12/09/19

  01:48:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 563 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar

Now You See It... Cool New Product from Everest!

Some product announcements make a big splash - think the whole Enphase Ensemble product line which is sure to be a game changer.  But other products are far more subtle in their impact.  They are, in this case literally, invisible to our clients, but we love them because they make a part of the process so much better.  Such a product is the “Yeti” end-clamp from our friends over at Everest Solar.  Let’s look closely at a small but important product that you will never see!

First off, what even is and end-clamp?  When solar panels are mounted on a pitched roof, as most of them are, we put attachments down that lag into the rafters and are flashed.  On top of that go the rails, with the panels sitting on the rails.  Mid-clamps go between the panels to anchor them to the rails, and end-clamps mount at the end of the rail to secure that last panel.  The design of end-clamps is far tricker than that of mids since the mid-clamp rests evenly on the two panels. But the end-clamp only has one panel to grab, making it tricky to get the alignment just right.  Indeed, it is so hard to get it right, that when Unirac phased out their wonderful Solarmount Evolution line with its awesome end-clamp, we penned an open letter to Unirac management, begging them to reconsider.  (Alas, to no avail.)

Yeti invisible end-clamp

Most end-clamps hold the panel by pushing down from the top of the panel.  However there is one major drawback with that approach - an overzealous installer can blow past the torque wrench setting and end up shattering the panel!  Ouch. 

But check this out:

The Yeti clamp is highlighted in the circle callout, and you see it in red, sitting in the rail channel, and gripping the lip of the panel frame pressing it against the rail.  (You can see a quick install video here.) The resulting grip is super-strong, and the clamp is completely invisible, allowing you to cut the rails right to the edge of the panel frame.  This gives you a secure, super-clean looking install.

We got our first chance to use these on an install last week and we are really pleased with how things turned out!  (This was an unusual install for us in that the second half of the panels got installed in the rain - an everyday occurrence for our installer friends up in Oregon, but a rarity down here in sunny SoCal!)

Here’s how the array turned out:

Array with Everest Yeti invisible end clamps

So first, notice the water drops on the panels!!!  But the second thing to notice is just how clean a line we have at the edge of the array.  (You can see the mid-clamp in the small gap between the panels.)

Here’s another view, right down the edge:

Clean view Everest Yeti invisibile end-clamps

Doesn’t get much cleaner than that!

So we are convinced!  For an extra 20¢ a piece, we can have a better gripping clamp that is completely invisible and allows you to trim the rails right to the edge of the panels, giving you the cleanest possible look!

Let’s hear it for those small, incremental improvements that make the solar industry such a great place to work.  Big or small, invisible or super flashy, the innovative minds out there are continually striving to make our systems better for our clients.  And that’s as it should be!  Nice job, Everest!

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11/11/19

  03:38:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 867 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Energy Storage

Let's Talk Ensemble!

[Editor’s Note: Today is Veterans’ Day, so a shoutout to our Vets: Victoria and Greg,
and to all the Vets out there - thank you for your service to our country.]

The Enphase Ensemble system is almost here, so let’s start talking about how this is going to work for existing and potential clients.

What is Ensemble?

Ensemble is the name of the new Enphase storage and control system.  It consists of the Enpower smart switch, some amount of Encharge battery systems (depending on your needs),  and an IQ Envoy to handle communications.  The system is capable of supporting “whole home” backup, although for most clients a “partial home” system will make more sense.

Enpower smart switch    Enpower 10 kWh storage system 

 Enpower Smart Switch

19.7″ x 36″ x 9.7″

80 lbs.

 

 Encharge 10 kWh Storage System

42.12″ x 26.14″ x 12.56″

346 lbs.

The Enpower smart switch contains an automatic transfer switch - or a Microgrid Interconnect Device, to use the language of the NEC (to isolate from the grid when there is a grid failure) - rated at 200 amps, and a neutral forming transformer to allow for 120/240 VAC operation.

The Encharge batteries come in two sizes: a 3.3 kWh battery and a 10 kWh battery (which is actually three of the 3.3 kWh batteries mounted behind a common cover).  Inside the 3.3 kWh unit are four IQ8 microinverters, and thus 12 as part of the 10 kWh unit.  The 10 kWh unit, which is going to be the minimum size that you will want, has a continuous output power of 3.84 kW, with a peak out of 5.7 kW for ten seconds - enough to allow for inrush current from motors, for example.

