07:25:32 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 680 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar News

Scam Warning - Why Solar is NOT a DIY Project

If you spend anytime at all reading information about solar energy on the Internet you will have come across one of those ads:

“Do it Yourself Solar!”
“Build Solar Panels at Home!" 
“Go Green and Save Green!”

and on and on. Sounds enticing - after all, who wouldn’t like to green up their life while saving money? But the scammers have you squarely in their sights and their do-it-yourself kits are a ripoff of your hard earned money.

At a minimum, there are at least three good reasons why solar is not a DIY project: 1) DC isn’t AC, 2) Safety, and 3) Utilities.

Let’s look at each one of these in turn.

DC isn’t AC - Solar panels produce direct current (DC), just like your car battery.  But the energy in your home is alternating current (AC) which reverses polarity 60 times a second.  Now a very few of the loads in your home won’t care - an incandescent light bulb will burn just fine with either AC or DC.  But your air conditioning system won’t.  Nor will your TV, your computer, your refrigerator, or nearly anything else that you own.  All of them are designed to operate on AC and running them on DC will either damage them, or do nothing at all.  Yet those are the things that drive your utility bill.  A $200, DIY solar panel (assuming for the sake of argument that such a thing can even be built) will do nothing to lower those bills.  So right off the bat, the huge $$$ savings promised are just that - a “pie-crust” promise - easily made, easily broken.

Safety - Quality solar panels sold in the United States are approved by Underwriters Laboratory (i.e., “UL Approved") for safety.  Since even a single solar panel can generate dangerous amounts of electricity, that approval provides peace of mind that the solar panels sitting on your roof will operate safely for the 25 years that you will own them.  Can the same be said for a DIY solar panel?  What if the unthinkable happens and your DIY solar panel malfunctions and starts a fire.  Will your homeowner’s insurance cover the loss after they learn that you placed solar panels on your roof that weren’t UL approved?  Is that a risk you want to take?

Utilities - If you are looking to lower your utility costs, you will need to connect your DIY system to the utility grid.  Before you can legally do that, your system has to have an inverter that meets not only UL approval but also the IEEE standard to prevent “islanding”.  The “anti-islanding” feature of a modern inverter is extremely important - here’s why.  A residential grid-tied solar power system is a small power plant connected remotely from the utility’s other power plants.  If a power line goes down, the utility will dispatch a crew to repair the break.  Before doing so, they will isolate that portion of the grid so that the lines are de-energized, allowing the workers to handle them safely.  But wait - they cannot isolate your mini power plant down the street which is acting as a power-generating island all unto itself.  That means the downed power line is still hot - and deadly.  To prevent such situations, “anti-islanding” technology is built into every grid-tied inverter sold in the U.S.  Building such an inverter is definitely not a DIY project, unless you are an electrical engineer.

Funny, but those ads never seem to talk about any of this.

Sure, we have a vested interest - we are in the business of installing high-quality, safe and reliable solar power systems.  But we aren’t worried here about losing a few sales.  Rather, we are worried about solar getting a bad reputation from hucksters and scammers souring people who were excited about the possibility of going solar, but got mislead and wasted their money and their time.

We believe - and have blogged about - the absolute right of consumers to be treated ethically by the solar industry.  We will continue to write about risks to that ethical standard, whether from conventional installers doing shoddy work (see here) or from rip-off artists and scammers like these.

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  02:36:42 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 457 words  
Categories: Solar News

A Look Back to Solar 2009 & A Look Ahead to 2010

Here it is, the last day of 2009 and in some ways this year cannot be over too soon.  For many folks this was an extremely difficult year with lost jobs, lost homes, lost fortunes.  Even for those more fortunate among us, business growth was way down (as one wag put it, “Flat is the new Up!") and many anticipated projects were delayed or cancelled altogether.

Still, as we head (eagerly) into 2010 it is worth noting that there were some bright spots in the Solar industry this past year, and here are a few:

  • Lower Costs - with the feedstock silicon bottleneck largely a thing of the past and new manufacturing facilities springing up around the globe, 2009 saw dramatic drops in the price of solar panels, just in time for the economic slow down to create an even greater surplus driving prices down even more.  Look for that decline to stabilize (if not reverse) in 2010 as economic growth catches up with pent up demand for solar PV.
  • Solar Power International - the annual industry showcase was quite the marvel this year with an exhibit floor that was truly as exhausting as it was exhilarating.
  • Legislative Progress - while Nancy Skinner’s net metering cap bill didn’t make it, AB 920 did, and so for the first time in California, utilities will have to pay net energy producers for their surplus energy production.  (Unless you are “served” by LADWP - what is up with that?)  This change in the law is a win for consumers and installers.
  • AB 811 Progress - as has been reported on here in some detail, LA County is moving ahead with its efforts to get the AB 811 program up and running.  If done right - potentially a big if based on some comments made by some bureaucrats at the most recent stakeholders meeting - this could be a huge boon to the industry by allowing residential customers to install solar with little or no upfront cost.
  • Formation of an ASES Chapter in LA - although still a work in progress, a fledgling chapter of the American Solar Energy Society is working hard to establish itself in this diverse and far-flung region.  The chapter is looking to recruit new members and we will be posting about the chapter throughout 2010.
  • Our Friends, Fans & Customers - thanks to all of you, this was our best year yet and we look forward to 2010 as being a breakout year for Solar in Southern California generally - and even more so for Run on Sun.  Without your loyal support, that simply could not happen and we are extremely grateful.

