Category: "Shortcut Solar"

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?

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07/17/19

  01:01:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 926 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Ranting, Shortcut Solar

California Solar Consumer Protection Guide Hits the Streets

CPUC Solar Consumer Protection Guide

For the longest time we have been talking about the need for the solar industry to do a better job of policing itself, because the manner in which too many solar companies were doing business was simply unsustainable.  We argued that if we didn’t do a better job, others would step in and do it for us. 

Well guess what, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has just published a 23-page tome titled, California Solar Consumer Protection Guide.  Now that is quite a mouthful, but come September 30th, every contract in California that is entered into for solar with one of the investor-owned utilities (IOUs) – that is, SCE, PG&E, and SDG&E – requires that the first four pages be initialed, the last page signed, and the whole thing uploaded to the IOU’s web portal!  Moreover, homeowners need to be given adequate time (and patience?) to read the entire document and only wet signatures (i.e., no E-sign) are allowed.  Here’s our take…

Who Will this Deter?

First and foremost, the more information consumers have, the less likely they will be taken in by shady contractors.  Ultimately, that is good for both consumers and the legitimate players in the solar industry.  Frankly it’s too bad that the trade associations didn’t create something like this and require their members to disseminate it to potential clients – I’m confident that they would have produced a better guide.

For Run on Sun, this really doesn’t change anything that we will be doing since we have always covered this type of information with our clients.  (You know, we are “tellers, not sellers.")    But it will be really interesting to see how the bad players respond.  My guess is that they will simple forge signatures – if you are willing to deceive your customer, you will have no qualms about deceiving a bunch of regulators.

Meanwhile, for the Non-Shady Solar Installers…

As to the rest of us, while this will mostly be business as usual, there are some disturbing things.

For example, on page 8, where the CPUC is trying to explain the installation process, they have this bullet point under the heading, After You Sign a Contract: “Installer… performs a home site visit to confirm assumptions and check roof, ground, and electric conditions."  Hold the phone.  If the installer doesn’t know the condition of your roof and electrical service when you sign the contract, that contract is invalid! 

Key terms that are left to a later time means that there was no agreement between the parties, no “meeting of the minds,” and hence the contract is not binding.  So why is the CPUC publishing such nonsense?  Because many of the larger solar companies operate this way and they were no doubt insisting that this language be included. 

But no - before you sign a contract, those assumptions have to be nailed down if you are to avoid costly change orders down the road.  (Oh, and why aren’t change orders discussed here?  Sigh.)

Under Step 3: Find a Qualified Solar Provider they suggest going to the Contractors State License Board and the California DGStats website.  But that’s a lousy way to identify a qualified provider.  For one thing, being listed with the CSLB just means you have a license - but lots of companies play all kinds of tricks to have a license number and you wouldn’t want them anywhere near your home.  And the DGStats site is interesting, but it only shows projects installed in the IOUs territory - locally that means SCE.  But installs done in Pasadena or Los Angeles, Burbank, Glendale, Azusa, or Anaheim (for example) will not show up there at all, since the municipal utilities do not report their projects to that site.

Only under the area of narrowing down your list to they suggest checking the website of certified PV installation professionals provided by the North American Board of Certified Energy Professionals (NABCEP) – which is the only resource listed that actually does anything to qualify installers!  (Check out the NABCEP list here.)  Oddly, the directory of companies belonging to the California Solar and Storage association (calssa.org) was not referenced as a resource at all!

 Under Step 5: Learn About Electricity Bill Savings they have this interesting statement: “Before you sign a contract, ask yourself: if the savings end up being lower than the estimated monthly or yearly savings, does getting rooftop solar still make sense to me?"  Wow - how much did the IOUs have to pay to get that language inserted?  How about adding this in rebuttal: “Before you sign a contract, ask yourself: How much would it mean to me to be able to really stick it to my utility?"  Because we have certainly had many a client tell us that all they really want to do is make SCE feel the pain!

Wouldn’t more useful questions to ask before you sign the contract be: How did your installer calculate your potential savings?  What assumptions did they make, for example,about the rate of growth for future electric bills, or the degradation of the output of your PV system?  What software did they use and how does it work?  Or did they just pull a number out of the ether?

Under Step 8: Sign this Guide we get to explain to our new client why they have to initial 4 pages, check three boxes, and then sign the Guide - in addition to the installer’s contract and the interconnection agreement.  (To say nothing of financing documents if they are foolish enough to buy into a Lease/PPA).  Yet more hoops to jump through before Going Solar.

But you know what, folks?  We have only ourselves to blame.

04/25/19

  09:57:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 629 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Shortcut Solar

Shortcut Solar Specialty: Roof Leaks!

While those crazy folks over at Shortcut Solar have many distinguishing characteristics, certainly one of the most commonly displayed is just plain shoddy work—and one of the most devastating consequences of shoddy work is a leaky roof. Check out our latest tale of cleaning up after Shortcut Solar…

We recently got asked to give a homeowner a quote for removing an existing solar installation from her garage because the roof was leaking and needed to be replaced. (The array was there when she purchased the home.)  Here’s what we found when we got there: ten panels, installed in a way that only Shortcut Solar could do, check it out…

Reverse tilt!

Ah yes, everyone’s favorite mounting method—not!—reverse tilt on a north sloping roof! Never mind that you are voiding the warranty from the racking manufacture, and putting tremendous strain on all of the components, but heck, it lets you get the panels in more or less the same plane as the south facing panels, right?  Oh, and note the “flashing” method at the base of those columns: cement (and/or mastic), well known for its ability to flex with the torque forces that the wind will exert on this “solar wing” that they have fabricated.

