Category: "PWP Rebates"

09/13/13

  07:09:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 262 words  
Categories: PWP Rebates, Residential Solar

Pasadena Slashing Residential Rebates 40%

Pasadena to slash residential solar rebates 40% on October 16 - act nowPasadena Water & Power (PWP) has just made their long anticipated rebate reduction announcement.  Effective October 16, 2013, residential rebates for solar power systems will plunge from today’s $1.40/Watt to just 85¢/Watt - a 40% reduction.  Other rebate rates were not changed.

This means that for a typical residential system installation of a 6 kW system - say 20 LG 300 modules with Enphase Energy M250 microinverters - your rebate will decline by more than $3,000! That is a lot of money to leave on the table so the time to act is NOW!

Once the rebate is reserved, homeowners have a full year to install the system - so even if you aren’t ready to go forward with a project for another six to nine months, you still want to get your rebate reserved now to take advantage of rates that we will never see again.

Please keep in mind that PWP has also moved over to PowerClerk - an online tool that your solar contractor must use to submit your rebate application.  Your contractor has to be pre-approved by PWP to access PowerClerk.  You will want to make sure that your contractor is familiar with PowerClerk so that there aren’t any problems with your rebate application that could cause it to be rejected, forcing you to have it resubmitted at the lower rates.

Run on Sun is already approved on PowerClerk with PWP so you can be confident that your rebate will be processed properly the first time.

Don’t delay - give us a call at 626-793-6025 or click on the sunny Go Solar Now! button to lock-in your rebate before it’s too late!

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07/02/13

  07:04:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 908 words  
Categories: PWP Rebates, Commercial Solar, Non-profit solar, Westridge PAC Project

Westridge Case Study: Part 2 - Run on Sun Gets it Done!

In Part One of this three-part Case Study we learned how Westridge School chose Run on Sun as their solar contractor.  Here in Part Two we focus on the actual process of the installation as seen from the client’s perspective.


Run on Sun Gets it Done

With the paperwork filed and the rebate secured, Run on Sun had a very tight window —  less than two weeks in April 2012 — in which to install and connect all 209 solar modules and get the monitoring software up and running. The goal was for the project to be completed and operational by the time Westridge students returned from Spring break, so time was of the essence.

Enphase display of Westridge projectFor the rooftop display Run on Sun used a microinverter system supplied by Enphase Energy, which allows customers and solar installers to track the output of the modules, individually or collectively, from the convenience of their computers, iPads or smartphones. This software was a selling point for the school, because it would make the technology accessible to students and allow teachers to creatively incorporate aspects of the solar system’s performance into classroom instruction.

The modules were grouped into three sub-arrays that formed a larger circuit. Under each module, a microinverter was installed to convert DC energy gathered from the module into AC power, which could be combined and fed back into the school’s electrical service. The 1:1 ratio of microinverters to modules allows for a more detailed readout that lets users know the output of each module and gives an easy-to-read display should anything ever go amiss, from a connection issue to dirt on the module’s surface.

Throughout the installation Williams remained on hand to oversee the work, though there were no delays and no change orders requesting funds beyond what had been originally estimated. Within the assigned two-week period, Run on Sun had completed the project on time, and everything was in working order.

Westridge project complete

A Picture-Perfect Roof, Perfected

“I’ve worked with a lot of contractors, and I can honestly say, in this situation, this was one of the most seamless projects we’ve ever completed,” Williams recalls. “They were here early on the first day and, boom, they got it. It was done on schedule, at the price they said and signed off by the city. I wouldn’t hesitate to do a project like that again.”

A Truly Happy Anniversary

April 2013 marked the one-year anniversary of Westridge School’s solar installation, and Williams reports the system is running smoothly. The Enphase software makes it easy for officials, teachers and students to monitor the activity of all 209 modules, but Run on Sun also keeps a close eye on the operations and reaches out if and when an anomaly is detected. In the event that an outage or a decline in energy production should occur, the company promptly notifies the school.

For example, when one of the modules stopped reporting and apparently needed to be replaced, Run on Sun immediately contacted Williams to schedule a visit. The rest of the modules were still in full working order, and upon close inspection it was revealed that a connection had come loose. Still, to ensure maximum performance, the company replaced the microinverter at no cost to the school.

Another time Williams received a notification email from Run on Sun after the campus Internet connection had been temporarily cut during some service upgrades. And when the energy dipped from its norm of exceeding system predictions to 98 percent of anticipated, a call came in with a recommendation to check the array for accumulated dirt. After a brief spray with a hose, the system was back to producing at maximum capacity.

