Categories: "Solar News"


  07:07:00 am, by   , 262 words  
Categories: Solar News, Ranting

Run on Sun Named One of Top Solar Contractors

Solar Power World, which recently quoted Run on Sun Founder & CEO Jim Jenal at length in a news article, has just announced their annual listing of the Top 250 Solar Contractors in the United States and Run on Sun made the list, coming in at number 234.

We made the list!


From Solar Power World’s editorial announcing the list:

These companies have the vision to succeed in an industry dismissed by so many around the world. These companies — these visionaries — are poised to take full advantage of the near-term solar boom that none other than researcher Shayle Kann has predicted for the U.S. industry.

It is these businesses that have fueled the three-year growth of this industry of 227%. The Solar Power World’s Top 250 employ 73,068 people and installed 3 GW in 2012 alone. They have installed 7.8 GW overall. They represent the best across all three segments — utility, commercial and residential — that make this industry so vibrant. In an industry now valued at $11.5 billion, these are the companies that have built it.

Run on Sun award for being a top solar contractorFor a small, regional company like Run on Sun, it is a great honor to be listed among the biggest and best known solar companies in the country.  We are proud of our role in building this industry, and proud to be a voice for making the industry live up to its vision.  After all, you cannot claim to be part of building a sustainable future if you engage in shoddy business practices or stoop to unsavory marketing tricks.

So congrats to all our colleagues who made the list - here’s to continuing to grow an industry we all love!



  10:45:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 851 words  
Categories: Solar News, Commercial Solar, Safety, Ranting

Does Quality Sell?

Nothing like a piece in the New York Times questioning the reliability of some solar modules to get tongues wagging and some pointing fingers at “Chinese dumping” while others tell us that solar technology is just not ready for prime time.  To us it raises a different question - does quality sell?

The article, titled Solar Industry Anxious Over Defective Panels, points to installations as close as the Inland Empire, having shockingly high failure rates after just two years of being installed. “Coatings that protect the panels disintegrated while other defects caused two fires that took the system offline for two years, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenues.” Wow - that is shocking.  So who made those defective panels?  The reporter doesn’t say.

Nor are any of the problem panels alluded to in this story ever named, citing, in some cases, confidentiality agreements.

Which raises a serious problem with the article: if you cannot identify any of the solar module manufacturers that are having these problems you leave the impression that all solar modules are suspect. (Our analysis on who the guilty party might be is below…)

A quick perusal of the comments to the article reveals the predictable factions: those who echo the Fox News line that solar is a failed technology that only exists because of the Obama Administration’s foolish indulgence in Green Tech; claims that all problems in the solar industry are a result of “Chinese dumping” and the associated China bashing; countered partially by a handful of comments from people who actually know something about the industry.

We find the Chinese bashing particularly problematic - after all, the Chinese are not putting a gun to any project developer’s head and forcing them to use third-tier panels.

Greed is what is causing that.

We have been in business since 2006 and there have always been high quality solar panels available from reputable manufacturers - and they have always cost more than many of the panels offered to us for use in our projects.  Scanning the CSI data (see below) reveals that many projects - including many of the largest projects - were built using those “bargain basement” panels.  Why?  Because it maximized the project developer’s profit.

This is not a new problem, despite it getting a major splash in the “Paper of Record."  Indeed, we wrote in the Spring of 2012 about how the decision by project developers to focus on the lowest cost per Watt “will continue to put undue pressure on quality manufacturers around the globe - whether in the US or China.  Consumer demand for quality is the ultimate way to improve this situation - and that means educating consumers as to what quality means in this market."  A year plus has gone by, but where has that educational effort been?  The need is as great - or greater than ever, but sadly, the NY Times piece fails on that score.  (If you want to read an earlier, and far more comprehensive article on this subject, check out this piece by the great Felicity Carus: Quality Issues Threaten to Give Solar a Black Eye.)

What’s Up in the Inland Empire?