From the home of the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl Game, all of us at Run on Sun wish you and yours a safe, prosperous, and most of all, Happy New Year!


  09:28:23 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1222 words  
Categories: Solar News, AB 811/PACE/LACEP Funding

AB 811 - Report from Stakeholders' Meeting

On Monday, December 7, a stakeholders’ meeting was held at MTA headquarters to discuss the status of LA County’s AB 811 energy improvements financing program.  (Check out earlier posts here and here about AB 811.)  The meeting was modestly attended and the MTA Boardroom was less than half full.  That was too bad because it is clear that more people need to hear about this important program - and the folks in charge need to hear more from the public this program is intended to serve.


Let’s start with the cities that were represented.  Here’s the list, based on reviewing the sign-in sheet:

Burbank, Claremont, Culver City, Diamond Bar, Glendale, La Canada Flintridge, La Puente, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach, Monrovia, Norwalk, Palmdale, Pasadena (?), Rancho Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach, Santa Clarita, Santa Monica, Sierra Madre, and West Covina.

That is 21 of the 88 incorporated cities in LA County.  (To be sure, some of the missing cities are participating indirectly through regional government entities like the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments - check out the SGV Energy Wise Partnership website - but direct participation is critical as this program progresses.)  So again, if your city is not on that list, you should contact your City Manager’s office to find out why not.

Program Timeline

As to the program itself, the County appears to have done a good job at seeking grant money from the State and the Feds to help offset program costs.  This is crucial since any administration costs that have to be borne by borrowers will make the program less affordable, and ultimately less successful.

Several key events must take place before the program can start funding projects - which hopefully will begin by July 2010.  Here are the major items upcoming:

Consenting Resolution

By next month, the County expects to circulate for comment a draft of the Consenting Resolution that will need to be adopted by the City Council of every city that desires to participate in the program.  Of course, we will post the draft to the Founder’s Blog as soon as it is available.

This is a key milestone since once the document is finalized, the cities will likely need to adopt it as presented without substantive amendments.  This is an important reason why the individual cities need to be on board now.  As we were repeatedly told during the meeting, things will start to move very quickly come January.

Board Hearing

The program is expected to come up for a vote by the LA County Board of Supervisors in February.  At this time it is not known whether there will be any formal opposition to the program but a strong showing of public support is always helpful in getting any program approved.

Validation Action

Once the Board approves the program, the County intends to file what is known as a validation action.  Sonoma county, which has already started its program, filed such an action, and here is their rationale:

Under state law, a public entity that issues bonds has a mechanism to file a “validation action” to prevent later challenges to those bonds. The public entity files a complaint in the local superior court; and notice of the action is published so that all members of the public are informed of the action. The public entity files a brief in support of its position that the bonds were lawfully authorized and issued. If there is no response to the action, a default judgment is entered. Whether or not a response is filed, the court will conduct a hearing to determine whether the public entity is entitled to judgment in its favor. A typical validation action takes approximately four months to complete.

LA County hopes to file their action by March (assuming Board approval in February), which, allowing for the four months that it took Sonoma, would put the County in a position to begin selling bonds in July.

Program Issues

Various committees that are working on the program gave reports and in so doing revealed some issues that could be troublesome.

Residential Only?

At least at the outset, it appears that this program will only be available to residential property owners.  There are some conflicting policy issues here.  On the one hand, there is little doubt that credit for home improvement projects is very tight and this program should make solar affordable for a much broader universe of home owners.  On the other hand, commercial solar power projects are much more cost effective due to the attendant economies of scale and thus more power would be produced per dollar of bonds sold.  While it may make sense for the project to start with residential properties only, it would be a mistake if it were not eventually expanded to the commercial market as well.

Credit Features

To make the bonds attractive to the market, certain credit features were identified as being necessary to the program’s design.  While there is no personal credit worthiness requirement, home owners must satisfy a variety of conditions, including: they must be current with their mortgage, the mortgage to property value ratio must be no greater than 80%, and the cost of the project cannot exceed 10% of the property’s value.  Collectively, it is hoped that these conditions will limit the risk of non-payment of the property tax assessments and minimize the administrative nightmare of foreclosure.