At the one-year mark, the school became eligible to receive its first annual rebate from Pasadena Water and Power. This is the first of five annual rebates it will receive, the dollar amounts directly correlated to the system’s actual production.

When a technician came from the city to assess the energy output of the system, the school was excited to learn the results. The city’s readings gave some very welcome news, indeed — the energy generated by the installation was above and beyond the original estimate provided to PWP, and it looked like the first rebate would be larger than anticipated.

“He said, ‘You’re over your estimate,’ and that’s all we could ask for,” says a thoroughly pleased Williams. “To date, everything that was promised to us was delivered — plus.”

In terms of the amount of energy generated, the rooftop system has continued to outpace expectations. The school expected to see a return on its investment in seven years, but it’s shaping up to come in as few as six. Because of the installation, Westridge is using 30 percent fewer kilowatt hours and is seeing its bills reduced by thousands of dollars each month, in addition to the rebate. The overall savings is far greater than the cost of running the air-conditioner in the gym, the initial impetus for bringing solar to campus. To Williams, making the decision to go solar was a “no-brainer.”

“The neat thing about this is it runs itself. If somebody walks onto campus, they don’t know we have a 52 kilowatt solar system on campus,” he adds. “They don’t see it. It doesn’t impact anything. All you do is save money.”

We will conclude this three-part Case Study with Part Three - Advice for the Solar Reluctant.


The preceding is an excerpt from Jim Jenal’s upcoming book, Commercial Solar: Step-by-Step, due out this summer.

07/01/13

  11:36:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1315 words  
Categories: PWP Rebates, Non-profit solar, Westridge PAC Project

Case Study: Westridge One Year Later

Today we begin a three-part series offering a Case Study of the Westridge project, one year later.  Part One reviews the process that Westridge used to choose the solar contractor to build its solar project.  Part Two details the actual construction and the experience of the School in managing the project.  Part Three concludes with some advice to the Solar Reluctant on why solar really does make sense.


For the past 100 years, Pasadena’s Westridge School for Girls has prided itself on providing a top-notch education that grooms young women into the leaders of tomorrow.

As part of a legacy of bringing cutting-edge ideas and innovation to campus and making it all come alive in the classrooms, school officials have made it a goal to pursue and complete at least one project related to sustainability on campus each year.

In late 2011, looking forward to the next year, they decided to address a perennial request made by parents and students over the years: that an air-conditioning system be installed in the school gymnasium to keep crowds cool on hot days. While the school could likely raise funds from the parent community to purchase and install a system, the financial and environmental impact of running it and creating a new drain on the power supply were less than sustainable, says Brian Williams, Westridge’s Director of Facilities.

So, to offset the cost and energy consumption of the desired air-conditioning unit, officials decided to fundraise for another project at the same time, one that would mitigate the cost and consumption of the A/C.

They asked parents and students if they’d be willing to raise money to install a solar system on school grounds.

Big Plan on Campus

Solar energy was not exactly new to the school. In 2009, Westridge had installed a small system on its newly built LEED-Certified Platinum science and math building. There some of the panels were placed near the ground, where students could see them up close and interact with the technology.

For the new project, however, school officials were thinking much bigger. They wanted to maximize energy savings by installing a large-scale system that would provide a solid and swift return on their investment and take advantage of a local rebate being offered by Pasadena Water and Power (PWP) that was set to decrease drastically after the end of the year.

Ideally, the new installation would generate enough energy to cover the usage from the A/C in the gym and still supply additional power to other buildings on the campus, saving on the school’s overall monthly electric bill. At the outset, there were no specific parameters for the project, Williams said, just a location.

Perfect roof for solar at Westridge school's performing arts center

A Picture-Perfect Roof for Solar

“We found our biggest roof and said, ‘Fill it up,’ he says.

The south-facing slope of the roof of the Fran Norris Scoble Performing Arts Center would be the perfect place to set up a large installation. With an area of approximately 4,000 square feet, it received direct sunlight throughout most of the day and was elevated enough to tidily keep the operation out of sight.

Doing their Bidding

Williams turned to three different solar companies, seeking estimates to help define the scope of the project and determine a total cost that would guide the school’s fundraising efforts.

The first two companies Williams considered were those the school had worked with on past projects. One was a large, international solar provider that had worked on the 2009 science building installation. The other had previously worked with Westridge on nearby residential properties.

Run on Sun, the third provider approached regarding the installation, was the only one the school had not personally worked with before. The Pasadena-based company had contacted school officials earlier that year and delivered a presentation on its installation process, qualifications and services provided. That presentation was fairly comprehensive, and made enough of an impact for Westridge to include Run on Sun in the bidding process.