It’s a Friday morning so we decided to indulge in one of our favorite pastimes and go diving into the CSI data to see if we could identify the guilty party alluded to in the NY Times piece.  Here is all they gave us to go on - the project has been in place for roughly four or more years (failed after 2 years, offline for 2 years), located in the “Inland Empire” and its downtime resulted in a loss of “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in revenue.  From that we concluded that we needed to look at systems from 2010 or earlier, in the Inland Empire - which we took to mean anywhere in the counties of Riverside or San Bernardino - and of at least 200 kW.  Those criteria provide us with 28 potential systems, built with solar panels from just seven manufacturers.  Here are our results:

Inland Empire solar installs


What can we say about these manufacturers?  Well, certainly BP Solar, SunPower, Kyocera and Sanyo would all be considered top-tier manufacturers of solar panels - although BP is exiting the solar industry and Sanyo is now owned by Panasonic.

As for the others, Evergreen Solar was a US manufacturer that filed for bankruptcy in August 2011.  Solar Integrated Technologies was a subsidiary of Michigan-based Energy Conversion Devices which itself filed for bankruptcy in February 2012.  Solar Semiconductor is a vertically integrated systems provider with manufacturing facilities in India.

So who is the guilty party?  No way to know for sure, but a little online searching reveals other problems for one of these companies.  A September 14, 2012 article on the San Diego Union Tribune website documents problems with “Flawed Solar Panels” that were manufactured by Solar Integrated Technologies.  According to the article, the panels manufactured by the company, “had a manufacturing defect that allowed water to seep into crevices of the panels, which in some cases created corrosion and in the worst-case scenario could cause a short that could start rooftop fires” - which sounds a great deal like the problem cited in the New York Times piece.



  09:40:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 908 words  
Categories: Solar News, SCE/CSI Rebates, SCE, NABCEP, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, SDG&E

Picking a Commercial Solar Contractor: NICELY Does It!

Before you can ever get a bid for your commercial solar project, you have to contact a solar installation contractor to come out to your location and perform a site evaluation.  Actually, you should contact at least three contractors so that you have a set of bids to compare (more on that process below) - but how do you find them in the first place?  Well, you could choose based on who has the most ads on TV or the Internet, or you could rely on Cousin Billy’s recommendation - but somehow that just doesn’t seem sufficiently scientific for a project like this.  There has to be a better way - and there is.

If you remember that you need to find someone who will work NICELY with you, success is all but assured.  And no, we don’t mean nicely, we mean NICELY - as in:

N - NABCEP Certification
I - Incentive provider (CSI or local utility) connected
C - City building department experienced
E - Electrician on staff
L - Local or national?
Y - Years in business.

Focus on those attributes and you will have found a contractor who will inspire confidence and guarantee a successful project.  Let’s expand on why these particular attributes are so important.

NABCEP Certification

NABCEP CertifiedThe North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners - NABCEP for short - provides the most rigorous certification process of solar installation professionals in the industry.  Not to be confused with their Entry Level Letter that merely demonstrates that the person has taken an introductory course in solar,  the NABCEP Certified Solar PV Installer™ credential is the Gold Standard for installers and consumers alike.  Earning NABCEP Certification requires the successful candidate to have an educational background in electrical engineering or related technical areas (such as an IBEW union apprenticeship program), at least two solar installations as the lead installer, and the successful passing of a 4-hour written examination on all aspects of solar power system design and installation.

As NABCEP notes:

When you hire a contractor with NABCEP Certified Installers leading the crew, you can be confident that you are getting the job done by solar professionals who have the “know-how” that you need. They are part of a select group of people who have distinguished themselves by being awarded NABCEP Certified Installer credentials.

NABCEP’s website offers a database of all Certified Solar PV Installers - just enter your zip code to find the installers located near you.  It is with great pride that we point out that at Run on Sun, all three of our owners have earned the designation, NABCEP Certified Solar PV Installer™ - and we know of no other solar power company in Southern California that can make that claim.

