10/26/21

  05:46:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 591 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Energy Storage

Enphase IQ8 Released - Sunlight Backup is a Thing!

They say all good things come to they who wait - and boy have I been waiting for this day for a long, long time! But Enphase has finally released their much anticipated IQ8 microinverter - the first device that can provide “Sunlight Backup” without batteries! Here’s my take…

Long Time Comin!

Those of you who follow this blog know that I have been writing about the IQ8 microinverter for almost forever, starting with this piece from August 2018, titled “What I saw at Enphase - Mind Blown!“  Back then I was fortunate enough to get to visit the Enphase lab in Petaluma and got to see a demonstration of what Enphase is now calling “Sunlight Backup” - the ability for your PV system to continue to operate when the grid goes down.  While I wasn’t allowed to record the demo, Enphase, to mark the public release of the IQ8, has posted the following video which illustrates the concept quite nicely:

This is the wow-factor for the IQ8 - when combined with an automatic transfer switch for code compliance - if the grid fails during the day, your PV system with IQ8s on the roof will continue to produce power, no batteries needed!

Of course, there are a few caveats: during the day the output from your PV system will fluctuate based on prevailing conditions.  For example, it rained like crazy here yesterday - and the power went out!  How much value would the PV have been then?  Not too much.  However, today the sun is shining like crazy and the weather is cool, the air clean - outstanding day for solar production.  Go ahead, take down the grid, we’ll be just fine!

And a word about code compliance.  The anti-islanding rules that require a grid-tied PV system to not export power to the grid when the grid fails, are still very much in force.  After all, we want our systems to be safe for all involved.  So to meet code, you need to also install an automatic transfer switch, which Enphase is now calling the IQ System Controller - FKA Enpower - into your system.  But the IQ System Controller costs a fraction of what the actual storage components do, so this is a way to have some power during the day at minimal additional cost!

As this video nicely demonstrates, if you have too many loads turned on when the grid fails, the microgrid cannot start.  But as soon as you shed sufficient loads, the microgrid will form instantly, all on its own.

Enphase has put together a pretty good chart (albeit kinda small here, but click on it to see it full size) that shows the components needed to achieve different capabilities:

 energy goals chart

Solar Only is what we have been doing for years.  Home Essentials Backup, aka partial-home backup, and Full Energy Independence, aka full-home backup are what you get when you add storage.  But Sunlight Backup is what IQ8 brings to the party!

Please don’t keep-a me waitin…

So when can we put these on your roof?  Well not today, that’s for certain.  We are being told that we will see shipments toward the end of December.  (Of course, if they are coming into the ports of either LA or Long Beach, we could be waiting for months!)   First quarter of next year is likely a safer bet.  Still waiting to see firm pricing as well, but figure something like 25% higher than the comparable IQ7+ that we have been installing for the past two years - and without a single unit failure!

The wait is almost over - watch this space!

 

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10/22/21

  03:00:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 386 words  
Categories: SCE, Residential Solar, Net Metering

Battle to Save Rooftop Solar - Act Now!

Readers of this blog are well aware of the fight being waged before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) as we first wrote about this back in February!  Now we are entering the final stretch in this fight, and quite frankly, we are losing. 

Why, you ask?  How can we be losing the battle to preserve your right to put solar on your home or business, when everybody loves that idea?  The answer is easy: the opposing forces - we are talking about you here, Southern California Edison - have nearly infinitely more money than we do, and they are spending it like crazy.  So how do we possibly fight back?

With you.  And tens of thousands of other folks just like you.

The California Solar and Storage Association (CALSSA) - our trade association - is fighting hard to preserve the value of the investment made by past solar clients, and those in the future.  They have created an audacious goal: generate 200,000 public comments by November 20!  Here’s how CALSSA framed the fight:

“If the broad light of day could be let in upon men’s actions, it would purify them as the sun disinfects” – 1891, Louis Brandeis, US Supreme Court Justice

In 2015, the pro-solar coalition submitted 130,000 public comments to the CPUC on the NEM-2 decision. Today, as we near the homestretch in the NEM-3 proceeding, the headwinds are greater and the opposition better organized. Therefore, we are launching a campaign today to reach our goal of generating two hundred thousand public comments by November 20. Reaching this goal would break the record for the greatest number of public comments received by a state agency in history – previously set by solar advocates in 2015. Simply put, two hundred thousand is a number that the CPUC and the governor simply can’t ignore. It is the sunshine that is needed to fight against the corrupting influence of SCE and the other utilities

We cannot afford anyone sitting on the sidelines.  If you own a solar power system, the value of your investment is at stake.  If you realize that rooftop solar is a key piece in how we reduce carbon emissions to combat climate change, that goal is under attack!

It’s easy to join the fight: Mash that button below and tell the CPUC to side with solar consumers and not with the utilities!

Sign the Petition!

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.”

 

05/26/21

  04:43:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 173 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, SCE, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Ranting, Non-profit solar, SDG&E

Stop AB1139!