“We didn’t have any actual experience with them, but they had very good references that we checked as we went through the bidding process,” Williams explains.

Finding the right contractor for the job was a thorough search that employed analysis and research. But beyond that, Williams, who’s worked in the facilities department for more than two decades, relied on his own gut instinct and experience to determine which company could  best get the project done in a short amount of time and leave no detail unchecked.

Since Westridge is a privately funded nonprofit, it is not under the same obligation as public entities to accept the lowest contractor bid. Cost, however, was still a primary consideration in selecting an installer.

“I have a fiduciary responsibility in my job to make sure the projects we do here are cost-effective and help maintain our campus in a positive way,” Williams says. “I can’t do anything that doesn’t make fiscal sense.”

The cost estimates provided by the three companies for an approximately 50 kW system were not that disparate from one another, coming in at about $4.25 per watt. One thing Westridge did have to be cautious about in its review of the estimates, however, was the possibility of a provider initially underbidding the project with the intention of requesting additional funds through change orders after a contract had been signed. The contractor who was truly right for the job would be one who provided an accurate estimate up front and diligently held true to that figure.

When considering the PWP rebate, Williams knew the school stood to save about half the total cost of the installation over the course of five years. Additionally, all three bidders told Westridge officials they could expect to see a full return on their investment in about seven years. Overall, the project made great financial sense.

Since the cost estimates that came in from the three bidders were relatively similar, Williams also analyzed each company’s references, experience and credentials. For example, he did consider installers certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) to have an advantage over uncertified companies. Another important factor was the presence of a licensed electrician on the staff. “It’s an electrical installation, and I wouldn’t let anybody who wasn’t a licensed electrician be on site,” he says. “I’m guessing the city wouldn’t allow it either.”

Throughout the selection process, Westridge officials knew they were working under a bit of a time crunch. If they missed the window to apply for the PWP rebate, the project would end up costing significantly more than the amount they had raised. Because of this, hiring an installer who could successfully submit all the paperwork before the fast-approaching deadline, and one they could trust to get the application process 100 percent right the first time, was of critical importance.

In this regard, Run on Sun was a standout, Williams says. They promised to take care of all the paperwork, filing within the deadline period and eliminating the extra bureaucratic steps the school would otherwise have had to take.

“They managed the whole process — I basically [just] had to sign the form,” he says.

The fact that Run on Sun had a strong working relationship with the city of Pasadena was another important consideration that worked in its favor, given Westridge’s own solid standing in the community. The attention to detail and professional accountability demonstrated by the company throughout the bidding process brought the local provider to the top of the list, making the ultimate decision to go with Run on Sun an easy one, Williams says.

“It was a combination of the cost, return on investment, their relationship with the city, the impression we had with the provider, how they presented the information and their references. We looked at all of it.”

Next up, Part Two - Run on Sun Gets it Done!


The preceding is an excerpt from Jim Jenal’s upcoming book, Commercial Solar: Step-by-Step, due out this summer.

05/04/12

  08:16:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 173 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, PWP Rebates, PWP, Commercial Solar, Non-profit solar, Westridge PAC Project

Westridge Project Grabs Pasadena Weekly's Green Issue Front Page!

Jim Jenal, Run on Sun Founder, poses beside the 52.3kW solar power installation at Westridge School for GirlsReaders of this blog will know all about the 52.3kW solar project that Run on Sun just recently completed installing at Pasadena’s renowned Westridge School for Girls.  Now that project has become the cover story in the Annual “Green Issue” of Pasadena Weekly.

Titled, “Solar Flair: New solar installation at Westridge School brings environmental lessons to life,” the piece features interviews with Westridge’s Head of School, Elizabeth McGregor, Facilities Manager Brian Williams, and three students who are part of the school’s environmental group known as the Green Guerrillas.  The story reveals the school’s deep commitment to sustainability in everything from solar power to drought tolerant plants.

This first of what we hope will be many solar projects at Westridge really highlights the value of these projects for all schools, especially those in the Pasadena Water and Power service territory.  Good rebates and a solar company that really understands your goals makes a solar power system installed by Run on Sun a “no-brainer.”

Contact us today and let’s get going with YOUR solar project!

  08:14:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1972 words  
Categories: PWP Rebates, PWP, Commercial Solar, Non-profit solar, Westridge PAC Project

The Permit Process - Installing Solar at Westridge - Part 2

In Part 1 of this series about Installing Solar at Westridge School, we looked at the process of putting our materials together for the rebate application.  With the rebate safely reserved, it was time to turn to pulling the permits for the job.  A solar project of this size involves two separate permits - building and electrical - but four points of inspection - fire, electrical, building, and utility.  We had already provided the utility, PWP, with the materials they needed but now we needed to load up for the permit center.

