Category: "Commercial Solar"

10/23/19

  08:50:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 464 words  
Categories: Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Safety, Non-profit solar

The Solar Fire that Wasn't!

Solar fire!

Fire damage at a Walmart store.

We recently wrote about a spate of fires that occurred at Walmart stores due to problems with solar power systems on their roofs.  The damage, in some cases, was extensive and overall, painted a pretty bleak picture of commercial solar.  But it doesn’t have to be that way - read on to learn about the solar fire that wasn’t!

One of the problems with the systems that were installed at Walmart is that they were tied to string inverters.  That means that multiple solar panels are wired together into a series string.  When solar panels are wired together that way, the voltage in that string adds with each additional panel.  So if you have twenty panels wired together, and each panel produces 40 volts, the total voltage for the string is 800 volts!  (Indeed, commercial systems can be as high as 1000 volts!)  If there is a gap - say from a loose wire, or a damaged panel - you can get an electric arc that can easily start a fire.

Yikes!

But the other day we were doing a maintenance check on a small commercial system that we installed a few years ago.  While we were installing a software update we did a visual inspection of the array and came across this - a totally shattered panel!

Shattered panel

Totally shattered panel - but no fire here!

So what happened here?  Turns out that the company that owns the system had a mishap, and a brass valve fell on the panel from about 100′ in the air - yep, that will do it!

But more importantly was what didn’t happen - there was no fire.  This was during the middle of the day, and the system was operating at full capacity, yet despite being entirely shattered by the blow, there was no fire because this was not part of a high voltage string.  Rather, this was part of an Enphase microinverter system, so the total DC voltage was only 40 volts.  At that low a voltage there is no arc, and with no arc, there is no fire!

We have heard people say that string inverters are the way to go with commercial systems because they are so much cheaper.  To which we reply - really?  How much does it cost to repair the damage from a fire like those that Walmart has experienced?  Moreover, with a string inverter system, finding faults before they become a hazard is much harder than it is with an Enphase microinverter system.  The Enphase monitoring tells you where the problem is so you can fix it with minimal impact on your operations.

Bottom line: beware of false economies.  Spending a little more to have a safer system is just smart business.  That’s one of the many reasons that we are exclusively an Enphase shop - simply safer solar!

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08/28/19

  10:29:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 174 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Non-profit solar

Say Hello to Jenni O'Neil

Jenni O'Neil

We are excited to introduce the latest member of the Run on Sun team, our new Office Manager and Social Media Guru, Jenni O’Neil.

Jenni joins the Run on Sun team with ten years of customer service experience, four of which were spent as a social media coordinator for a Strategic Solutions company. In her early work experience, Jenni spent time on Capitol Hill working for a Representative from the great state of South Carolina. 

A woman of many skills, Jenni’s work experience encompasses many areas with a focus in politics, social-media marketing, sales and management - all of which will be put to use here!

In her spare time, Jenni is a singer-songwriter who composes music and enjoys singing both Jazz and Blues.  She also enjoys the written-word, and when not working on music, is pen-deep in the historical-fiction novel she is writing.

We are looking forward to Jenni spicing up our social media content, particularly on Twitter!  Expect things there to be far more lively going forward!

Please join us in welcoming Jenni aboard!

08/26/19

  01:14:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 414 words  
Categories: Commercial Solar, Safety, Shortcut Solar

FIRE! Walmart Sues SolarCity/Tesla Over Rash of Solar Fires

On August 20th, Walmart sued Tesla Inc, alleging “widespread negligence” in the installation and maintenance of systems on something like 240 Walmart stores across the country, resulting in 7 fires!  Is this a uniquely SolarCity/Tesla problem?  Are rooftop solar installations invariably unsafe?  Or is there a design difference that can make systems safer, particularly for residential solar clients?  Here’s our take…

Fire at Walmart store allegedly caused by Tesla solar installation

Fire damage at Walmart store allegedly caused by Tesla solar installation.

The 114-page complaint is a pretty damning set of accusations, saying that the installations were rushed, that faulty materials were used during the installation, and that the maintenance provided by Tesla did not meet “Prudent Industry Practices."  For example, after one Tesla maintenance team left a Walmart site, a DC combiner box, which could involve DC voltages of as much as 1,000 volts, was found left with the cover off!

Other problems involved multiple solar modules with “hot spots” possibly caused by micro-fractures of the cells, as well as mismatching cabling connectors (connecting MC4 connectors to Amphenol connectors) such that excessive resistance in the connections could occur, resulting in overheating, and potentially fires.

While the lawsuit is specific to SolarCity, and its now parent, Tesla, the types of conditions described are going to be potentially present in any string inverter system - which all of these were.  Since you are dealing with strings of solar panels, you are dealing with higher string operating voltages, with more power running through those strings.  If you use mismatched connectors, or stand on solar modules (one of the best pictures in the complaint shows the foot of a Tesla maintenance inspector standing on a solar module!) you can have the potential for fires.

A Safer Way…

DC arcing at 240 volts

DC arc at 240 volts.
Video by John Ward
6:20 into the video.