Incentive Provider - CSI or Local Utility

A second source of solar installers is the Incentive provider such as the California Solar Initiatives’ Go Solar California website.  Every installer who has done a solar power installation for a CSI utility (i.e., SCE, PG&E or SDG&E) will be included on this list.  Unfortunately, there are no other criteria associated with getting listed - and there is limited verification done to guarantee that the listed installer is reliable.  If your job is in California, your contractor must be on this list - but this is a double-check only - not an ideal starting point for your search.

Another source for information about solar installers is your local utility’s point person for solar rebates.  This person deals with installers on a daily basis, and while s/he won’t give you a specific recommendation, they may be able to warn you off of an installer whom they have learned is less than reliable.

City Building Department

Similarly, the folks in your local building department deal with installers regularly as part of the permitting/inspection process.  Once again, they won’t be in a position to provide referrals, but they may be able to give you a warning if there are red flags associated with a contractor that you are considering.

Local or National?

Solar installation companies come in all sizes - from national organizations that have crews installing systems all across the country, to local operations that only work in a limited geographic region.  To be sure, there are pluses and minuses on both ends — maybe lower prices for the national chain due to economy of scale in their purchasing versus greater attention to detail from a local company that lives or dies based on how well it satisfies its local customer base.  And, of course, money spent on a local company tends to stay in the local economy - another consideration in tough economic times.

Years in Business

The last of the NICELY elements is to look at the number of years the company has been in business.  Again, this is not a perfect indicator – some recent ventures really have their act together and some long-standing enterprises have long since ceased to really care about what they are doing – but at a minimum you want some assurance that the folks you are doing business with know how to run a business. Otherwise you run the risk of having a largely useless warranty and no one to call if things go wrong.

We would recommend a minimum of three-to-five years in the business of doing solar, with preferably a longer track record of running a business.  Expertise in areas beyond just installing solar is also useful such as engineering, management and law.

The preceding is an excerpt from Jim Jenal’s upcoming book, “Commercial Solar Step-by-Step,” due out in July.


  07:03:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 813 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, Solar Rebates, Solar Tax Incentives, Solar News, Commercial Solar

Does Solar Have a PR Problem?

A recent article in USA Today/CNBC online asks the question, “Does the solar industry have a PR problem?"  Yes, concludes the article, and that bad press is well justified because “solar technology is not quite ready for prime time".  Well, if the USA Today article is any indication, the solar industry clearly does have a PR problem, but it is not because of any failure in existing technology.  The failure, rather, is in media reporting that allows interested parties to speak as experts who denigrate existing solutions, without ever bothering to disclose the expert’s inherent conflict of interest, or even to report on the facts as they pertain to actual solar clients.

There can be little doubt that those of us who believe in the benefits of solar power systems have done a poor job of informing the public about the value of solar today.  (This blog, and the writings of folks like Tor “SolarFred” Valenza notwithstanding, there is a great deal of work to be done on this front.)  So it is hard to argue with the general proposition that solar has a PR problem - as in not nearly enough PR to counter the spin coming from the naysayers and the apologists for the status quo.

But the article takes a different tack.  It quotes at length from someone named Jim Nelson, the CEO of solar start-up Solar3D, to explain why solar has earned its bad rap:

The problem, says Nelson, is that solar is generally still not price competitive with fossil fuels for energy generation, says Nelson [sic]. Paradoxically, government efforts to subsidize the purchase of solar panels actually slow down the adoption of innovation that should ultimately make renewable energy more affordable.

By encouraging consumers to buy immature and inferior solar technology right now, government subsidies risk locking people into solar systems that are inefficient, expensive, and may or may not ultimately pay off to the consumer. “They’re encouraging people to use things that don’t work,” he says.

At current kilowatt-per-hour rates, solar energy costs about 4 times more than power drawn from the grid, says Nelson.

Wow.  Lots of troublesome statements in that blockquote.  Let’s break this down and see what’s what.

First off - what do people actually pay for electricity from their utility versus from a solar power system?  In Run on Sun’s southern California service area, the actual loaded cost of electricity ranges from $0.15 to $0.29/kWh.  For a commercial solar client, the cost per kWh - after allowing for rebates, tax incentives and O&M costs - is around $0.11/kWh.  These are the real world costs and benefits for clients adding solar right now.  For a 50 kW commercial installation, that translates into payback occurring between years 4 and 5 with an internal rate of return over the 25 year lifetime of the system of 17% or more.  Moreover, every year the client’s savings will grow as the cost of electricity from the utility continues to rise while the cost for electricity from their solar power system remains constant.