Assembling the Necessary Materials

The permit process addresses an entirely different need than does the rebate application.  The permit process is intended to guarantee that the proposed system, as designed, satifsfies all applicable codes and standards.  In theory, once you have successfully pulled the permit, the inspection process should simply be a matter of showing the inspector that you built the system as it was approved when you pulled the permit.

Westridge PAC roof - before solar installation
It looks conventional enough!

This project presented one signficant challenge - the actual attachment of the system supports to the roof.  While the roof looked conventional enough, that was not a wooden truss underneath those shingles.  To the contrary, our roof was built from a 20 gauge “Type B” steel deck with two layers of 5/8″ plywood, followed by 3″ of solid foam insulation, followed by 3/4″ of plywood to which the roofing materials themselves - membrane, felt and shingles - were attached.  So the question arose: what would be a sufficient way to attach our standoffs to this roof to provide the requisite resistance to wind loads - the effect of which had recently been demonstrated in Pasadena in such a disastrous fashion?

FastFoot
Unirac Fastfoot Attachment

To help answer that question we turned to the structural engineer (SE) who had originally done the load calcuations for our building.  Could we use a “FastFoot” and simply put multiple screws into the wooden decking materials?  Surely with enough screws - the FastFoot will allow for up to eight - we could reach the required pull-out resistance.  Unfortunately, that wouldn’t work since the engineer could not guarantee the manner  by which the plywood materials were secured to the underlying steel deck.  In other words, while we could be sure that our array would remain attached to the plywood, we couldn’t be sure that the plywood would remain attached to the building!  Images of Wizard of Oz roofs flying through the air filled my mind - clearly we would need another way!

The engineer suggested that we could use carriage bolts that ran all the way through the steel roof and were bolted together on the back side.  Certainly such an approach would guarantee that our array and the roofing materials stayed connected, and indeed, you would have to separate the steel deck from the steel framework of the building for that method to fail.  Unfortunately, that wouldn’t work either since there was no way to access the back side of the roof in order to complete the connection.

“Nine-Inch Nails” Meet 8-Inch Screws!

concealor screw

There was one other approach - a company by the name of Triangle Fasteners sells some very strong, very long, self-tapping screws (called “Concealor screws“) that could drill their way into the steel deck and provide us with the required pull-out resistance. The bad news - our distributors only sold screws up to 7″ long - and that would not be long enough to guarantee that our screws made it through the decking. A call to the manufacturer revealed that in fact, they did make 8″ screws, they even made 9″ screws!  Excellent!  We now had a solution that our SE could bless.  It was time to go pull our permits.

Fear and Loathing at the Permit Center

Anyone who has ever pulled a permit knows the combination of emotions that you encounter upon entering the building: fear that something you haven’t considered will suddenly become A Really Big Deal, loathing for the interminable waiting, and of course, the pain of paying for it all.  Dentists’ waiting rooms tend to be cheerier places.

Pasadena’s permit center is certainly better than most: it is a comfortable old building across the street from the beautiful City Hall.  They have a clever scheduling system that routes you among the different windows: Building and Safety, Zoning, Historical Preservation (very big in Pasadena but not a factor for solar projects), Fire, Permit Processing and, last but certainly not least, the Cashier.  A solar project applicant must navigate their paperwork through every one of those windows before exiting with your Grail - a stamped set of plans and a bright Yellow permit folder where inspection sign-offs will be recorded.

First stop - Building and Safety.

Building and Safety

The building and safety folks are responsible for reviewing your plans for conformity with state and local codes and standards - a really important task.  First, however, you have to speak with someone who knows what you are showing them and on our first trip to the permit center, no such person could be found!  The gentleman behind the B&S desk was very polite, and you could tell that it pained him to inform us that after our thirty minute wait, he couldn’t help us.  Moreover, none of the people who “understood solar” were available - we would have to come back tomorrow.

Tomorrow dawned cloudy but we were determined to press forward.  This time our 35 minute wait was rewarded with an appearance before someone who was prepared to pass judgment on our plans!  We walked him through each of our sixteen 24″ x 36″ pages, explaining as we went exactly what we were doing and where the answers to his questions could be found.

All seemed fine, but then he started throwing us some curves.

Our SE had done his calculations for a basic wind speed of 85 mph - the same wind speed we had always used for load calculations in Pasadena.