Both units have a NEMA 3R rating so they can be installed outdoors (though you will want them out of direct sunlight if possible), and come with a 10-year warranty.

How Will it Fit with My Existing System?

First, you need to have IQ microinverters.  At least as of the initial rollout of this system, the older microinverters are not supported.  That means that the M and S-series of microinverters have to be replaced to IQ-series microinverters to work with Ensemble.  (I do not know if this will change in the future, but it is the guidance that we are getting at this time.)  It is possible that there will be some sort of replacement program (like Enphase did with the legacy M-190 customers), but I have not gotten any word about such a plan yet.

Second, you need a rough parity between the output power of the solar array and the output power of the Encharge batteries.  That means that if you have a single, 10 kWh Encharge battery system, the rated output power of the installed microinverters on the roof, has to be at or below 5.7 kW.  Here’s what that means for the IQ microinverters that have been installed in the past three years:

IQ micros per Encharge capacity

As the systems that we have been installing have all been IQ6+ or IQ7+, you can see that with a 10 kWh Encharge system, you are limited to 19 panels - a 6.365 kW system when paired with LG 335’s.

How can I Plan to Make Ensemble Work Best for Me?

Making this work requires some planning and modifications, and not every existing system will be a good candidate for this.  As we have noted in earlier posts about Ensemble, most folks in Southern California have what is called a combination service panel where the meter unit and the distribution unit (where the breakers are) are in the same, physical device.  Without replacing the service panel, you are left with a configuration that will looks something like this:

 Typical Ensemble System

Ensemble Wiring Layout - click for larger.

That is your PV system in the top left powered by IQ microinverters.  Those land on an IQ Combiner (which Run on Sun has been using since the IQ microinverters were rolled out).  On the far right is the grid, feeding your meter and the service panel.  (In an existing system, the output from the IQ Combiner goes to a disconnect switch and then to a breaker (or a lug) in the service panel.)

To add Ensemble, you need to connect the Enpower switch to the service panel via an appropriately sized breaker.  You also need to create an emergency load subpanel, with the critical loads that you want to operate during an emergency.  (This takes a good deal of thought - you will need to know the power requirements of the devices you are looking to operate during the outage and size the system accordingly.)  Everything then flows through the Enpower switch (including the possibility of a backup generator, though that will not be immediately supported).

We do not yet know what the utilities or local AHJs will say about this.  Presumably the utilities still want a lockable disconnect switch on the output from the Combiner, but will they also want one on the output of the Encharge battery system? The Encharge system allows for two, 10 kWh units to be “daisy-chained” together; for larger storage system a storage subpanel is required.  Also required is consumption monitoring, which may not be possible on some service panels (due to space constraints) without rewiring the entire panel - ugh.

So… this is going to be a great product, but it is neither a cheap nor simple process.  Interested?  Let’s get started!

11/09/19

  01:13:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 115 words  
Categories: CALSSA

Win Some, Lose Some...

And sad to say, we lost this one!  (The election to be on the Board of the California Solar and Storage Association, that is!)

But I am honored by the support of so many of you, and you can count on me to continue be a vocal advocate for this industry – and for doing things the right way.

In the meantime, here is the list of the winners this year:

Contractor Seats
Ed Murray, Aztec Solar
Gary Gerber, Sun Light & Power
Keith Randhan, Baker Electric Home Energy

 Manufacturer, Distributor, Developer, Financier Seats
Catherine Von Burg, SimpliPhi Power
Yann Brandt, Quick Mount PV 

Congratulations to them all - here’s to a very productive term of office.

 

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10/30/19

  12:33:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 477 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, CALSSA

Jim Jenal for CALSSA Board!

The California Solar and Storage Association is holding elections to its Board, and I have decided to run for one of the three seats allocated to solar contractors. Here’s why…

Jenal headshot

Readers of this blog are familiar with my background: I was a Member of Technical Staff at Bell Labs, I taught High School, and I was a Big Law Firm lawyer - all before founding Run on Sun in 2006.  That background gives me a worldview that is not always found on a roof - or as an inspector once said (I think in jest), “A lawyer with a code book, I’ll bet you could get away with anything!" 

