and I fully expected to find a blown fuse.  Nope fuses were fine, and the breaker hadn’t tripped either.  Time to go on the roof and check out the junction box - and here’s what I found…

Bad polaris

What on earth?  The Polaris in the foreground has failed completely, but why?  The Polaris behind it looks like the day it was installed, so why did the other one literally melt away?  Mind you, this wasn’t a case of something shorting out - neither the fuses nor the breaker tripped.  There are two wires being joined there, a 12 gauge from the Enphase cable and a 10 gauge for the run off the roof.  The #10 is still securely held in what is left of the Polaris, but the #12 has broke off - which is why the system had failed.  But why?

My best answer - speculative of course because I didn’t see it happen - is that perhaps the #12 was not as securely under the screw as it should have been, and over the course of the nine years that it was in service, with the daily heating and cooling, it continued to loosen, until the resistance of the connection increased, causing it to heat, melting insulation on the wires and on the Polaris, until the wire broke.

What could have prevented this failure?  Well, as mentioned, this system performed just fine for nine years before failing.  What if those connections had been checked around Year 5?  If, as I surmise, the connection was loosening, an inspection might have caught that and a simple re-tightening would have cured the problem before the failure could occur.

Now this is only one failure out of a multitude of systems using the same components, so it is fair to say that this is low-probability event.  But we have seen other, similar issues including a performance meter that failed, and a line-side tap that loosened, over heated, and failed.

The bottom line is that we are re-thinking how we approach maintenance for resi solar.  I would be interested to hear other folks thoughts about this, so please leave us a comment and tell us about your experiences.  Hopefully we can all learn something about how to make our systems better, if not, “maintenance free.”

 

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05/26/21

  04:43:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 173 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, SCE, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Ranting, Non-profit solar, SDG&E

Stop AB1139!

We have written about the perils of AB 1139 and how it would gut net energy metering for all solar owners, regardless of “grandfathering” that they were promised.  Having sailed through two Assembly committees unscathed, it is scheduled for a floor vote in the Assembly tomorrow, Thursday, May 27th. 

We need you to call your Assemblymember NOW to get them to vote No on this terrible bill.

Here is the News Flash that we just sent out to our subscribers:

 AB 1139 Heads to Floor Vote
Take Action Today

AB 1139, the Utility Profit Grab bill to kill rooftop solar and hurt your solar investment heads to an Assembly Floor vote expected TOMORROW. Call your assemblymember to stop the bill right now! Click here to take action.
 

We need to flood the assembly with thousands of phone calls. Phone calls work! So, Please call now. It takes 2 minutes.

When you click the link below, we will help you determine your Assemblymember and set up the call for you - it couldn’t be easier.

 
Call your Assemblymember Now
 

Thank you for your support!

03/14/21

  07:57:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 767 words  
Categories: SCE, Residential Solar

SCE Just Hiked Their Rates - Here's What That Means For You!

While you weren’t watching, SCE - the same SCE that is trying to kill off rooftop solar - just raised their Time-of-Use rates for residential customers. We will break down the increase and show you what it might mean for a couple of potential solar clients.

What are Time-of-Use Rates?

Time-of-Use (or TOU) rates are exactly what they sound like: a rate structure where how much you pay for energy is tied to when you use that energy.  (We wrote a lengthy blog post explaining the differences between TOU rates and Tiered rates, in gory detail!) 

The most common TOU rate for SCE’s residential customers is titled TOU-D, with the 4-9 p.m. window having the highest rates overall.  Compared to a tiered rate -  where your monthly bill is divided into steps based on the volume of energy that you use, with each volumetric step, or tier, bringing you a higher rate - a TOU rate does not increase on volume but on the time of day.  As a result, rates during peak periods can be 50% or more higher than the lowest periods.  Of course, that peak period - either 4-9 or 5-8 with SCE - corresponds to when people generally use the most energy!  Gotcha!!! (Those rate differentials are what provide the economic benefit of adding storage, and make simple strategies - like delaying the dishwasher or EV charging until out of peak rates - effective at saving money.)

How is SCE’s TOU Rate Changing?

Needless to say, SCE’s rates are very complex, with the energy charge being comprised of some eleven different components!  I will spare you those distressing details and just focus on the overall energy charge and how it has changed, as shown in this table:

SCE rate change as of 2/1/2021

SCE’s TOU-D Rate change for the 4-9 p.m. option.

