Tag: "solar power international"

09/08/16

  11:49:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1348 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Ranting

Is Solar Unsustainable? Part One: Shoddy Work

Next week at Solar Power International, I will be a speaker on a panel looking into the future of the residential solar industry. My message to my fellow solar professionals will be this: as it is presently constituted, the Solar Industry is unsustainable, and unless we change and change soon, we will face a backlash from eroded client confidence.  The consequences of that backlash will do more harm to the industry than anything the Koch brothers, ALEC, or the Edison Institute can conjure, and we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

I am dividing this series into three parts - the first two deal with the problem we are creating (shoddy work and shady business practices) whereas the third outlines my prescription for change.  I don’t expect everyone in the industry to agree with my observations or recommendations, but at the very least we should agree that a conversation needs to begin, and to the extent that it has begun, it must be expanded.

Shoddy Work is All too Common

This first installment is concerned with the shoddy, fly-by-night work that is becoming way too prevalent out there.  A growing piece of our business involves addressing problems that exist in the installed base of solar system owners.  These are folks, many of whom paid top dollar (sometimes overpaid outrageously) and yet ended up with inferior work that is now failing, has already failed, or should never have been allowed in the first place.

A System Under a Tree?

PV system under a treeWe are big fans of microinverters, but some amounts of shade even a microinverter cannot cure. Tellingly, the geniuses that built this system didn’t bother to use microinverters!  We got a call to replace a dead string inverter at this older woman’s home.  Turns out she has two systems (and two string inverters) - one on her main house, and this one on her guest house.  Just one small problem, the array is entirely underneath a tree!

Pretty much every day, all year round, that array is shaded.  In fact, that is not just dirt on those panels, that is accumulated sap from the tree that has created a layer of crud that no hose will ever be able to remove.  Indeed, when we replaced the inverter, it could not turn on because the combined grit and shading - even in the middle of a summer day - was so extreme that there was not enough power for the inverter to switch on.

Who in good conscience would sell such a system?  The homeowner did not realize how big a factor that tree would be, but certainly the installer knew (or should have known).  This is the result of someone willing to make a few bucks off an unwitting  senior citizen even though the installer knew that the system would never provide the promised benefit to the homeowner.

A System Waiting for Take-off

Take-offs are great, when you are in an airplane with a proper pilot at the controls.  Not so great when the take-off in question is the entire array ready to launch itself from the hapless homeowner’s roof.  Check this out:

Tilt-up L-foot in space Ad-hoc engineering

This is a tilt-up system, mounted on a north sloping roof face, tilted toward the south.  Ok, that has a host of potential issues given that our strongest, most dangerous winds all come from out of the north, so if you are going to do something like this, you want to make sure that it is properly engineered and properly installed.  It is abundantly clear that this system was neither.

Take a look at how that L-foot is attached to the roof.  These are flat concrete tiles, and the installer appears to have removed the tile and attached a hanger bolt (hopefully into a rafter), then drilled a hole through the tile and re-inserted it over the bolt.  (The little daub of sealant is a nice touch - given that there is no flashing of any sort to be found.)  The L-foot is floating on the end of that bolt and the bolts are deforming under the load.

I feel bad for the manufacturers of racking gear who see their products misused in such an extreme fashion.  (In fact, the manufacturer of this racking expressly disclaims using its product for this type of reverse tilt application! The last picture shows that the installer - perhaps nervous as to the strength of his creation - added some ad hoc pieces of black rail to cross brace the structure, attaching them to the tilt-up legs and railing with Tek screws, as opposed to the through-bolts, washers and nuts that the manufacturer provides for tilt-up racking.

That system has been in place for a few years and when the homeowner tried to contact their installer about a problem, the installer never returned their calls.  The roof is already leaking (no surprise there) and it is anyone’s guess as to how long it will be until that system takes off for a destination unknown.  The homeowners had no idea what the system actually looked like (this is on top of a two-story house and they had never been on the roof) until I showed them these pictures.  They paid top-dollar for this installation but all they’ve received in return is a leaking roof and an accident waiting to happen.

Conduits in Space

Conduits in spaceIt is pretty basic that conduit runs need to be supported, and where running between buildings, those conduits should be underground.  But apparently sometimes that’s just too much of a bother.

This is another instance of senior abuse - the homeowner was an elderly man who had already installed one solar system on his property, but it wasn’t meeting his needs so he hired a second company to expand his system.  After he died, we were called in to assess the state of the system for the estate.  The entire system was a disaster, but this one photo pretty well sums it up - the people doing this work simply did not give a damn. 

That didn’t stop them from extracting top dollar - the elderly gentlemen paid $50,000+ for a 5 kW system addition, three years ago!  (It turns out that the contractor responsible for this abomination has multiple complaints against him with the AG’s office and has had his license revoked.)

