Tag: "residential solar"

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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12/29/20

  07:14:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 342 words  
Categories: Residential Solar

Going Live in Altadena!

We recently received PTO for a new project in Altadena, and part of what made this interesting was that we decided to modify the project mid-stream so that we would be positioned to add an Enphase Ensemble Storage System down the road.  We wanted to configure the layout so that when the storage was added, we could just “plug-and-play” - so here’s how that turned out…

Oh County, Why do you make EVERYTHING so Hard?

Our approved plans from LA County showed the solar disconnect adjacent to the service panel, but that really wouldn’t work out if we were going to add storage.   Instead, we were going to install a backup subpanel near the main panel and the Enphase Enpower switch next to that.  Then we would run conduit to a gutter box on the wall, above which the storage device(s) would eventually be installed, and then we would have our combiner box and PV disconnect.  So I redrew the site plan showing the location of the revised equipment, and a new single line drawing to show how everything would be interconnected, crossed my fingers and hit “Submit".

Nope.

County would not allow us to revise our existing solar permit to incorporate the Enpower switch.  Instead, we had to revise our solar site plan to just show the new location for the disconnect, and leave off the Enpower switch.  Then, we needed to pull a second permit - a complex electrical permit - that included a site plan with all of the equipment (all solar components designated as Existing!), and the full single line drawing.  And, yeah, pay for it.  Seriously?

Patience Carries the Day!

Ultimately we were able to overcome all of County’s complaints and get the project approved.  Happily, SCE issued PTO almost immediately, so we came back to go live with the system.  Our client, Sean, decided to memorialize the process, so here is an edited version of that footage that let’s you see how we designed for the future, and the process of bringing the system online.  Check it out!

01/03/19

  08:43:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 445 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, PWP

Pasadena Adopts New Integrated Resource Plan

Pasadena adopts IRP

As 2018 drew to a close, the Pasadena City Council adopted a new Integrated Resource Plan that shows the path forward for the City in the coming years. Not surprisingly, there are some big changes in store as PWP moves away from fossil fuels and toward a greener future. Here’s our take…

Where are we now?

We love Pasadena, but it has a long way to go before it becomes as green as we would like it to be.  For example, here is PWP’s latest power content label that shows the sources of its electricity, compared to California as a whole:

PWP 2017 Power Content Label

 

Yikes! 31% of our power overall comes from burning coal - compared to just 4% for the state overall!  

Somewhat surprising is the relatively low amount of natural gas in the mix, given that the Glenarm power plant is now entirely fueled by natural gas.

On the other hand, the City is doing very well in utilizing biomass and waste materials as a fuel source, well ahead of such efforts in the state as a whole.

So it is clear that a great deal of work is yet to be done, and it is the intent of the newly adopted IRP to show the way.

One thing that jumps out of the new plan is that coal is to be eliminated entirely by June of 2027 when existing supply contracts expire, and no new coal contracts will be signed.  Moreover, that plant is scheduled to switch to natural gas by 2025, so coal burning for PWP should end by then.

Distributed Energy Resources

As of the writing of the IRP, there were 1,303 PWP customers who have installed solar power systems at their homes or commercial/non-profit sites.  Collectively, those systems amount to 10.4 MW of installed capacity, with an estimated annual production of 16,600 MWh of energy.  That makes the average installed system size just under 8 kW.

One baffling detail in the planning section of the report: relying on a levelized cost of energy (LCOE) analysis by the Lazard consulting firm, they assert that the LCOE of residential solar (after allowing for the federal tax credit) is from 14.5-24¢/kWh!  Frankly, we aren’t sure how they arrived at that number, since our projects generally project an LCOE in the 9-11¢/kWh range.

So more solar is in PWP’s future, but they won’t be supporting it on homes, schools, or businesses anymore.  Sad.

Other Takeaways…

Here are a couple more takeaways from the 249-page report:

  • The City is planning on installing 122 EV charging stations in the next few years
  • Electric bill increases would range from roughly 2.7% for residential customers, and up to 3.4% for commercial customers

You can find the entire report here: Pasadena’s Integrated Resource Plan.

04/08/18

  11:21:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 359 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Residential Solar

Coming next week: A 3 part-series: My Electric Bill is So High - Will Solar Help?

On of our most popular blog posts ever - I’ve Got Solar - Why is My Bill So High? -  looked at how to understand solar economics after your system is installed.  My (nearly five-year-old) book, Commercial Solar: Step-by-Step, outlined the decision-making process for facility managers and commercial building owners thinking about going solar. 

But it is high time that we wrote about this all-important question from the homeowner’s perspective:

My Electric Bill is So High - Will Solar Help?

Here’s an overview of what we will be covering in the series:

Why are my bills so high?