On average, we see that rates here have increased between 3.67 and 3.80% over the prior rate, but there are some special gifts to solar customers buried in the rates.  When the Net Metering rules were changed a few years ago, it introduced the concept of Non-Bypassable Charges (or NBCs) - components of the rate structure that solar customers paid for every killowatt hour pulled from the grid, even if that same kWh was netted back by energy exported to the grid.  Far and away the largest NBC is the Public Purpose Programs charge, and in this rate increase it jumped from 1.323¢/kWh to 1.622¢/kWh - a whopping 22.6% increase! 

Another fun fact for SCE customers who have endured so called public-safety shutdowns, is that they are paying 0.6¢/kWh toward the “wildfire fund charge"!  That’s right, SCE’s customers are helping to pay for an insurance fund against wildfires caused by SCE, PG&E, and SDG&E - now isn’t that almost enough to get one hot enough to, well, burn!

Use Case Impacts

We decided to examine how potential clients would see their bills, and potential savings, change under the new rate structure.  As always, we made use of the wonderful tool Energy Toolbase to do our calculations. 

Average user comparison Our first example is a pretty average user in the Run on Sun service area, consuming approximately 30 kWh of energy per day, pre-solar.  Under the old TOU rate their annual bill pre-solar was $2,946, but under the new rate (including things like utility user taxes, etc.) their bill would go up by nearly 5%, an extra $144 for the year.  However, their post-solar savings also increase, by 5.42% or an extra $143 per year.  For this average user, adding solar ended up being a nearly perfect hedge against the SCE rate increase!

Heavy consumption use caseOur second user does not fare quite as well.  This is a significantly larger user, consuming more than 50 kWh/day.  Their pre-solar bill increases by 4.29%, or $228. Unfortunately, while their overall savings increases, it is not as dramatic as it is for the smaller user, reducing the differential from $228 to $92, compared to reducing it to just $1 for the average user.

Bottom line - adding solar helps hedge against rate increases, and as energy costs get higher, your annual savings will increase!

Meanwhile, SCE is Trying to Kill Rooftop Solar

It is one thing for SCE to be seeking, and getting, rate increases from the CPUC - that is their business model.  It is quite another thing for them to try and gut the value of net metering, thereby eliminating the economic value of adding solar - but that is precisely what they are trying to do!  We are fighting back, starting with a signature campaign targeted at a petition to Governor Newsom

There will be lots more to do in the coming days to fight against SCE’s attack on solar, but for now there is something simple that you can do - mash that button below and go sign the petition!

Sign the Petition!
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02/27/21

  11:13:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 217 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power

Welcome Amanda Watson!

Amanda WatsonPlease join us in welcoming Amanda Watson as the newest member of the Run on Sun team!

Amanda is new to the solar industry with roots in nuclear energy, bicycles, politics, and piñatas. Originally from the mountains of central PA, Amanda obtained a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Fordham University. Despite an addiction for NYC’s energy and architecture, Amanda’s love of government and (slightly) warmer weather lured her south to DC after graduation, where she spent the next 16 years arranging international shipments of uranium, racing bicycles, and developing her own style of piñata engineering and artistry.      

 In 2018 Amanda finally migrated to LA, where she is happily putting down roots on its hilly east side. When she is not climbing a roof (or, as here, servicing a combiner box from a scissors lift), she can be found climbing (& descending) mountains on her bicycles, hiking treacherous trails, and hitting the skatepark. On the rare chance she is sitting still, Amanda is likely covered in dirt and tending to her many plants, or covered in glue and making a piñata, while talking about politics.  

Amanda is our newest Projects Coordinator, so you are likely to hear her voice on the phone asking for a year’s worth of usage data, or scheduling our next site evaluation or installation!

Welcome aboard, Amanda!

02/17/21

  08:47:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 927 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, SCE, Residential Solar, Ranting, SDG&E, Net Metering

The Battle to Preserve Net Metering is Underway - Time to Fight!

TL;DR - We need your help to preserve net metering - Sign the Petition!