But wait, that’s not all, check out the fate of the south facing panels…

Tree!

Yep, they actually put the array behind a tree!  (The homeowner told us that there had been a similar tree on the left of the fountain, but it died after the array was installed.) Truly the folks at Shortcut Solar were on a roll that day!

So, sadly, we set out to remove the array in advance of the roofer coming in to do their thing.  (The homeowner generously donated the used equipment to a local city college to assist students in their PV classes.)

The details up on the roof were really appalling.  Check this out:

Tree!

That is an end clamp, attached to a rail that is actually below the level of the tile!  The tile above it was “notched” but nothing, at least by now, was in place to keep water from pouring under the broken tile. (The little bit of red mastic is a nice, esthetic, touch!)

Tree!

Or how about this thing of beauty: actually, it is kinda hard to know what they were thinking here.  I can only presume from the concrete in the rail, that they tried to anchor a piece of tile above this, but failed completely.

The panels on the south face were not as awful (apart from being behind a tree), as they had removed the tiles in the area where they were doing their attachments and put down a torch-down layer of roofing material.  But even then they could not be consistent–their single bolt attachments in some places had a 3″ lag screw, but in other areas they couldn’t be bothered and simply used a 1½” hex screw.  ‘Cause, yeah, why would you care about actually getting into the rafters?

There can be no doubt that this installation was doomed from the day it was installed, and I hate giving such bad news to nice people like this homeowner. 

This was in the City of Los Angeles – how on earth did this ever pass inspection?  Sadly, with Shortcut Solar on the job, this is the type of work you can expect. 

It doesn’t have to be like this.  Building inspectors should crack down on this sort of nonsense.  And potential solar purchasers need to do their homework better as well.  Don’t just go with the smooth talker who shows up on your doorstep - he might be working for Shortcut Solar!  Check out reviews, look for NABCEP certification, and talk to past customers.  Together we can make Shortcut Solar, and their shoddy work, a thing of the past!

02/20/19

  01:05:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 676 words  
Categories: Shortcut Solar

Meet Shortcut Solar!

Meet Shortcut SolarRun on Sun has been in the solar business for a long time - since 2006, to be precise.  And over the years we have come across a lot of - shall we say - less than inspiring things.  Shoddy work. High pressure sales tactics. Contracts not in the customer’s native language. And on and on. So we finally decided enough is enough, it is time to call these people out, and name names!

So let me introduce you to… Shortcut Solar.  For the purposes of this blog, we have decided that Shortcut Solar is the perfect generic descriptor/catchall to highlight the awful things that we see. 
Our tone is intended to be somewhat light-hearted in the hope that these posts will help consumers to be better educated when it comes to researching their options for going solar.

A Shortcut Solar Favorite - the Promise that is Just too Good to be True!

Shortcut Solar knows that they won’t win your business honestly, so they specialize in making stuff up!  Case in point: we had a potential client forward to us a proposal that they had received from Shortcut Solar.  The proposal conveniently included the contract, so the consumer didn’t need to waste any time signing on the dotted line!  (Oh, by the way, that one-page disclosure that is now supposed to be on the front of all solar contracts in California, yeah, it was nowhere to be seen.  Way to go, Shortcut Solar!)

Glancing over the proposal, one number jumped off the page, cumulative savings after twenty-five years of $331,000!!!  Say what?  This is a resi project (oversized at nearly 13 kW, another classic Shortcut Solar move), so how on earth could they come up with such an astronomical number?  Lurking in their assumptions was the key - they were predicting annual utility cost increases of 13%!  To put this in perspective, we use an annual increase of 3%. 

We decided to mock this up using our proposal generation tool, the fabulous Energy Toolbase, but guess what?  You can’t, because their tool rejects any value greater than 6% - less than half of what Shortcut Solar was using.  (Energy Toolbase prides itself on doing things in an honest and transparent manner - no wonder Shortcut Solar doesn’t use them!)

The power of compound growth!So that meant a quick trip to Excel.

The potential client in question had an annual bill of around $4,000 in SCE territory.  The table at left tracks the growth of your annual bill if the escalation rate is 3% (what we would use) versus 13% (what Shortcut Solar was using). For those of us who recall (the original) Mary Poppins, this is a table that would thrill the cold cockles of Mr. Dawes, Sr.’s heart as it shows the power of compound interest! 

That $4,000 utility bill, growing at 3% each and every year, will slightly more than double to be $8,131 after twenty-five years.  But that is a slacker number if you are Shortcut Solar!  Use their magical, mythical 13% and that bill will grow almost 19 times - to an eye-popping $75,000!!!  Now that is a number from which you can derive some staggering savings!

The problem, of course, is that it is a lie.  And as even recovering trial lawyers like to say: if they lied to you about one thing, how many other things that they have told you are lies?

Frankly, the entire area of financial projections is fraught. The utilities, particularly the investor-owned utilities like SCE, are doing everything that they can to erode the value of your solar investment (which is why the Solar Rights Alliance is so vital), and projecting utility rates over twenty-five years is a fool’s errand. 

The best anyone can do is to use the best tools available, and apply reasonable parameters (3% not 13%), over a reasonable period of time (our projections only run 20 years, not the 25 used by Shortcut Solar).

Consumer Takeaway

So here is your consumer takeaway: Look that proposal over carefully, and if those numbers seem too good to be true, you just might be dealing with Shortcut Solar!

Have your own Shortcut Solar story?  Let us know and we will add it to the collection!

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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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