We have written about the perils of AB 1139 and how it would gut net energy metering for all solar owners, regardless of “grandfathering” that they were promised.  Having sailed through two Assembly committees unscathed, it is scheduled for a floor vote in the Assembly tomorrow, Thursday, May 27th. 

We need you to call your Assemblymember NOW to get them to vote No on this terrible bill.

Here is the News Flash that we just sent out to our subscribers:

 AB 1139 Heads to Floor Vote
Take Action Today

AB 1139, the Utility Profit Grab bill to kill rooftop solar and hurt your solar investment heads to an Assembly Floor vote expected TOMORROW. Call your assemblymember to stop the bill right now! Click here to take action.
 

We need to flood the assembly with thousands of phone calls. Phone calls work! So, Please call now. It takes 2 minutes.

When you click the link below, we will help you determine your Assemblymember and set up the call for you - it couldn’t be easier.

 
Call your Assemblymember Now
 

Thank you for your support!

03/14/21

  07:57:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 767 words  
Categories: SCE, Residential Solar

SCE Just Hiked Their Rates - Here's What That Means For You!

While you weren’t watching, SCE - the same SCE that is trying to kill off rooftop solar - just raised their Time-of-Use rates for residential customers. We will break down the increase and show you what it might mean for a couple of potential solar clients.

What are Time-of-Use Rates?

Time-of-Use (or TOU) rates are exactly what they sound like: a rate structure where how much you pay for energy is tied to when you use that energy.  (We wrote a lengthy blog post explaining the differences between TOU rates and Tiered rates, in gory detail!) 

The most common TOU rate for SCE’s residential customers is titled TOU-D, with the 4-9 p.m. window having the highest rates overall.  Compared to a tiered rate -  where your monthly bill is divided into steps based on the volume of energy that you use, with each volumetric step, or tier, bringing you a higher rate - a TOU rate does not increase on volume but on the time of day.  As a result, rates during peak periods can be 50% or more higher than the lowest periods.  Of course, that peak period - either 4-9 or 5-8 with SCE - corresponds to when people generally use the most energy!  Gotcha!!! (Those rate differentials are what provide the economic benefit of adding storage, and make simple strategies - like delaying the dishwasher or EV charging until out of peak rates - effective at saving money.)

How is SCE’s TOU Rate Changing?

Needless to say, SCE’s rates are very complex, with the energy charge being comprised of some eleven different components!  I will spare you those distressing details and just focus on the overall energy charge and how it has changed, as shown in this table:

SCE rate change as of 2/1/2021

SCE’s TOU-D Rate change for the 4-9 p.m. option.

On average, we see that rates here have increased between 3.67 and 3.80% over the prior rate, but there are some special gifts to solar customers buried in the rates.  When the Net Metering rules were changed a few years ago, it introduced the concept of Non-Bypassable Charges (or NBCs) - components of the rate structure that solar customers paid for every killowatt hour pulled from the grid, even if that same kWh was netted back by energy exported to the grid.  Far and away the largest NBC is the Public Purpose Programs charge, and in this rate increase it jumped from 1.323¢/kWh to 1.622¢/kWh - a whopping 22.6% increase! 

Another fun fact for SCE customers who have endured so called public-safety shutdowns, is that they are paying 0.6¢/kWh toward the “wildfire fund charge"!  That’s right, SCE’s customers are helping to pay for an insurance fund against wildfires caused by SCE, PG&E, and SDG&E - now isn’t that almost enough to get one hot enough to, well, burn!

Use Case Impacts

We decided to examine how potential clients would see their bills, and potential savings, change under the new rate structure.  As always, we made use of the wonderful tool Energy Toolbase to do our calculations. 

Average user comparison Our first example is a pretty average user in the Run on Sun service area, consuming approximately 30 kWh of energy per day, pre-solar.  Under the old TOU rate their annual bill pre-solar was $2,946, but under the new rate (including things like utility user taxes, etc.) their bill would go up by nearly 5%, an extra $144 for the year.  However, their post-solar savings also increase, by 5.42% or an extra $143 per year.  For this average user, adding solar ended up being a nearly perfect hedge against the SCE rate increase!

Heavy consumption use caseOur second user does not fare quite as well.  This is a significantly larger user, consuming more than 50 kWh/day.  Their pre-solar bill increases by 4.29%, or $228. Unfortunately, while their overall savings increases, it is not as dramatic as it is for the smaller user, reducing the differential from $228 to $92, compared to reducing it to just $1 for the average user.

Bottom line - adding solar helps hedge against rate increases, and as energy costs get higher, your annual savings will increase!

Meanwhile, SCE is Trying to Kill Rooftop Solar

It is one thing for SCE to be seeking, and getting, rate increases from the CPUC - that is their business model.  It is quite another thing for them to try and gut the value of net metering, thereby eliminating the economic value of adding solar - but that is precisely what they are trying to do!  We are fighting back, starting with a signature campaign targeted at a petition to Governor Newsom

There will be lots more to do in the coming days to fight against SCE’s attack on solar, but for now there is something simple that you can do - mash that button below and go sign the petition!

Sign the Petition!
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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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