Run on Sun has been installing grid-tied solar power system since 2007, and one constant in all of that time has been the hostility towards such systems evinced by the Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs): SCE, PG&E and SDG&E. Nowhere is that hostility on clearer display than it has been in their efforts to erode, if not eliminate altogether, net metering.  But now, with the IOUs lobbying for the creation of Net Metering 3.0, the battle for the survival of net metering is about to be joined in earnest.  If your right to put solar on your home or business is to be preserved, we are going to need all of you to join the fight.  Here’s our take…

What is Net Metering?

Net Energy Metering (NEM) or just net metering for short, is the basis by which a solar system provides the owner with a significant portion of their financial benefit.  Solar systems on a clear, sunny day produce energy that follows a normal distribution, with the peak energy production occurring around solar noon, and rolling off in a typical “bell curve” on either side.  That energy saves the system owner money twice: first, by directly offsetting the energy usage of the home or business, but secondly, by allowing the excess energy to be exported back to the grid for retail credit.  That retail credit is then applied against energy imported from the grid to power loads at night or on cloudy days.  At the end of the billing cycle, those two values - the amount of energy imported versus the amount of energy exported - are “netted” out, and if the amount imported is greater than what was exported, the difference is charged to the customer.  Conversely, if more energy is exported than imported, the customer has a credit for that period that can be carried forward.

Of course, the energy exported to the grid for which the net metering customer gets credit doesn’t disappear - the utility sells it to another customer for that full retail value.  Moreover, because that energy did not have to be transported from far-off generation facilities, there is less demand to build expensive infrastructure like high-voltage transmission lines - you know, like the lines that have sparked deadly wildfires in the past few years.

So you might think that net metering would be a win-win for everyone - solar clients get a greater financial incentive to foot the bill for installing energy generation systems and the utility gets additional energy without incurring the costs of building or maintaining them.  But you would be wrong.  You see, IOUs don’t make money selling energy.  They make money building things.  In fact, in a stunningly perverse incentive structure, the IOUs get a guaranteed return on investment of 10% for every dollar they spend building stuff: generation plants, transmission lines, etc.  So they see the growth of solar, particularly rooftop solar, as a threat to their antiquated business model, and the best tool at their disposal is to take as big a bite out of net metering as possible.

Where are We Today and Where are the IOUs Trying to Go?

The version of net metering described above actually no longer exists with the IOUs, instead, they transitioned to NEM 2.0 a few years ago.  (Municipal utilities, like PWP, still offer full net metering.)  Under that scheme, a one-time interconnection charge was created, along with what are known as Nonbypassable Charges, which require their customer to pay a relatively small amount for every kilowatt hour of energy imported, even if that energy is actually offset by exported production.  The real kicker was that all solar customers in IOU territory were switched to Time-of-Use rates that made the value of exported solar lower, and energy imported from 4-9 significantly more expensive.

But now, heading into NEM 3.0, the IOUs are going all in!  A recent report by the consulting firm E3 was released by the CPUC and it highlights some options for changing net metering that would seriously impact the value of solar.  In particular, the report proposes fixed monthly charges of between $50 and $70 for all solar customers, combined with a “grid access charge” each month of between $5-$7/kW installed!  That means that under the best case scenario of their proposals, a residential customer with a 4 kW solar system installed would pay an extra $70 per month, every month, just because they have solar - that they paid for - on their home!  That is an $840/year penalty for going green! 

If that doesn’t make you see red, nothing will!

We’re Not Gonna Take It!

To say that the California solar industry is in the fight of its life is an understatement.  But so are all solar customers, who could see the value of their investment greatly eroded by these misguided policy proposals.  And that is where you come in.  We are fighting back and we need you in the fight!  The California Solar and Storage Association (CALSSA - our trade association) and the Solar Rights Alliance are gearing up to organize against the threat.  The first step is in signing a petition to Governor Newsom - we need him as an ally now.  It is super easy to sign on and we are looking to collect 20,000 signatures before April 1.  As of this writing, we are at 923 supporters, so we have a long way to go - and that starts with you!  (We will have more news on ways to fight back in the coming weeks, so watch this space.) 

Please click the big button below and let’s get this done!

Sign the Petition!

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Help Save Rooftop Solar!

California Utilities are trying to kill rooftop solar on your home by gutting net metering - but you can stop them!
Join the fight by signing the petition today!

Sign the Petition!

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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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