Which leads us to yet another reason to prefer the Enphase microinverter approach - no high DC voltages involved!  When a DC circuit opens under load, it is possible to get significant arcing, like you see at the left - ouch! 

But since each solar module plugs directly into the Enphase microinverter, there is no additive effect leading to those crazy high DC voltages.  Open a DC circuit with a voltage of 40 volts or so and guess what? No arcing!

While human error is never going to be eliminated in the solar industry – those are human beings doing the work after all – the Enphase microinverter system is inherently safer.  And if you are going to put solar on your home, school or business, isn’t safer what you want?

08/04/18

  09:01:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 199 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Non-profit solar

Introducing Victoria Villalobos!

Victoria VillalobosRun on Sun is excited to introduce Victoria Villalobos as the latest member of the RoS Team!

Victoria comes to Run on Sun with more than ten years of project management experience.  Although new to the solar industry, Victoria is a very quick study and is already looking to help streamline operations - an area of particular expertise!

A dog lover herself, Victoria has already bonded with Prosper, the Solar Dog, and we especially were drawn to her passion for building relationships, connecting with folks from diverse backgrounds, and finding common ground.  

Victoria is also a ten-year Army veteran with deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan - so Southern California heat doesn’t phase her.  In her spare time, Victoria is studying to be an instructor for a national organization dedicated to healing the trauma of United States military veterans, and she takes great pride in doing what she can to strengthen the veteran’s community and welcome them home from service.

Bringing Victoria onboard increases our resolve as a company to do more to integrate vets into our operations, and we are eager to work with Victoria to make that resolve a reality.

Please join me in welcoming Victoria to the Run on Sun family!

01/30/18

  03:28:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 689 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar

Solar Tariffs - What Does this Mean for You?

After months of discussion, the Trump administration imposed 30% tariffs on imported solar cells and completed solar modules (like the LG modules that we use exclusively). The news made a pretty big splash, but it has mostly left potential solar clients confused about what it really means. We are still sorting through this ourselves, but here are our preliminary thoughts.

How did we get here?

Last April, bankrupt panel manufacturer Suniva—operating out of Georgia, but actually a subsidiary of China’s Shunfeng International—filed a trade case claiming it was damaged by the “dumping” of inexpensive solar modules from China and elsewhere.  They sought trade protection in the form of tariffs to drive up the cost of competitor’s products, so that their panels would be cheap enough for people to purchase.  We wrote at length about this at the time: Suniva - the Tail Wagging the Dog

Shortly thereafter, SolarWorld—another manufacturer operating in Oregon, but German owned—joined the case.  The irony here is that some of the modules targeted by this trade case - like our LG modules - are already considerably more expensive than those made by Suniva or SolarWorld!

Moreover, solar module manufacturing tends to be highly automated, meaning there just aren’t that many jobs at issue; whereas rising prices could seriously impact solar installation jobs, which are far more numerous (and which can’t be outsourced, for that matter!). 

Despite all of that, the Administration imposed tariffs in the name of protecting American jobs.

What will this do to the cost of solar?

Which brings us to the obvious question of what will this cost consumers.  First and foremost, for our clients, if you have signed a contract with us, your cost will not change at all.  Indeed, our pricing changes on February 7, so contracts signed before then will be unaffected as well.

But we aren’t going to see a full 30% price increase on modules because prices have been mostly flat for the past six months.  That means that the normal price decreases we have grown accustomed to haven’t happened while LG, and every other manufacturer, waited to see what would happen.  In fact, it looks like our most popular module, the LG 335’s, will only increase in price by 13%.  Moreover, module costs are no longer the driving number in our solar installs, accounting for between 20 and 25% of the total system cost.  That means that a module increase of 13% translates into something like a 3-4% overall increase.  A useless waste of money to be sure - but not a game changer.

Exempt Me!

LG makes a premium product that is substantially different than the product offerings from either Suniva or SolarWorld.  For example, the LG 335’s that we have been installing lately are N-type modules, compared to the P-type modules sold by Suniva.  Beyond that, the LG 360’s that we are installing are back contact N-type modules, making them doubly more sophisticated that what the complainants offer.  These are premium products that do not directly compete with the more standard, commodity offerings that they are accused of harming.  Bottom line - people choose the LG modules that we are offering because they are a clearly superior product, albeit at a premium price.

While I’m no expert here, it is my understanding that a manufacturer can petition to be exempted from the tariffs if they can demonstrate that they do not directly compete with the complainants’ products.  LG is pressing that point, and it is possible that they will prevail in their argument and be exempted entirely from the tariff, although we won’t know that for some time.

Stay Calm - and Go Solar!

The bottom line here is that as short-sighted and ham-handed as this decision was, it will not radically change what we do and how our clients will be charged.  If you were considering going solar, there will be little economic impact to the value of going forward due to this new tariff. 

So let’s all take a breath, stay calm, and continue to do what we’ve been doing for more than a decade - helping people by putting the highest-value solar systems on their roofs, providing them with clean, affordable energy for years to come.

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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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