“No,” said the man behind the desk, “You have to use 100 mph.”

“Really?  Since when?”

“Since the windstorm in Pasadena at the end of November,” we were told. (Never mind that the wind speed never reached 85 mph in Pasadena, let along 100 mph, during that terrible event.)

“Really?  Where was that published?”

“It wasn’t,” he conceded, but simply told us that we needed to revise our calculations for 100 mph or he wouldn’t approve them.  That meant another iteration with our SE and another trip back to the permit center.

Now the good news here is that we were certain that our system would easily handle 100 mph winds (or 120 mph, for that matter) so this change in policy did not pose a danger to the project going forward.  But changing the basic wind speed for an area from 85 to 100 mph is something of a big deal and will add to the expense of many projects that need permitting.  Shouldn’t there be a more public process before such a change is implemented?

The other curve sent our way was really just odd.

We did a detailed drawing showing our attachment method as it penetrated the various layers of roofing materials and made contact with the steel deck beneath.  We drew that straight up on the page and included multiple elevations  in our sixteen pages that showed the pitch of the roof and indicated that the array was installed on top of our attachment method, parallel to the roof.

“Not good enough,” we were told.

“Why?  What’s missing?”

“You need to show the attachment at the slope of the roof.”

“Really?  We show you the slope of the roof, we gave you the detail of how the attachment connects to the roof and we told you that the array is parallel to the roof.  How is that not sufficient?”

“You need to add a drawing that shows the array attachment and which reflects the slope of the roof.”

“Really?  So what you want is for me to rotate the image of our attachment 13° to reflect how it will be pitched on the roof?”

“Yes.”

Sigh.  Ok, back to the drawing board (or more accurately, the computer screen).

Fortunately, our SE was able to redo his calculations in short order.  And not surprisingly, it was also pretty easy to take our attachment image and rotate it.  We printed up the revised plans and headed back to the permit center.

Surprise - there was yet another person behind the counter this time.  Whereas his predecessor seemed to be actively looking for little things to complain about, this fellow could not have been more helpful. He looked at our revised load calculations - veryifying that they had been done for 100 mph and that the SE had concluded that all was well - and then proceeded to stamp our plans.  (I had pointed out our added, rotated drawing, but it was clear that he wasn’t interested in that at all.)  After he stamped our plans, he then took them himself to the zoning and historical preservation desks and secured those sign-offs as well! Wow!  He saved us an hour of waiting in those queues and he seemed genuinely helpful and concerned.  What a pleasant contrast!  We were well on our way with just one real substantive hurdle remaining - the Fire department.

Fire

The California State Fire Marshall developed a set of guidelines that provide guidance as to how fire departments should permit and inspect solar installations.  The guidelines call for space to be set aside for pathways around the array and for venting of smoke in case of a fire.  The guidelines call for different restrictions based on the size and shape of the roof and whether it is a residential or commercial building.

(While the document from the Fire Marshall is labeled “guidelines", most localities seem to treat it as gospel.  Even more curious, the guidelines clearly say that they are just that, guidelines that do not have the force of law until a local jurisdiction passes an ordinance adopting the guidelines as regulations.  We have yet to see such an ordinance.)

Our building plan included a three-foot set aside around both sides of the array and from the ridge, and was augmented by automatic smoke ventillation devices already built into the roof.  But that was not sufficient - the fire official wanted us to provide a four-foot clearance on all three sides.  Yet another trip to the computer.

We returned with our revised drawing, showing four feet of clearance as requested.  But now there was another concern - the same fire official now wanted us to open a walkway in the middle of the array.  (We already had access paths for potential maintenance, but they were not wide enough to be considered a walkway.)  No matter that our roof was not at all like the flat roof with parapet shown in the guidelines, we still needed to provide a walkway.  There was only one way to do that - take out a column of panels.  Together we X-ed out seven panels and thereby created a walkway.  The fire official was now satisfied - she signed off on our plans.

Done

And just like that, we were done.  Well, not quite - there was still the little matter of paying for all this.  Here we made out surprisingly well.  Unlike some cities that gouge solar applicants (and you know who you are!), Pasadena’s fees were quite reasonable.  Total cost for our now 52.25kW solar project?  $732.  Sadly, we know of residential projects one tenth that size in other cities where the permit fees have exceeded $1,000!  (But that’s a story for another day.)

Altogether, it took us four separate trips to the permit center, three plan revisions, and a little over $900 in expenses to secure our permit.

Now all we needed to do was get the materials to the job site on time, and complete the installation in the two week window that we had to mesh with the School’s schedule.  The real work was about to begin…

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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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