Here is the real kicker with this project - they pulled a permit and had plans approved by LA County (I saw them).  Those plans called for the conduit run that is presently flying between the two buildings to be buried in a trench a minimum of 18″ below grade - which is code.  But that was never done and somehow this still got approved!

Where are the Inspectors?

Which brings me to the other real scandal here - on top of those doing this shoddy work - everyone of these installations should have been inspected, and presumably they were.  But none of them should have passed, so how did they?

Our experience with inspectors varies greatly.  Many are extremely diligent, looking closely at every component, and  wanting us to open every box and remove each dead front (they are always astonished by the sheer beauty of Velvet’s work so we are always happy to oblige).  But there are others who don’t even go on the roof, thereby doing a terrible disservice to the homeowners who are counting on the inspector’s expertise to protect them from these sorts of nightmares.

California is not Unique, nor even Uniquely Bad

Lest you think that this is just a California problem, believe me it is not.  We previously posted a photo from a New Jersey based company that has a webpage devoted to New Jersey’s ugliest solar installations, and some of them are truly appalling.  Nor is the scourge of shoddy work even a uniquely U.S. problem, as the Facebook group, Crap Solar, highlights some of the worst solar installations Australia and New Zealand have to offer.

But as the US solar leader, it is up to California solar companies to lead the way.  We need to do better.

In Part Two we will look into solar business practices that are making the industry unsustainable.

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10/20/13

  11:29:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 189 words  
Categories: Commercial Solar, Ranting, SPI 2013

SPI Special - Commercial Solar Sale! - UPDATED!

As Solar Power International kicks off this week in Chicago, we have a very exciting offer - buy Commercial Solar: Step-by-Step at a
convention-special price!

UPDATE: if you purchase it during the SPI Tweetup (8-10 pm Chicago time), we will donate 50% of the profits to the Heather Andrews Scholarship Fund!

The Kindle eBook version of Commercial Solar is on sale all this week for just $2.99! (That’s 70% off the print copy price - isn’t technology grand?)

This is a great opportunity to own the book that has been described as:

  • A surprisingly easy read considering how information rich it is… What could easily be a very dull read ends up being informative enough that you know you should keep reading, and funny and clear enough so that you’ll actually be able to keep reading;   and

  • Very informative and covers all the aspects involved in a commercial solar project. An engaging and humorous read.

Can there be any doubt that this book will be The Hit of SPI?

So, don’t miss out, download your copy today! (And for those of you who prefer to smell the ink… there is a print version as well!)

07/09/12

  08:16:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 155 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Events

InterSolar - Here We Come!

This week marks the InterSolar North America conference in San Francisco.  Given that Solar Power International is way across the country this year, we are opting to attend InterSolar instead.  We are looking forward to checking out the exhibitors and learning the latest to bring back to our clients.   (Last year at SPI we discovered the LG solar panels which have been such a huge hit so far this year!)

If you are going, we would love to meet up with you.  What are you hoping to see at this year’s show?  Please let us know in the comments.

Also, there will be a TweetUp for lunch on Wednesday at the Thristy Bear - great chance to meet the Twitter Solar Tribe - and we will also raise a glass in honor of our departed colleague, Heather Andrews
You can RSVP for the TweetUp here.

We will report back on all the goings on upon our return!

10/12/10

  09:03:41 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 317 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, SPI 2010, Climate Change

Solar Power International #10 - Day 1 - Chinese Solar Panels and No on Prop 23

The first day of the 10th Annual Solar Power International Conference is in the books and after an exhausting day of walking the exhibit floor (all three of them!) I am left with an overwhelming impression - renewable energy in general and solar power in particular constitute the wave of the future and that wave is breaking now! But please take note - our friends in Asia, especially China and Korea, already get this big time.  The number of solar panel manufacturers present here from Asia is nothing short of astounding. While I have no idea who is buying their product (with the exception of world-class producers like Suntech), it is apparent that other countries, especially China, are invested heavily in their solar industry for both domestic and foreign consumption.

Which got me thinking. Solar advocates and other environmentally enlightened folks tout the clean-tech jobs that derive from the solar industry - whether by way of installation or manufacturing.  Yet those manufacturing jobs are facing a constant threat from thoroughly engaged foreign competitors - as was amply demonstrated today - who receive serious subsidies from governments that are not at all confused about where their long-term interest lies. And while it is true that the installation jobs cannot be outsourced, they could certainly be reduced or eliminated by the adoption of short-sighted policies like Prop 23.

Attending a conference like SPI is always exciting as you meet your colleagues from around the world who share your vision and your passion. But progress is not guaranteed. It requires sound public policy that will support this industry, even in the face of an economic downturn. Our competitors are building for the future - let’s not let some out-of-state special interests who make their money off our addiction to fossil fuels drag us back into the economy of the past.

I’ve said it before and for the next three weeks I’ll keep saying it:
Vote No on Prop 23!

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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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