Part 1 - How High is High?

We will explore how to get a sense of what solar can, and cannot do for you.  A solar power system can be a great investment, but it isn’t a silver bullet, and not every home will be a good candidate for that investment!

Part 2 - How to Choose Installers to Bid

Ask anyone who has had solar installed on their home, and they will tell you: the choice of the installer makes all the difference. 
Find a good one - and there are many of us out there - and the process should go smoothly, and you will be happy with your choice for many years to come.  Pick a bad one - and sadly, there are far too many of them out there - and you will live with that decision for a long time to come.

We will arm you with the facts you need to make the right choice.

Part 3 - How to Evaluate Solar Proposals - Including Financing

For most homeowners, this is your one and only experience having solar installed.  You will get multiple proposals from your selected installers - but they will probably look nothing at all alike!  In most locations there are no required disclosures, so the amount of information presented, and the way that it is presented, will vary dramatically from one installer to another! 

We will explain what to look for as you try to pick the perfect “apple” from the “fruit salad” being presented to you!

So that’s it - we will be publishing the first installment on Tuesday.  If there is something you would like us to cover that we haven’t alluded to, please let us know.

 

06/09/16

Video Release: Making the world better...one roof at a time

Its not every day that we get to unveil a beautifully crafted video showcasing just what it is that makes Run on Sun tick. Happily today is different! Our fabulous distributor, Baywa r.e., has partnered with us to create our very own professional marketing video:

Baywa r.e. has been more than just a products distributor for Run on Sun. We began our partnership with Baywa, formerly Focused Energy, back in 2009 when we found them to be a much more detail oriented operation than their competitors. They proved to us they could translate what happens on the roof to ensuring we got all the pieces necessary to make installations run smoothly. Now, our primary reason for continuing to partner with Baywa r.e. has evolved. Their management and staff all share our vision for a solar industry that is better. One that operates with the highest degree of ethics and transparency and a mission to help consumers save money while reducing our impact on the environment. They have supported us, and other small installers, in many ways far beyond the normal functions of a distributor. Case in point is this video which they produced to help us share our message with our community.

I’d also like to point out a few details on the installations featured in this video: 

LAWC Reservoir

Lincoln Avenue Water Company Reservoir Project: 

This was our second project with Lincoln Avenue after helping their administrative office go solar in 2011. The 2015 Reservoir project was in partnership with Baja Construction building the ground mount structure to support the 246 LG280 watt panels and Enphase M250 microinverters. Run on Sun installed the solar system to utilize otherwise unused land below the reservoir offsetting nearly 50% of the energy required to run their pumphouse.  

Westridge School for Girls:

Westridge School for Girls

While we didn’t end up shooting video at Westridge we really wanted to be sure to include this project as it is near and dear to our hearts. As Run on Sun’s first school installation and Jim Jenal’s (Founder and CEO) daughter’s alma mater we really enjoyed helping them go solar. In 2012 we installed a solar array on their Performing Arts Center consisting of 216 LG250 watt solar panels which were the cream of the crop back then! Working with Westridge School for Girls was a wonderful experience which included our very own Jim Jenal leading a science class tracking a solar eclipse using the Enphase microinverter data! We believe solar at schools offer such great added benefits providing a resource for students to learn about renewable energy as well as math, engineering, environmental issues and more! 

Chandler School Solar Installation

Chandler School:

In the Fall of 2015 we completed the installation of 147 LG300 watt solar panels on the gym at Chandler School. Chandler was also a fantastic partner to work with partially because we share their values in environmental stewardship. We hope that growing up in an educational environment where solar power is the norm will help students navigate a future where sustainable clean solutions will be the only way forward. We would also like to give a huge shout out to the amazing Trevor Spicer, Director of Operations and Information Technology, for the off-the-cuff cameo and kind words in the video. 

Residential 14kW Project:

Residential Installation

This was the most recent Run on Sun installation featured in the video, where a lot of the dialogue with Jim Jenal takes place. This is the second home these particular clients have installed solar with Run on Sun as they recently moved into this beautiful Altadena mid-century modern home. Their roof was a perfect slate for a solar array, and we wouldn’t be surprised if this particular feature was one reason they chose the property! Owning electric vehicles and wanting to offset as much of their electricity as possible we maxed out the space with 44 LG320’s, top of the line panels today! It didn’t hurt that the view from the roof was one to die for, spanning much of the valley with Los Angeles skyscrapers in the distance. Of course, as evidenced by one of the shots in the video, we could also see the smog levels each day we worked at this site further enhancing our resolve to continue to get more solar out there!

Thanks for reading as we share some of the projects we are most proud of. And of course, let us know if you’d like to get a free quote today and share in our commitment towards the belief that the world can be better one roof at a time!

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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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