Second - solar today is far from something that doesn’t work.  To the contrary, solar power systems work day in and day out with minimal maintenance beyond occasionally directing a hose at the panels to clean them off.  True, inverters will likely need to be replaced about halfway into the 25 year lifetime of the system (although newer designs like the Enphase M215 micro-inverter are now pushing inverter lifetime far beyond older products) but that cost is part of the O&M cost considered above.  While solar panels will degrade over time, modern panels are warrantied to produce 80% of their rated power after 25 years and even older designs are still operating just fine after 40 years.  What other major asset can a business owner purchase that will pay for itself within five years, require minimal maintenance over its entire lifetime, and still be working well after 25 years?  Oh, and save the business owner many times over the initial investment during those 25 years?

Too bad more things “don’t work” as well as a solar power system.

Finally, what is Mr. Nelson’s perspective on all of this?  The article describes his company as a “solar manufacturer” but manufacturers typically have products for sale.  Touring the Solar3D website reveals lots of PR, but no products.  Rather, Mr. Nelson’s company, “Solar3D, Inc. is developing a breakthrough 3-dimensional solar cell technology to maximize the conversion of sunlight into electricity."  The key phrase being, “is developing".

Now we are all for more efficient solar technologies being developed into real-world products that we can put on roofs. We sincerely wish Mr. Nelson well in his efforts to bring ever better products to market.  But it is just silly to tell the solar-buying public that present technology is “immature” and “doesn’t work” when Gigawatts of installed solar power systems prove just the opposite.  And it is sloppy journalism to quote him without revealing his true position in the industry.


  09:54:31 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 453 words  
Categories: Solar News

National Academy of Sciences Calls for Urgent Action on Climate Change

This week the National Academy of Sciences - the premier scientific body in the United States - issued a series of reports on climate change.  They are compelling reading, arguing that action needs to be taken now to restrict carbon emissions and to adapt to climate changes that cannot be avoided.

Here are some relevant quotes from the NAS press release announcing the publication of these studies:

  • “Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for — and in many cases is already affecting — a broad range of human and natural systems,” [one] report concludes.  It calls for a new era of climate change science where an emphasis is placed on “fundamental, use-inspired” research, which not only improves understanding of the causes and consequences of climate change but also is useful to decision makers at the local, regional, national, and international levels acting to limit and adapt to climate change.
  • An inclusive national policy framework is needed to ensure that all levels of government, the private sector, and millions of households and individuals are contributing to shared national goals.  Toward that end, the U.S. should establish a greenhouse gas emissions “budget” that sets a limit on total domestic emissions over a set period of time and provides a clear, directly measurable goal.  However, the report warns, the longer the nation waits to begin reducing emissions, the harder and more expensive it will likely be to reach any given emissions target.
  • A carbon-pricing system is the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions.  Either cap-and-trade, a system of taxing emissions, or a combination of the two could provide the needed incentives.  While the report does not specifically recommend a cap-and-trade system, it notes that cap-and-trade is generally more compatible with the concept of an emissions budget.
  • Some impacts [of climate change] – such as rising sea levels, disappearing sea ice, and the frequency and intensity of some extreme weather events like heavy precipitation and heat waves – are already being observed across the country.   The report notes that policymakers need to anticipate a range of possible climate conditions and that uncertainty about the exact timing and magnitude of impacts is not a reason to wait to act.  In fact, it says boosting U.S. adaptive capacity now can be viewed as “an insurance policy against an uncertain future,” while inaction could increase risks, especially if the rate of climate change is particularly large.
  • Adaptation to climate change should not be seen as an alternative to attempts to limit it, the report emphasizes.  Rather, the two approaches should be seen as partners, given that society’s ability to cope with the impacts of climate change decreases as the severity of climate change increases.

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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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