There is concern that the cost of the loans may be higher than anticipated (and certainly higher than hoped).  The costs for running the program must be paid for by a combination of grant monies (see above) and the interest spread between the rate charged to the home owner and the rate that must be paid to the bond holder.  The County believes that the current market rate for these bonds is approximately 7%, with a spread of 1-2%.  That means that the cost to the homeowner is likely to be in the 8-9% range - nowhere near the 5% that people were hoping to see.

One thing that could change this would be if the bonds could be sold as tax-exempt bonds.  Apparently there is legislation moving in Congress to allow for this - we will report on that when we learn more.

Payment Process

Perhaps the most troubling issue to arise during the meeting was the question of when payments would be disbursed.  According to the committee that reported on the issue, the present plan is to withhold all funds until the project is complete and fully approved.  That means that either the homeowner would need to front the payment to their installer (which pretty much defeats the entire purpose of the program) or more likely, the installer would need to front the entire cost of the project until some unspecified time after the project was completed.  This would put a substantial financial strain on small businesses that provide solar installation services - at a time when loans to small businesses are almost as hard to get as home improvement loans.

Fortunately, County staff were not as dismissive of this concern as was the committee member who presented the report.  We were informed that this issue will be addressed as the program moves forward.


Finally – what to call this ground breaking program?  Frankly, none of the names suggested had much zing.  If you have a great idea, please include it in the comments and we will pass them on.



  12:13:25 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 246 words  
Categories: Solar News, AB 811/PACE/LACEP Funding, PWP, BWP, GWP

AB 811 - Is Your City In?

Yesterday we reported on the Stakeholder’s meeting that is being held next Monday, December 7, at the MTA HQ building. This is an important update meeting on the County’s progress toward implementing an AB 811 program for LA County and its member cities that will greatly facilitate funding for solar projects.

Today we are reporting on the Cities that we have been able to identify as potentially attending the meeting. Is your City on the list? Find out after the jump.

Here is the list of Cities that we have been able to identify so far (we will update this list if we learn of more participants):

  • Claremont
  • Culver City
  • Lancaster
  • Lomita
  • Long Beach
  • Los Angeles
  • Malibu
  • Monrovia
  • Palmdale
  • Palos Verdes
  • Santa Clarita
  • Santa Monica

That is it!  Pretty pathetic – there are 88 incorporated cities in LA County - the above list accounts for 12 of them.  (There are also two Government Associations listed, the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments and the South Bay Cities COG.)

Why does this matter?  As we understand the program, if your city does not adopt a resolution of participation, YOU, as a potential solar customer, will not be eligible to participate in the program - and thereby cutoff from a low-cost source of solar financing.

Frankly, there is no excuse for any city not to participate.  So contact your city manager and find out why your city is not represented.  Better yet, insist that they have someone attend this meeting and get with the program!


  09:05:47 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 218 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Solar News, AB 811/PACE/LACEP Funding

AB 811 Stakeholder Meeting - Monday 12/7 @ 2:00 p.m.

Learn more about AB 811 financing for solar at this meeting on Dec. 7!

We just received notice regarding the upcoming LA County AB 811 Program Stakeholders Meeting.  We will be attending this meeting and will report back on what learn.  However, it is important that County officials see the interest in this program from members of the public.

Details follow after the break.

Here are the details:

Date: Monday, December 7, 2009
Time: 2 - 4:30 pm
Location: One Gateway Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90012-2952 (a map is attached) Board Conference Room 2nd floor. (This is the MTA HQ building at Union Station so it is easy to reach via public transit.)


Introductions – Los Angeles County (County) Chief Executive Office (CEO)
Updates on AB 811 District Formation:

  • County AB 811 Program Design, Implementation, Admin Consultants (Internal Services Department (ISD)/Consultant)
  • District Formation Milestone Update (Treasure and Tax Collector (TTC))
  • Program Financing Update (TTC)

Program Design/Implementation Committee Meetings – Updates (each committee head):

  • Marketing – Outreach
  • Residential vs. Commercial/Eligible Properties
  • Eligible Improvements
  • Financing Requirement
  • Coordination W/ Existing Programs
  • Grants & Funding

Grants Status (ISD):

  • County Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG)
  • State Energy Program (I and II)
  • Federal Competitive EECBG

Program Name Discussion (ISD)
Next Steps for Cities (ISD/Consultant)
Close (CEO)

Ana Dávila, LEED AP
Energy Management Division
1100 North Eastern Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90063
(323) 881-3928
(323) 260-5237 fax

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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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