Along the way I earned (and maintain) a NABCEP PV Installation Professional Certification, and also wrote the book, Commercial Solar: Step-by-Step.

So why run for the Board?

I think my experiences uniquely qualify me to speak on behalf of long-tail installers - the little guys who work so hard, and so honestly every day because they believe so passionately in what they are doing. 

I understand that our resources are always stretched too thin, and that challenge is compounded by the difficulties of dealing with disparate demands from local AHJs (to say nothing of individual inspectors), overly bureaucratic rebate programs that were designed for large companies that can allocate an army of lawyers  to navigate their arbitrary requirements, a workers compensation system that is baffling at best and punitive at worst – the list goes on.

Yet we are out there, every day, trying to make the world a better place, one roof at a time.

But sadly, there aren’t enough small installers in CALSSA. I would like to increase their numbers with a “First Year Free” membership program so that smaller companies can see the value provided by the great work of the dedicated CALSSA staff.

I would advocate for stronger consumer protections, but in a manner that does not portray solar installers as predators, as the CPUC’s current program does.  The small installers I know are hard-working folks who truly believe in the value of this wonderful industry.  They deserve to be acknowledged as such.

Finally, I would like to work to reform the SGIP program, so that installing a 10 kWh storage system takes more time than filling out the required rebate paperwork.

I hope you will support me with your vote.  (Voting begins today, October 30th, and continues through November 6th, with winners to be announced on November 8th.  Only member companies in good standing are eligible to vote.)

 

Endorsements (partial list, organizations for identification purposes only)

JD Dillon, Vice President of Marketing and Pricing, Enphase Energy

Ross Gerard, Director of Sales, North America, Everest Solar Systems LLC

Kendra Hubbard, Strategic Account Manager, UNIRAC Inc.

Adam Gerza, COO, Energy Toolbase

Yann Brandt, Quickmount PV

Tor “Solar Fred” Valenza, Founder of UnThink Solar Marketing and Communications

Tom Cheyney, Content and Market Intel Lead, Renewables Practice, Kiterocket

 

10/23/19

  08:50:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 464 words  
Categories: Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Safety, Non-profit solar

The Solar Fire that Wasn't!

Solar fire!

Fire damage at a Walmart store.

We recently wrote about a spate of fires that occurred at Walmart stores due to problems with solar power systems on their roofs.  The damage, in some cases, was extensive and overall, painted a pretty bleak picture of commercial solar.  But it doesn’t have to be that way - read on to learn about the solar fire that wasn’t!

One of the problems with the systems that were installed at Walmart is that they were tied to string inverters.  That means that multiple solar panels are wired together into a series string.  When solar panels are wired together that way, the voltage in that string adds with each additional panel.  So if you have twenty panels wired together, and each panel produces 40 volts, the total voltage for the string is 800 volts!  (Indeed, commercial systems can be as high as 1000 volts!)  If there is a gap - say from a loose wire, or a damaged panel - you can get an electric arc that can easily start a fire.

Yikes!

But the other day we were doing a maintenance check on a small commercial system that we installed a few years ago.  While we were installing a software update we did a visual inspection of the array and came across this - a totally shattered panel!

Shattered panel

Totally shattered panel - but no fire here!

So what happened here?  Turns out that the company that owns the system had a mishap, and a brass valve fell on the panel from about 100′ in the air - yep, that will do it!

But more importantly was what didn’t happen - there was no fire.  This was during the middle of the day, and the system was operating at full capacity, yet despite being entirely shattered by the blow, there was no fire because this was not part of a high voltage string.  Rather, this was part of an Enphase microinverter system, so the total DC voltage was only 40 volts.  At that low a voltage there is no arc, and with no arc, there is no fire!

We have heard people say that string inverters are the way to go with commercial systems because they are so much cheaper.  To which we reply - really?  How much does it cost to repair the damage from a fire like those that Walmart has experienced?  Moreover, with a string inverter system, finding faults before they become a hazard is much harder than it is with an Enphase microinverter system.  The Enphase monitoring tells you where the problem is so you can fix it with minimal impact on your operations.

Bottom line: beware of false economies.  Spending a little more to have a safer system is just smart business.  That’s one of the many reasons that we are exclusively an Enphase shop - simply safer solar!

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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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